An Encounter with Wildlife in New Mexico

Story by: Dave D’Abate
Alright everyone, here is a fun little piece I wrote a few weeks back recounting a certain encounter I experienced two years ago. Enjoy!
An Encounter with Wildlife in New Mexico

As I was walking alone at night on the mesa, all I could think was I don’t want to be eaten, but then I remembered some good advice I once heard; ‘Be kind to wildlife because you’re alive when they start eating you.’ These kind words reinforced my decision to reach for the nearest ‘cat bat’, which essentially resembles a lengthy branch with which one could defend themselves from a vicious predator such as a mountain lion.

In my opinion, one of the creepiest things to see in the woods at night is eyes glowing back at you in the faint light from a headlamp. Those not very well accustomed to the outdoors may not be able to distinguish between which are the deadlier pair of eyes. In the event that any reader happens to encounter a glowing pair of eyes, this may be useful information. When reflecting light from a headlamp or flashlight, deer have green eyes and they are spaced farther apart. Mountain lion eyes are yellow and closer together, also generally closer to the ground. A black bear’s eyes are silvery and very close together. Feel free to use this information and allow it to coincide with any instincts of ‘fight or flight’ because if any friends see you running away in sheer terror from a mule deer, you’ll never hear the end of it.

I have personally had multiple encounters with all three of the animals listed above. One thing to keep in mind if you do happen to spot a mountain lion is that he saw you long before you saw him. The typical reason for encountering one at all is that they want you to see them, unless the encounter involves a sneak attack from the bushes, in which case just remember the advice from earlier about how to behave whilst being eaten alive.

This encounter begins with my walking alone at dusk in mountain lion infested territory; already not such a great idea but I was on my way back from Inspiration Point after visiting so I knew the way to take for sunrise the next day. While I scrambled down the rocky outcropping back toward the trail, I spotted a mule deer standing near the trail grazing on a Gambel Oak sapling. As I continued to hike down toward the trail head, before my eyes could comprehend the scene, a cougar streaked from amidst the foliage and pounced on the mule deer in a horrific yet graceful reminder of the food chain. The cougar quickly drug its kill out of sight into the foliage as I stood shell-shocked, trying to grasp what I had just witnessed.

I knew I was nearly a mile from the camp I had left earlier and now I had to make that journey back without any headlamp at night with a predator very near. Given the carnage that had transpired on the trail I should have taken, I chose to follow the flat of ground I was already atop above the trail thinking it would lead to the camp which also resided on a flat meadow on the side of this mesa. I soon found out how wrong my decision was. The terrace I had followed quickly angled with the rest of the mesa’s side and became a steep cliff side. It was very dark, near impossible to see under the trees at this time of night and as I stumbled along I suddenly heard a very large branch crack, then snap not twenty ahead. It seems the cougar had returned, as deer lack the ability to sinisterly break tree limbs in the dark for added effect.

It was at this point I tried shouting to scare my unseen adversary on an alternate hunt. I picked up and threw rocks toward the direction the sound had originated hoping to hit what I could not see. After a few moments of silence that seemed to drag on for hours, I fumbled around trying to grasp any branch I might possibly use as a ‘cat bat’ in the event of an attack. Luckily I discovered an adequate limb that I felt could withstand more than a single strike to the cougar’s head and also provided the comfort of false security. I stood ready to swing my weapon in that spot for what felt like a lifetime, given the situation at hand. Off in the distance I could barely discern the faint sound of clapping at what must have been the evening program at my destination in camp. I slowly crept downhill toward the clapping with my hands raised, ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

After a few moments I heard the shrill blast of a whistle and a voice shouting. A friend, Rosy, had hear my yelling from at the program fire and had run up the side of the mesa along the trail I had lost looking for me with a headlamp. I yelled back to Rosy and his light soon appeared in the dark giving me a view of him running with a hand-axe raised at the ready. I recounted the events that had transpired to him and the situation at hand as we set off in the direction of camp. We found and followed the trail with aide from his light. As we hit a switchback and turned the corner in the trail, not even fifteen feet ahead was the cougar bathed in the headlamp, crouched half behind a large Ponderosa right off the trail waiting to ambush the two of us. This was the one time I was actually glad to see those glowing eyes staring back at me.

That cougar must have stretched about seven feet from nose to tail and I would put him around 250 pounds, easily too much for either one of us to handle if it pounced. The two of us stopped at that corner waiting to see what would happen next, each with our weapons raised. The cougar let loose a guttural growl that would have sent a novice running, which is exactly what the cat wanted; a delightful game of chasing prey for a meal. We stood our ground as the cougar slinked toward us from his concealed position, presumably to be within pouncing distance. Suddenly the mountain lion broke into a full-on sprint whilst snarling its piercing cry into the darkness of the night. As the cougar closed the gap between us, Rosy asked me, “Ready?” to which I responded, “You know it.”

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