"From the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail," said John Kirkendoll, "he was probably 3 or 4 feet." As for weight: "Probably in the 150-pound range," added Kirkendoll, who is a hunter.
The mountain lion, he added, was moving "at half-speed.
"He was obviously bothered" by a flock of birds "circling over the cat and squawking, trying to chase it away."
The cat disappeared into a hillside of aspen trees north of Columbia Ave., heading toward Tomboy.
According to Colorado Department of Wildlife staffer Ron Harthan: "We don't want to alarm people, but we don't want to sound complacent – yes, it is a danger" to be living as we do in close proximity to the large cats.
A mountain lion's range, he explained, is sized "depending on food availability."
On the Western Slope, the range can vary from "as small as 20 square miles" to five times that size.
In winter time, mule deer are one of their primary prey species, Harthan, said, adding that, following their prey, mountain lions "tend to shift" location according to the seasons.
Monitoring their movements is "a complex issue," he said. "We have mountain lion quotas out there" for hunters. "Every year there's snow and the outfitters can pick up tracks, we'll see more of a harvest than in a dry year.
"We believe we have a sustainable population," he said. "We haven't seen anything to show an increase or decrease."
The DOW responds to reports of mountain lion sightings, he said, if "there are conflicts," if the cats exhibit "any kind of aggressive behavior" to humans or become "a threat to livestock – then we'll go in there and get after them."
He sympathizes with the cats, as they lose more and more territory: "We have settled up quite a bit of their range," he said.
In recent years, DOW officials have retrieved two mountain lion carcasses from roadways – one just east of Montrose at the turnoff for Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and another going over Dallas Divide.
Approximately four years ago, a mountain lion was sighted on a front porch on the outskirts of Montrose; more recently, one showed up at that city's Baldridge Park.
Due in large part to the cats' natural reticence, however, Harthan emphasized: "The data is so hard to get."
DOW officials are curious enough about what changes, if any, have occurred in the regional mountain lion population that a district wildlife manager has been given a two-year assignment to track the animals' movements and numbers.
With fewer hunters and outfitters pulling licenses to hunt mountain lions, the population is very likely mounting. "Our larger predators don't have any natural predators," explained Harthan.
Unlike bobcats and Canadian lynx, which weigh around 50 to 60 pounds, mountain lions are tawny brown in color. Also called cougar, catamount and puma, full-grown male mountain lions weigh 120 to150 pounds and females 90 to 120.
"The fact that they're here is not unusual," said Telluride Interim Chief Marshal Dan Pauley, who spends much of his free time in the wilderness. "I live in Lawson Hill, by the Goose, and I can show you roosts within a 15-minute walk. I've found scat, tracks, and even where one was marking his territory – it's very pungent – along with some broken deer bones. They're scavengers, so if someone hits a deer, they'll drag it off."
Feline scat "tends to be pointy," he said, "as opposed to deer and coyote scat," and does show up on trails outside of town. "I've never seen a mountain lion in the wild, although scores have probably seen me."
As to their choice of prey, Pauley said: "They're looking for something smaller and less intimidating than a person. As a predator, a mountain lion can't afford to be hurt. They're not looking to fight. They're looking to eat rabbits, house cats, dogs – not people or groups of people.
"Lone children and smaller children can be targets," he said, but "with the amount of pets and small wildlife we have here," an attack on even an unprotected child would, in Pauley's estimation, "be almost unthinkable."
That said, he pulls out an Arizona Game and Fish tip sheet for dealing with mountain lions. A few of its suggestions:
- Do not hike, jog or ride your bicycle alone in mountain lion country; go in groups, with adults supervising children.
- Do not approach a mountain lion; most will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
- Do not run from a mountain lion; running may stimulate their instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.
- If there are small children, pick them up so they don't panic and run. Try to pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion. Do not crouch or bend over; a person squatting or bending over looks like a four-legged prey animal.
- Fight back if attacked. Appear larger: Raise your arms; open your jacket; many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands.
Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.
For homeowners, the tip sheet suggests they landscape for safety, removing dense and/or low-lying vegetation; closely supervise children; install outdoor lighting; and keep pets secure.