Cougar appears again

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2008

NATCHEZ — When Ricky Smith was packing his hunting gear on Sunday evening, he didn’t think it was unusual to see a deer walk to the edge of the food plot near where he was standing.

It wasn’t until Smith took a second look at the creature that he realized he was staring at what he believes was a cougar.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind,” Smith.

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Smith, a Natchez resident, said he spotted the big cat Sunday evening at approximately 5:20 p.m., less than 24 hours before Jim Easterling and his wife said they saw a cougar cross the Natchez Trace in front of their vehicle Monday morning.

And Smith’s sighting is the third in little more than one month that puts the cougar in the area around the Natchez Trace.

Smith said he saw the cat on his hunting grounds near the first mile marker of the Trace, not far from the road.

An early October sighting and Easterling’s report both put the cougar on the road near the second mile marker.

Smith said he was loading his truck when the animal walked from the woods to the outside of his food plot, used for deer hunting, and stopped.

Smith said the cougar then sat down and stared at him.

“He sat like a dog but he looked like a cat,” Smith said.

Smith said he was approximately 50-60 yards from the animal when it stood and walked back into the woods.

When the animal walked away, Smith was able to get a clear view of its long tail as it stepped into the woods.

“I called my wife, and I said, ‘You’re never going to believe what I just saw,’” he said.

Smith said regardless of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ assertion that no cougars are in the area, he’s sure of what he saw.

Smith has a degree in wildlife biology and has hunted game around the globe.

“I know animals,” he said.

And it’s that knowledge that leads him to believe the cat might not be wild.

Smith said since cougars are very reclusive it’s very rare to see one at all, much less have one approach a person.

“There’s no way he didn’t hear me making noise,” Smith said.

Instead, Smith said he thinks the cat has escaped captivity or was set free by an owner that could not care for it.

In addition to Smith’s sighting, he said a friend he was hunting with on Saturday asked if there were any cougars in the area after he found prints he believed to be from a cougar in a creek bed.

And Smith has noticed something else on his land he thinks is linked to the cougar — a lack of dogs.

Smith said in years past it was common to see dogs running through his land, but not this year.

“I haven’t seen a dog all year,” he said.

And while he said he’s not concerned about being in the woods with the cougar, Smith said people should be cautious when they know there is a large predatory animal in a specific area.