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home : columns : ron kuecker
October 18, 2019

8/28/2019 3:54:00 PM
Ben Lilly thoughts after Colorado cougar attack

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

As I read about the third mountain lion attack on humans this year in Colorado, my thinking quickly turned to that of Ben Lilly. He is a legendary figure from 100 years ago, a bear and cougar hunter second to none.
It is reported he killed 500 cougars and 600 bears in his lifetime. Some say many more.
He was born in Alabama in 1856 and took up farming and blacksmithing. I'm guessing he heard plenty about Tennessee's Davy Crockett, "King of the wild frontier" and thought I'd like to be him (except for the Alamo).
He left his wife and kids to run the farm he had inherited and probably, wrongly, thought, I'll be back after I get rid of this desire to live off the land. But he never did!
From then on, carrying one of the last things he made in the blacksmith shop, an 18-inch long S-shaped knife. It was double-edged, pointed at the end and sharp on both sides. It was commonly called an "Alabama toothpick."
And it was a long life considering the hardships he encountered but adjusted to quite well. He lived to be 80, passing away gently at his home in Arizona in 1936.
Hunting deeply into his 70s he was the guy people contacted, mostly ranchers, to get rid of a bear or cougar.
His favorite rifles were an early Winchester 1870s 30-30 lever action repeater. He later acquired a Winchester .33 caliber lever action that he used on bears. The bullet measured .338" in diameter, the same as our modern .338 except not a magnum as now.
His hunting grounds were Louisiana to Arizona with an occasional trip into Mexico and once guided another hunter all the way north to Idaho. He did all of his traveling on foot.
To me, based on reading of him for many years, his most interesting trip was into Mexico. He had gotten word, somehow, of a grizzly bear terrorizing some people in the foothills of a mountain. They were even afraid to travel the main road after several had been killed by the large grizzly.
Supposedly, he showed up one day, walking into town with two hounds tied to his waist, a rifle over one shoulder and a bag of cornmeal over the other. He exchanged a few words with the people, then headed down the road to where the big, people-eating bear hid out.
It was the last they saw of him. It was the last they heard of the bear. One of them lived on, it was Ben.
The Colorado cougars
This year, 2019, since February there have been three cougar attacks in Colorado. One jogger even killed one in hand to claw combat with a rock and a sharp stick.
One hunter scouting ahead of an elk hunt had backed away from one, then stumbled and fell igniting an attack. He fought it off with a pocket knife. Then a few days ago, an 8-year-old boy was attacked while playing in his backyard southwest of Denver. Neighbors were able to fight the cat off him and saved his life.
In each case Colorado Wildlife and Parks officers enlisted hound hunters, treed the lions and killed them. All were young yearlings, born the previous year.
They were hungry, unable to catch and kill deer. They turned to easier human prey. It was good they were dispatched before they began to rely on humans as an easy meal and became man-eaters.
And that is why I thought of Ben Lilly. One hundred years ago we would have called on him. Today, maybe even he would have a cellphone.
Goose and dove season
The first of our fall hunting seasons will begin this coming weekend. Both will open on Sept. 1 and hunters shouldn't hope for anything great.
Geese have had poor hatches the last two springs because of late and serious spring storms. The year 2018 brought a terrible, icy, windy, snowstorm with really cold temperatures. This year we had a late windy snowstorm.
The nesting had already been delayed two and a half weeks and in my estimation we probably lost half of our goose nests. Only big, old mama geese held tight on the muskrat houses. Ground nesters probably did a bit better.
Dove hunting; that's become a very difficult hunt to predict or to be successful.
These wind and rain storms we have encountered the last several years resulted in poor nesting success. Doves are very poor nesters, setting their twigged nests, unattached, upon horizontal branches of pine and spruce. They blow off easily.
Doves, however, have short incubation periods and are great renesters. Nonetheless, my gravel road encounters with young doves have not been good.
Combine that with our areas minimal wheat acres and early harvest followed by quick tillage leaving only a few sites for doves to feed. They leave early.
Find a good one though and you should have some luck. Enjoy, be careful, hunting accidents are never forgotten.

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