On the early morning of Monday, 5th October, I was out hunting between Marshall Lake and Carpenter Lake approximately 50 km northwest from Lillooet. I was hunting from my ATV on a deactivated Forestry Service Road (FSR) and encountered two female mule deer (does). I got off my ATV to confirm there were no spikes. After about a minute, they were out of sight and I got back up on my ATV.
I briefly looked down to secure my rifle and when I raised my head, there stood the biggest four point buck directly in front of me which appeared like a ninja. I hop off and reload, aim and, just like that, he’s gone. I quickly began to stalk him. After 100 m through a reforested stand filled with 15-20-year-old pine trees, it was dark and my vision was limited though the sun was up.
On my hunter’s walk of shame back to my ATV, I notice some odd-looking scat (feces). It’s black and almost human-like. I touch it, and it’s warm… it’s fresh? Interesting, I think to myself, what is this from? I take a few more steps then look over my left shoulder. I see something out of place. That’s a weird log, I think… with… BLACK EYES and then it pounced. I knew now it was a cougar in attack mode. I initially started yelling loudly at it, mainly profanities as I quickly retreated. This retreat was out of sheer fear and shock and mainly to create some space to find a better place to stand my ground.
Standing my ground was a terrifying experience as my mind was clearly convinced at this point the cougar wanted me for snack time. I then continued yelling, attempting to look bigger and making slow steps backwards while keeping my eyes firmly locked into the cougar’s. Its huge eyes were fully dilated and black. At this point in time my ATV was about 12 feet away and the cougar less than five feet. This was the longest 12 feet I’ve ever walked.
Each step back was met with the advance forward from the cougar. This was a terrifying feeling even if I am holding a firearm. What initially shocked me was its size. I was expecting a cougar to be much smaller and this cat was large, like a lion large. What I found out was this: For every step I took back it took just as many if not more. It charged me about three times during this phase of slow retreat.
I finally got to about 5ft from my ATV and I was sliding down a small embankment and then it pounced again. I aimed slightly off and squeezed off a round at it hoping it would finally retreat. It did not. It held its ground, and seemed oblivious to my gunfire. It did not react to being fired at. This lack of reaction increased my inner concern levels up to 11. We were now less than 4 feet apart. I faced off with yelling and thrusting my rifle in a Mexican standoff for what I think was about 10 minutes. Several times it attempted to pounce but I kept on holding my ground yelling and keeping my rifle tucked into my shoulder waiting to squeeze the trigger of my rifle.
For whatever reason during our mini standoff, I felt as though the cougar was beginning to lose interest and I used this to slowly move back and get the ATV between me and it. The cougar kept on making lurching motions towards me during this phase. Once I got to my ATV and created a barrier I really started to calm down. I took my .410 shotgun, chambered a shell and let off another shot at near its paws, it still didn’t move, but at least it didn’t advance. At this point I was firmly set to shoot it as my exit from the area would have proved to have been too risky.
However as I was calming down, I was genuinely intrigued how far this would go, so I pulled out my chainsaw from its scabbard mounted to my ATV and fired it up. This is the first time the cougar backed off. I continued revving the saw for about 3-4 minutes as this seemed to provide discouragement.
The cougar got up on all fours and started its retreat. I moved to the front of my ATV removing my physiological safety barrier and walked towards it (not much towards, just enough towards it). The cougar then fully got up and started pacing back and forth with its tail twitching about like an upset cat then slowly wandered off.
Once I was confident enough it was no longer engaged with me, I hopped on my ATV and reversed away. I immediately went and found my hunting partner on a different FSR and took him back to the location for backup.
Why would I go back? Well, for number one, the prize of a potential four point buck. Two, I had also known about a cougar attacking a child near Marshall Lake only three weeks previously. My encounter was only about 7km from that location and this cougar didn’t seem to be intimidated by people. I went back because I realized that this cat was a threat and it would likely attack someone else and I didn’t want that on my watch. Would I want this predator jumping someone’s kid or another person to go through this terrifying experience? Retired Army me says, absolutely not, I’d sooner pay the fine.
Let me be clear. I was 100% scared. I was, however, at no point in time trembling, which surprised me. I just kept on thinking I’m getting through this. This was not a rational thought; it was survival mode. I’m still processing how this scenario would have worked out without my firearm… I’m assessing not very well. I will also say this; I’d never been in a situation like this, so in retrospect, I should have just shot it and reported to the Conservation Officers. I also had a natural curiosity to see if what-to-do-when-cougar-attacks information actually worked. In this case it may have had some effect. However, I believe it depends on the animal and more importantly my .270.
Over the course of the following week I notified ever person I ran into (other hunters) to use caution if they went there. With this in mind, I still went back there two more times, only this time with backup. I also assess my years of being in the military and the conditioning we undertake makes one want to do things that are contradictory to human nature, such as charge the ambush or advance towards the enemy. How it worked under high stress is even more impressive. With this in mind, I’d sooner try to talk my way out, a concept I now feel cougars don’t really comprehend. It was a terrifying experience, but survivable, if you hold yourself together and I messily held myself together.
Russ Robertson is a local veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Bosnia.