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Catch-and-release mountain lion hunting?

Let’s face the facts! If there’s not a population of mountain lions living in Missouri, we must be listed in a dating advertisement in Mountain Lion Monthly Gazette as the hot vacation spot for love-starved single juvenile male cats. Sightings, and close encounters, are becoming more commonplace with each passing year, but the Missouri Department of Conservation keeps telling us every cat we find is a two-year old juvenile male far-ranging from its home in South Dakota or some other desolate place in search of a mate.

This raises two immediate questions? Who’s telling the young male lions that their chance for finding true love is better in Missouri? And, what strangely unmentionable thing has happened to all the young female mountain lions in South Dakota?

At this point we’re left to trust the MDC experts, or at least to only speculate about whether they’re feeding us a line of crap. Many people seem to believe we have our own burgeoning population of big cats, but it’s yet to be proven. There’s been nearly 30 confirmed mountain lion sightings in the past decade or more, with about half of those in the past couple years. And there’s been an untold number of unconfirmed big cat sightings. From tracks, to the killing or injuring of livestock, to animals seen running across the road caught in the beams of headlights for only an instant … it seems a lot of people can tell of a mountain lion sighting.

Just last week while discussing the recent capture of a live lion in Reynolds County, a local businessman said his business partner spotted a big cat running across a road in one of the area’s more affluent neighborhoods. At our office I’ve taken probably a half-dozen calls in the past year of possible big cat sightings. Regular readers might recall the story of one of my brothers having a close encouter with a large cat a couple years ago while deer hunting on family-owned property south of Fredericktown. Was that cat a two-year old love-starved South Dakota mountain lion wandering far from home?

If he was, how would the MDC explain multiple mountain lion encounters on the same property (and neighboring farms) for a period spanning at least 70 years. My grandparents had ongoing run-ins with one or more lions when my dad was still a small child. Some 15 years later my mom saw a mountain lion run across the lane as she walked from the house to the mailbox one day. Neighbors have reported other encounters with lions in the decades since, all the way up to my brother’s brush with a big cat a couple years ago. I believe I came close to a big cat myself about 10 years ago while walking out of the deer woods after sunset one evening. As I passed near the location of a fresh gut pile where another hunter had field dressed a whitetail that morning I was met with a hair-raising scream of an animal and the sound of something fairly heavy on foot heading up the nearby hillside. Whatever it was, I’m glad it was at least scared enough to run the other way.

As of now the MDC says you must fear for the safety of yourself, another human being or your livestock or pet before you can shoot a mountain lion. Every cat that is killed in self-defense must be turned over to the MDC within 24 hours of its death. This allows for scientific study, as well as eliminating the possibility of trophy hunting the as-of-now oddities. Once a cat is killed a “mountain lion response team” travels to the scene and conducts an investigation into the justification for the killing. Some of those who have found themselves on the other side of that investigation have said they were made to feel like criminals.

That’s where Missouri Senator Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, comes in. A rancher as well as a legislator, Stouffer has filed a bill in the state Senate to make it legal to kill mountain lions without provocation. The origin of him looking into the matter stems from a couple instances of lion encounters in his senatorial district, one involving him personally having a calf mauled and drug up into a tree by what seemed to be a big cat. A young constituent in his district also shot a mountain lion and then faced what he later claimed to be a scathing investigation of his actions.

So Sen. Stouffer has discussed the issue with the heads of the MDC, and now has filed his bill making it legal to shoot mountain lions at will. Should his bill eventually be signed into law, it would still require the dead mountain lion to be relinquished into the custody of the MDC within 24 hours of death — eliminating the hunting of the animals as trophies.

Read more about Sen. Stouffer’s bill and his reason for filing it online Sunday at, or in Monday’s print edition.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat. ( … and hopes he’s never mistaken for a female mountain lion while hunting or walking in the woods, at least as long as these love-starved juvenile male lions keep passing through Missouri.)

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