Every now and then, you’ll meet a person who will bend your ear with their story of “the cat that got away.” Though Maine isn’t thought to have a breeding population of mountain lions, many folks are convinced that they’re here, and equally convinced that they’ve seen those elusive, long-tailed cats here in the Pine Tree State.
Last week, we shared a few of those tales, and opened the door to BDN readers to share their own mountain lion stories. And as we suspected, the topic proved popular, with thousands reading it and dozens sharing their thoughts in online comments. More than 50 took the time to send emails or leave phone messages about their own encounters.
Of course, not everyone is a believer. In a Facebook comment, one Maine guide took issue with us even asking if people had mountain lion stories to report. His opinion: With all the trail cameras in use across Maine, if mountain lions were actually here, someone would have ended up with a good photo of them by now.
Still, many Mainers are convinced that they’ve seen the big cats, which are also known as pumas, cougars and catamounts.
Here are just a few of the tales that people eagerly shared with us, edited for space and clarity.
Follow the signs
In May of 2018, I was driving to the Donnell Pond area on Tunk Lake Road in Sullivan when a mountain lion crossed in front of me. The color initially said “deer” to me but the gait and shape said “cat,” and the very long tail confirmed [it was a] cat. Interestingly, this was near a handmade sign that says “Big Cat Crossing.” I’ve since heard that many people have seen the cat in the Donnell Pond area.
— Jennifer Fisk of Town Hill
What killed the deer?
I was doing some birding and pre-season scouting off of the Stud Mill Road in Milford when I found the better part of a deer’s hind leg partially covered by leaves. In a muddy spot a few yards away a saw a distinctive feline footprint. It was definitely larger than a house cat and did not have claw marks so it wasn’t a coyote.
There are no lynx in Milford (of course, there are not supposed to be any mountain lions, either but lynx are pretty well-surveyed). Big bobcats have been known to take small deer, but the leg was not very small; it would’ve had to have been a heck of a bobcat. Process of elimination and circumstantial evidence leads me to believe it was a mountain lion. Who knows really, but I like to think it was.
Ultimately, I think the conservative nature of the state and federal bureaucracies makes it unlikely that unless a mountain lion had kittens on the governor’s car they’d admit to a breeding population in Maine, but I think the evidence is pretty compelling that a small remnant population exists in northern New England and the Maritimes.
— Geoffrey Wingard
Cat after the birds
The Canadians operate a pheasant ranch across the border from where I hunt and an awful lot of pheasants fly over to our side of the border after being shot at and missed or wounded,you can hear them squawking all through the woods, which draws every predator known to man.
On this cold and sunny November morning, with the sun at my back, I was watching [a spot]140 yards [away] when I spotted this head come out of the bushes. At first I thought it was a coyote and I put my scope on it as it came out and exposed its whole body. When I leaned out to get a better look, it must have spotted my slight movement. [It] leaped to my right and as soon as his feet hit the ground he did a 180 and leaped back the way he came and [ran] back into the woods. I had a perfect view of it, [and] saw his long tail. What a beautiful large cat. You just can’t mistake this cat for anything else. No doubt that cougar was feasting on pheasants, gifts from our Canadian neighbors.
I told a few people about this sighting, some were skeptical, some not so much. About a month later, one of the people that heard of my sighting had a cougar run across in front of his car on Route 1 about three-quarters of a mile as the crow flies from where I was. I’m sure it was the same one.
— Larry Tardy, Limestone
Add me to your list. One warm, sunny spring morning in the early 1980s, I observed a mountain lion on the ledges above Lake Megunticook on the west side of Camden Hills State Park. I was living in Camden at the time and I took a hike on a trail that leads from the Lincolnville Road up by Maiden Cliff. When I reached a point where I could see the ledges to the south clearly, there it was. It caught me completely by surprise.
By the way, this happened at about the same time that mountain lion sightings were reported in the vicinity of Friendship.
At first, I thought it was a large dog basking in the sun. I kept moving along, but then I stopped and took a closer look. No dog owner appeared, and nobody else was around. From a distance of roughly 200 yards, I could see it stretched out on a rock and looking off to the southwest. Its size, the shape of its head, and most of all, the long tail, which the animal kept flicking every few seconds, made me realize that it was a mountain lion. I watched it for three or four minutes — long enough to get a good look at its profile. I eventually resumed my hike. I never felt threatened, and it just remained very calm, relaxed and never looked in my direction. I found the whole experience remarkable, even surreal, and I remember it today like it just happened yesterday.
A bobcat once darted across the road leading up to the fire tower on Beech Mountain in Acadia National Park. This also happened in the early 1980’s. It was less than 10 yards away from me. The large cat on the rock was no bobcat.
— Peter J. Brown
An easy ID
Around 8 years ago, I was headed to work and driving the Bucksport Road toward Ellsworth when I encountered a cougar crossing the road in front of me. There was no doubt in my mind that it was a cougar, as my son was at the age where he liked to watch the same movie over and over and over and that week’s movie was about a boy and a cougar … I had watched the movie with my son enough to recognize the cougar immediately.
My first instinct was to put on my brakes but the cougar was running so fast, I didn’t need to brake at all. It startled me and I was quite excited about seeing it. It was crossing the road just past the weigh station, near the turnout, on Route 1, headed toward Surry.
When I arrived at work, I told people about it. I called the authorities and told them about it. I gave my number to them in case there were later questions. They didn’t act surprised; they didn’t really seem to care about my sighting. No one ever called me back for more information. There aren’t any cougars in Maine. Ha ha, right.
I have seen lots of wildlife living my whole life in this area (deer, moose, bobcat, bear, fox, coyote) but that was my first and only cougar.
— Vicki Carter, Bucksport
An Oxbow lion
In the late 1970s, I was traveling with my husband on a back road in Oxbow when a tall, long, yellow cat, with a long tail crossed the dirt road in front of us. What struck me was the size of the cat and the length of its long tail. It crossed the road approximately 70 feet in front of us and we had a good side view of the big cat.
We stopped the vehicle where the cat had entered the forest. The cat was standing sideways, surrounded by trees, and looking back at us, watching. It stood there for several minutes before turning and disappearing into the forest.
When describing this experience to others, it has been ‘assumed’ that it must have been a ‘big bobcat,’ because “mountain lions aren’t in Maine.” I’m absolutely certain it was a mountain lion that crossed our path that day.
— Lynn Nickerson
A cat from the 60s
It was approximately 53 years ago as my then-husband, baby son and I were heading back from Patten to Millinocket. It was dark and our headlights picked up what looked like a large cat near the edge of the road. My husband stopped the car and turned toward the cat, as there was no traffic. He was able to locate the cat with the headlights.
I never forgot that scene. That huge cat [was] a mountain lion. It did not run but had its mouth open, I assume, snarling at what to it must have seemed like a predator. That scene is very clear in my mind. That snarling open mouth illuminated by our headlights. We assumed it may have perhaps been clipped by another vehicle and that is why it did not run, or just a chance encounter as it crossed the interstate we were on at that time. I never saw another, even though I lived in that part of Maine for 20 years.
— Marjorie Monteleon, Southwest Harbor