Cougar sightings adding up in area|Richard_F||11/25/04 at 15:47:05|richard_f|xx|0||Cougar sightings adding up in area

"I was carrying a hind quarter of venison in my pack," Old John said. "It was quite late, and the moon was up as I walked down East Road towards town. I could see that big cat on the snow-covered road behind me. He followed me most of the way to the village. He wanted my venison."

"What was it, a bobcat?" I asked.

"No, it was a panther, and he was a big one!"

John Vodron told many a tall tale in deer camp over the years before his passing. He knew more about the Adirondacks and hunting those mountains than anyone Iíve ever met. Was he followed out of the woods by a mountain lion? Probably. They roamed those steep mountains and fed on the abundant deer that once lived there.

Since my first story on mountain lions, I have received dozens and dozens of phone calls and e-mails about these big cats in the area. One fellow told me that a huge black panther crossed the road in front of him out in the hills beyond Cee Jay Golf Course. I guess itís time to get things in the right perspective.

Mountain lions, cougars, panthers and puma are all the same cat. They are a tawny, grey-tan color with a long tail that makes up about a third of their overall length. There are no black panthers here. The only black cats are a specie of jaguar that is found in South America. Those who see the black variety have probably seen a fisher, which is a lot smaller, but might be confused at night with a cougar.

Male panthers have been recorded weighing upwards to 200 pounds, but they seem to average about 140 pounds, with the females averaging about 100. They have small, round ears and a dark tip on the end of their tail. All of us have seen cougars on the television nature shows, so we know what we are seeing. Other than at extremely long distances and at night, it would be difficult to confuse a mountain lion with any other animal.

A mountain lionís primary diet is venison, but according to The New Hunterís Encyclopedia published by Stackpole Books, "his favorite natural food is venison, but in ranching areas he prefers a colt to any other food and will on occasion, kill a grown horse." Interesting, isnít it? We are aware of what happened in Laurens a couple of months ago.

Contrary to the beliefs of some people, the DEC has not been releasing pairs of cougars in the area to help control the deer population. I talked to DEC personnel at the Safari Club Banquet last spring and was told that if any panthers are around, they probably escaped from individuals that had them as pets. Itís the stateís stand that mountain lions donít live in this area.

Last night I got an e-mail picture of a large cat. Thereís no question ó it was a mountain lion. A friend from Walton called me last week and said he had seen a similar picture of one that was taken by a Deer Cam somewhere between Walton and Sidney. (For those unfamiliar with the term, a Deer Cam is a camera that takes pictures of wildlife. Itís put out in the woods and is triggered by a motion detector or heat sensor. The camera is equipped with a flash, so it takes pictures both day and night.)

The picture thatís circulating through the Kraft plant in Walton and Amphenol in Sidney shows a deerís romp and a mountain lion in a crouched position, stalking the deer. It was supposedly taken in Delaware County. Maybe this is the evidence we have been looking for.

When youíre out hunting next week and see a mountain lion, I wouldnít suggest that you shoot it. They are a federally protected animal, even if they donít exist in New York State. Taking a mountain would get you more publicity than you need and would have a detrimental effect on the rest of your hunting season ó and probably your wallet.

Note: Please report any sightings of otter, fisher and bobcats to Bill Sharick at the DEC office in Stamford at 607-652-7367. He said needs this information for a study. Also, bear season will open in zones 4O and 4P on Nov. 27. Thatís a new area and the second week of big game season.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. E-mail him at