Hook and Bullet Club

By Nick Wognum

The death of a horse between Ely and Winton due to an attack by a mountain lion (cougar) is strange enough. But finding out that the cougar was probably raised as pet and released in the wild is stranger yet. <BR><BR>There have been reported cougar sightings around this area for a number of years now. That is not new. But finding out there are probably two dozen cougars being raised as pets in St. Louis County was new and shocking. <BR><BR>So, we have a horse that was attacked and had to be put down and we have people raising mountain lions as pets and then “setting them free” in the woods. <BR><BR>There are some who argue that mountain lions have always been here. Sorry. That one doesn’t hold water. Dumb people raising them as pets and dropping them off at the end of a road, that I can believe. First, here’s what happened with the horse.<BR><BR>Marshall and Jill Hinden have a corral with eight horses, chickens and geese next to their home on the south side of Hwy. 169 to the west of the Kawishiwi Trail road. On the other side of the road, at the west end of Romberg acres is a smaller corral of horses.<BR><BR>On Feb. 17 Jill woke up and did her morning ritual of counting horses. All horses were present and accounted for.<BR><BR>During the day Marshall and Jill came and went, doing their daily chores. Neither of them heard or saw anything out of ordinary.<BR><BR>That would include seeing up to a dozen deer in the fenced in area where the horses are. The deer, likely part of the Fall Lake deer yard, eat alongside the horses and vice versa. <BR><BR>“Marshall went outside probably around four o’clockish to feed everybody. This is the normal routine and they all come in at feeding. But Cowboy didn’t come in and Haley didn’t come,” said Jill Hinden. <BR><BR>Cowboy is the 20-plus year-old 1,100 pound quarterhorse that was later put down because of injuries from the mountain lion attack.<BR><BR>“I didn’t think much of them not coming down because I could see them through the trees. Haley came down after 15 minutes or so but Cowboy didn’t so I went outside and called and he didn’t move. <BR><BR>“When I got up there he was standing in a pool of blood. When I looked at him I saw two huge puncture wounds on side of his neck and his neck was swollen but not like he ran into stick, like he had been grabbed from the top. Marshall came out and called the vet right away,” said Jill Hinden.<BR><BR>Local vet extraordinaire Chip Hanson came out and cleaned up the wounds as best as he could. Hanson told the couple that the puncture wounds were four inches apart and while the horse could survive the wounds alone, the infection from the cat’s mouth was likely to be a much worse problem.<BR><BR>Chip was right and even after a vet who specializes in large animals cut away part of the infected area, the horse was never going to be the same due to the damage in the neck.<BR><BR>Cowboy, who stood 16 hands tall or roughly just over five feet at the front shoulder, was put down on Feb. 27. <BR><BR>While Jill and Marshall know the dangers of living on the edge of the wilderness, mountain lion attacks were not their main worry.<BR><BR>“If I would have known that maybe there is a possibility of cougars in the area I might have thought differently. It’s just that you expect wolves I just didn’t expect a cougar to come in,” said Jill Hinden. <BR><BR>Marshall did hear a cat scream while up early one morning during last November’s deer season, but neither he nor Jill have ever seen the animal.<BR><BR>DNR Wildlife Manager Tom Rusch was not surprised to hear of the attack and confirmed that in all likelihood it was a cougar that did the work. <BR><BR>“Over the last year or so I have gotten a dozen reports of cougars in northern St. Louis and northern Lake County and that’s up some but we’ve had cougar reports for a long time,” said Rusch. <BR><BR>The problem is telling whether the cougar moved all the way in from the west or came down on its own from Canada or was let out of the back of a car in the middle of the night. <BR><BR>“You can’t tell if it was declawed and raised domestically because obviously a cat has retractor claws. Unless you get a real good set of tracks where they’re running, it’s real hard to tell.”<BR><BR>Rusch believes mountain lions are most likely here because people raised them, released them and then the animals reproduced. <BR><BR>“When you release a cougar into the wild they revert back very efficiently and even if they are declawed, the second generation won’t be,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>So is this a problem in our area?<BR><BR>“You wouldn’t believe how many there are being raised in St. Louis County. One person had a half dozen and three bears as well,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>Now, these are not born in the wild animals, they are game farm stock where the law allows for buying and selling. <BR><BR>“You’ve got a certain type of person that has these animals and they think they’re doing the right thing. To me they’re doing something very irresponsible. The animals we fear the most are the ones who have lost their fear of humans. It’s the same with pet wolves, they’re the worse ones,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>As for what to do if you come upon one, well, it all depends. Rusch said cougars are protected but there is the common sense rule as well.<BR><BR>“A jury of your peers is not going to convict you if a cougar is attacking your wife and you put it down,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>With that, there needs to be some common sense on the human side as well. <BR><BR>“You have to put the threat in perspective. We live in a wild place in some pretty wild country. Predators are commonplace whether it’s bear or wolf or cougar. They have the skills and tools to kill large mammals. We very rarely get reports of attacks or deaths on humans which shows they have a healthy respect or fear of people.<BR><BR>“I always say you take a bigger risk getting in car and driving to Virginia, but we still assume that risk. You may be hurt on your next drive there so we take precautions and that’s what I recommend, to take precautions.<BR><BR>“Generally these are very mobile predators and when you get one hanging around, they’re looking for their next meal which is most likely a venison meal. So if you live within a deer yard area, the deer are there so the wolves are there and a cougar will probably spend some extra time there as well.”<BR><BR>“Take normal precautions and use a healthy dose of respect. We have adjusted to timberwolves as predators and black bears. This is a new one but predators are commonplace,” said Rusch.<BR><BR>So the mountain lions are here and as with any animal they have one goal when they wake up every day - to eat. But instead of pulling into Dairy Queen for a burger, these cats may go after something as big as a horse. <BR><BR>“We have close to 80 acres and a couple miles of trail and I’m sure I’m not going to ride by myself, I know that,” said Jill Hinden. <BR><BR>So if you see Jill or Marshall out on a horse on their property packing a pistol, don’t be surprised. Just remember it won’t be Cowboy they’re riding.