Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cats and High-Powered Rifles

There aren't many moments that you want to revisit less than a close encounter with a cougar when your best defence is a Nikon DSLR.  Been there, done that.  I decided to do some backwoods photography using my amazing BMW R1200GS bike and provincial forestry roads.

I rode a pretty rough dirt trail for 15-20 minutes to the end.  Then I got off the bike, grabbed my camera and tripod and set out to survey the scenery.   I hadn't gone very far before I spotted it.  "It" was a  Vancouver Island cougar about 60-feet distant checking me out.  Like I said, I had a Nikon D7000 to defend myself.

There's a powerful feeling that comes over you at that point.  You realize, almost instantaneously, that the cat has every advantage and knows it.   It's not looking at you as a threat but as prey.  It's weighing whether you're worth fighting to eat.

We stood there and eyeballed each other, maybe two or three minutes (it felt like twenty or thirty), before the cat's shoulders dropped and it moved off into the brush.  It must have fed fairly recently.

I went straight back to my Beemer, stowed my gear and headed off the mountain, vowing never again.  That didn't last,

Now, with all due regard to John Moses Browning, I'm back in the high mountains of Vancouver Island.  I still carry the Nikon but my critical gear is a BLR, .308 Win, takedown.   Get off the bike, put the rifle together, load it and sling it over my shoulder and then, finally, I get to work on what to photograph.

I love Vancouver Island and every opportunity it affords to enjoy this wonderful and vast  wilderness.  It's just that one time when I realized I was on the menu.. well, you get what I mean.


Elliott Taylor said...

Of course there are sensible and justifiable uses for firearms, as your alarming tale illustrates.

Your timing though is unfortunate. It just isn't a good day to feature the use of high-powered rifles, no matter how benign the intent. Optics is everything.

The Mound of Sound said...

You're right, Elliott, I wasn't thinking of Newtown.

I haven't hunted in 40-years and, barring necessity, I can't see any point to it.

The reason I chose this particular rifle was primarily because it takes down into two parts and that makes it easier to carry on my bike.

I've run into cougar and black bear so far. If I encounter another cougar I would fire a round into the air. Those who hunt them tell me these cats run from the sound of gunfire.

I haven't encountered wolves so far but I know others who have. That's the thing when you go up these roads on your own. You're on your own and you have to be really careful.

Elliott Taylor said...

I forgot to mention that I would love to see some of your wildlife photos on your blog, particularly of cougars. In fact I'd enjoy anything you have of island wildlife. I may be a mainlander now but my roots and my heart are still on the island.

The Mound of Sound said...

I tend to shoot either really large JPEG or RAW. I'll see if I can get my daughter to shrink some of them to a size small enough for this blog.

One thing I don't have is a photo of a cougar. They're not very good at posing and you almost never see them first if at all.

The creature I want to photograph sometime over the next couple of years is the Roosevelt Elk but they're supposed to be incredibly difficult to encounter. You have to find a suitable place, set up a hide, and wait for the chance that one of them might pass through.

Hunters have told me if they get your scent, they'll go deep into the woods.

When you're on your own up those roads you don't stray far from the road. It's just too risky.

Elliott Taylor said...

Not to rub it in but... it's so easy with a Mac. :D

There is a handy little app for Windows PC's called Irfanview. It's a freeware full-featured image editor and it has been around for many years. To resize an image you just specify the new dimension in pixels. It adjusts the image and preserves the aspect ratio. Bada bing bada boom, you're done. It really works. My husband is a Windows guy and he uses it.

I had to look up Roosevelt Elk. One wonders how wildlife that large get onto the island. Perhaps they are avid swimmers. I have only ever seen stuffed cougars. If memory seves there are a couple in the Royal BC Museum.

Al Hunter said...

I always thought a short barrel heavy gauge shotgun the best protection from aggressive wildlife. If you are the hunter, then a .308 makes sense - a long distance killer. But for close in protection against personal & surprise attacks, a shotgun that doesn't really have to be aimed makes the most sense to me.

Al Hunter said...

Irfanview is great. Been using it for years.

The Mound of Sound said...

You are rubbing it in, Elliott. You sound like my daughter. She's a Mac devotee too and I never hear the end of my PC'dom.

I've been using Photoshop 5 and Lightroom 4. Like everything else, I get way in over my head. My daughter has a degree in photojournalism and she told me that's what I needed. Grrrr.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Al. I know what you're saying with shotguns but you would have to load slugs and that's very range limited.

Some predators can be on you in a heartbeat and I'd like something I didn't have to rely on when they're at my feet. Even black bears can move with astonishing speed.

The fellow at the shop tried to talk me into a 'guide gun' - a .45-70 which, apparently, will take down a Grizzly. I actually fired one but only once. That was enough.

The Mound of Sound said...

And, for speed and accuracy, I put a high-quality 'red dot' sight on it. You fire with both eyes open. Wherever the red dot is, that's what you'll hit. It lets you get on target almost instantly which is why those sights have become standard equipment in the military.

I go to the range and practice getting three rounds out quickly and with reasonable accuracy. Lever guns are good that way. What I'm told is that, if something is coming for you, three rounds is about all you can hope for.

Elliott Taylor said...

The more I think about your encounter the more hair-raising it sounds to me. Even worse is the specter of being armed and still not getting a shot off before the creature is upon me. It makes me glad I live in West End where the most dangerous wildlife that I have to deal with are (remarkably tame) skunks, and the occasional surly raccoon.

Do try Irfanview, of course it won't do a tenth of what that fancy stuff you have installed will, but it is guaranteed easy to resize images so they're suitable for web pages.

The Mound of Sound said...

Unfortunately, Elliott, there are no guarantees even if you're armed for self-protection. No weapon will be of much use if you get jumped by a cougar. They like to rest on rock ledges and wait for deer to pass by below. Then they pounce.

A couple of years ago a cougar got an American tourist up by Port Hardy. The tourist was riding a bicycle and the cougar jumped him. They both wound up out on the road. Just as the guy was about to give up, a local came around the corner in a pickup. He grabbed a metal toolbox from the back and beat the cougar until it took off. The tourist was pretty badly mauled but he survived.

National Geographic ran an article on the cougar years ago, tracing its range from South America to Alaska. It noted that the highest concentration of the big cats was on Vancouver Island.

As for your mention of the Roosevelt Elk, they are massive which is unusual for any island wildlife. Island creatures usually become diminutive over centuries. You should see the tiny deer of Haida Gwai. The big elk, though are monstrous - and can be very dangerous. I wonder if they were an introduced species.

astone said...

Here is the easiest pix resizer! That is all it does, so there isn't much else to confuse us.... I too, would love to see some of your images!!

Purple library guy said...

On the elk--introduced? What with all the chains of islands, probably could have swum. Presumably what the cougar did too.

The Mound of Sound said...

I was curious so I went to a BC wildlife site. It seems the Roosevelt is native to the province. They were largely killed off from the mainland. Current population is 3,200, all but 200 of those on the island. Apparently the herds are quite stable here although they're mainly on the north half of the island past Campbell River.

Anonymous said...

From an ecological perspective, life of a cougar is more precious that one of a Mound...


The Mound of Sound said...

Which is why, A...non, I wouldn't shoot a cougar except in self-defence. Apparently a gunshot fired into the air is almost all it takes to send them running for cover. That suits me just fine.