“I looked right out of this window…he was right down there at the bottom of that field. It wasn’t no coyote and it was for darn sure no house cat. It was way too big!”
My neighbor down the ridge swore she saw one of Maine’s elusive mountain lions on the edge of her property as dusk was setting in. She proceeded to tell me, with arms spread nearly four feet apart, that “its tail was this long!”
I gently asked her, “You understand that cougars have been extirpated from Maine for some time, right? That’s IFW’s position, anyhow.”
“This was a mountain lion…and I know what I saw!” The conversation then veered off into the night her husband heard a sasquatch bellowing behind their trailer home down the ridge towards the cedar bog.
All joking aside, more and more Mainers are reporting sightings of mountain lions. Are they really here? Some folks emphatically say yes. While the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife does not officially recognize a mountain lion population in Maine, recent stories on BDN should make even the harshest of skeptics think twice.
Do I think cougars are prowling the forests of Maine? I don’t really know. What I do know is that they were once here and habitat in the north and east is prime territory for a mountain lion population. That is about the sum of my opinion. I do agree however with some skeptics who demand to see proof. In the day of widespread trail camera usage I’d expect to see at least one photo – just one, anywhere in the state.
I use numerous trail cameras at all of my coyote bait sites – there are quite a few along Tucker Ridge. There is one less than 500 yards from my neighbor’s alleged sighting. I have coyotes, bobcat and once in a blue moon, the occasional lynx. If these predators are lured in to the bait site, why does the cougar pass it up?
As I noted earlier, I do not have a steadfast opinion on whether mountain lions exist in Maine, but I know from experience that a lot of folks cannot distinguish a bobcat from a lynx even at close distances. Identifying a cougar at 300 yards in failing light is a wholly different matter. Even the sighting of a long tail could be askew in that type of visibility. If you are a hunter, you know what I mean. I’ve seen a bear turn into a rock at daybreak and a buck materialize into a small cedar stand as dawn approached. I figured now was a good time for a quick primer on bobcats, Canada lynx and mountain lions.
Bobcats are the smallest of the three averaging 20-30 pounds in Maine with short tails about 5-6 inches long. The underside of the tail is white with a black spot at the tip. The bobcat has slightly tufted ears and longer fur on the face called a “ruff”. Their overall color can be reddish, greyish or brownish with the underside and chin being a lighter color. Black spots are common on the legs and undersides while younger cats may display spots over their entire body. Bobcats have relatively short legs.
Canada lynx are similar in size to bobcats but their big, long legs contribute to the perception of them being larger. Lynx have distinctly large, heavily furred feet. In winter they sport gray fur with faint spotting and will appear reddish in summer with a much shorter coat. The black ear tufts on lynx are much more pronounced and the tail tip is solid black, unlike a bobcat with the white underside.
Also known as cougars, mountain lions are far larger than lynx and bobcats averaging nearly three feet in height at the shoulders and seven to eight feet in length from nose to tail. The mountain lions coat is typically a tawny shade with a light colored underside and chin. Cubs will display spotting and ringed tails. As cougars grow into adulthood they lose all spotting. Juveniles can be recognized by spotting only visible on the rear flanks. The head appears round with erect ears. There are no ear tufts or face ruff present. Mountain lions can resemble domestic short haired cats, albeit very large ones.
As I think about how to close this article, I find myself gazing out my office window at the tree line rolling down the east side of Tucker Ridge. It is dusk and the dense mixed forest is shrinking into the shadows. What I see between a thick stand of fir and spruce causes me to jump up and grab my binoculars off of the gun cabinet. I put the binos right up to the window pane and I can’t believe my eyes!
Wait…nope. It’s just a stump.