ANACONDA, MONTANA -- A chance eye-to-eye encounter between a hunter and mountain lion east of Anaconda ended badly for the lion last weekend.
A 46-year-old Missoula hunter was hunting alone along a ridge in the Willow Creek area Sunday when he smelled something rotten. A few steps later he spotted a cow elk carcass that had sticks and dirt piled over it.
It was an obvious mountain lion kill.
To make matters worse, the hunter looked around and spotted the cat some 15 yards away.
The hunter later told Montana Department Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden Mike Barnett the lion kind of hunkered down and began to twitch its tail. The hunter said he and the lion locked eyes.
"I was afraid I was going to be eaten," the hunter told Barnett. So he raised his .338 Winchester Magnum to his shoulder until he could see the lion in his scope and he pulled the trigger. The hunter said he saw the lion roll over just before he turned and left the scene.
The hunter told his story at the state game checking station.
It took Barnett and the hunter about an hour of walking through rugged country to get back to the scene Sunday afternoon. Barnett took the cat’s pelt and head.
"The strange thing about it was I couldn’t find a bullet hole," said Barnett.
Evidently, the bullet went in the lion’s open mouth and lodged under the skin, Barnett said.
"That was strange considering the caliber and how close the hunter was to the lion. He couldn’t have been 40 to 50 feet away," said Barnett.
The hunter wasn’t cited for shooting the mountain lion.
"He handled it correctly," said Barnett. "He didn’t touch anything and he went right to the game station to report the incident. It was just a bad timing kind of deal."
Barnett said the mountain lion wasn’t acting normally. It was a lactating female and it could have been protecting a cub. Or it may have just wanted to protect its kill, he said.
There is no way to know for sure, but Barnett said hunters who come across obvious sign of mountain lions may want to consider looking elsewhere to hunt. After all, this lion had just killed a 600-pound elk.
"Leaving the area might just be the better part of valor," he said.
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