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I’ve come to understand that uttering the words “mountain lion” in Maine is roughly akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Let’s just say that both get a pretty predictable reaction.
The reason: For years, we were told to believe that the big cats, also known as catamounts, cougars and pumas, simply didn’t live here anymore. They were persecuted by settlers, and eventually killed or driven out of the state. In more recent years — ever since a mountain lion was hit by a car in Connecticut and researchers learned that he’d walked all the way to the East Coast from South Dakota — biologists have admitted that some wandering cougars might end up here after all.
And that makes many Mainers happy, as they swear they’ve seen mountain lions with their own two eyes.
That phenomenon isn’t new. I remember a relative telling us that he’d seen a mountain lion run across the road in front of his motorcycle one night back in the 1970s. Seeing as how the critters weren’t supposed to be here back then, my relative only shared that tale among family members and close friends, as I recall.
And me? I’ve been writing about supposed mountain lion encounters for years, and have tried to keep an open mind. Apparently, I succeeded on that count, because when a large cat stuck its head out between some evergreen branches and stared into my ground blind while I was deer hunting a few years back, I didn’t automatically think, “That’s a bobcat.” Instead, I thought, “Turn around so I can see if you have a long tail — like a mountain lion.”
The cat did, in fact, turn around. And it had a stubby tail that revealed it was a bobcat. Still, I don’t discount the possibility of cougars walking among us.
Last month, a midcoast woman started the debate once again when she shared her mountain lion experience with BDN readers.
And as expected, saying “mountain lion” to several thousand Mainers elicited a reaction among some who say they’ve seen similar things in the Maine woods.
Bob Dorr is among those who believe. Dorr said that during the summer of 2018, he had an experience in Holden that helped convince him.
“I had just pulled back into my driveway after leaving and realizing I had forgotten something. As I stepped out of the truck I heard six or eight crows making a big racket in the direction of the field beside my house,” Dorr said. “When I looked that way, I noticed that about 75 feet away just past the treeline and in the field, there was a large cat running along the edge with the crows in hot pursuit. This cat was light brown, about 2 feet at the shoulder, and had a long tail shaped into kind of an “S” shape as it ran.”
Dorr tried to get a photo, but missed out on the opportunity. By the time he got his camera turned on, the cat was long gone.
But the experience lingered in his mind.
“After seeing my first live bobcat in the wild [recently], I realized there was no way the cat I saw in the field that day was a bobcat. Especially with the long tail on the one I saw in the field,” Dorr said. “I know there are officially no mountain lions in Maine so I guess this one was either on vacation or just passing through!”
Add Duane Martell to the list of believers.
“I had an experience in Washington County near Big Lake where I saw a large black cat with the same description as the one in your article,” Martell said of last month’s alleged sighting. “It walked out of the woods and sat in the middle of the dirt road I was hunting. This happened back in the early ‘90s, but I remember it like it happened yesterday. Even though I had a firearm, it still scared me!”
And Martell knows he isn’t alone in believing mountain lions are roaming the state.
“Recently a friend of mine saw what he believed was a cougar up near Patten,” he said. “A large light brown cat with a tail as long as the body of the cat. After he told me that, my interest in these large felines has been re-kindled.”
So, how about you, BDN reader? Do you have a tale to share? I’m sure your fellow readers are eager to hear all about it.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold. Have a fishing story to share? Send ‘em along! We’re always looking for tales to share with our readers.