If we live and hunt where any of the Dangerous Six of North America are in residence, what should be our attitude and how should we prepare ourselves?
I’ve shared both research and personal experience of having lived and hunted in both provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario. And I’ve also lived and hunted in both Nova Scotia and Quebec. That pretty much covers Eastern Canada, which is not totally distinct from the Northeast of the USA in topography and ecosystems.
According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, the black-phase cougar migrated from Florida up through the Appalachians, and that was its last recorded location. This mountain chain goes on through the New England States and into Maine and the top half of New Brunswick. That’s were I saw, and also my oldest son about a decade later, a black-phase cougar! The years were 1975 and 1985. Then, according to the witness of a former friend and hunting guide in the Nashwaak River Valley of New Brunswick, he was aware of so-called “devil cats” in the area according to the testimony of local rural residents.
< This is a fair representation of what I saw — and that close. I made the same mistake of calling it a “black panther” until the late Finn AAgaard corrected me in correspondence with him. I had used an image of a big black cat on my letterhead, and he enquired about it. In return I wrote about my experience on the Nashwaak River of N.B., and called it a “black panther”. He told me that it was not a “black panther” but a black cougar. I then checked matters in The Encyclopedia Britannica, and he was correct — as usual! I believe this photo was taken in Arkansas.
So, the six dangerous predators of N.A. that I’m aware of, and/or have had some contact with, are: cougar (mountain lion), wolves, coyotes, bobcats, bear and feral hogs. Domestic dogs that have gone wild could also be added to that list making a total of seven. Still, there are those who contend that domestic dog DNA has been found in some of the eastern coyotes or “brush wolves”, so who knows the whole truth?
Whatever the case, in my various hunting adventures, or simply scouting out an area, I’ve come to be wary of various potential scenarios as to what I might encounter, especially when conducting such activities solo.
Much has already been written and verbally stated on the matter of safety while camping, hiking or fishing alone in remote areas. So my approach to the matter is in using a clean brush — not merely repeating what has already been stated a thousand times… though, surely some repetition is unavoidable, though I’m not reading someone else’s manuscript!
FIRST: Be AWARE of your surroundings at all times! Out of place noises – loud or little. On the other hand, dead silence! There are sounds to be expected while woods walking: light wind in the trees, the rustling of leaves, squirrel chatter… SQUIRREL CHATTER! Why? Squirrels give away your presence… or maybe the presence of a bear! Yes, they do! The faint cry of an animal in distress! Do you recognise a bear cub’s cry for it’s momma? The sound of running water.. note that, it might be important for quenching thirst, or simply as a location to be added to your GPS.
The point is: just be aware of your surroundings! And, even more importantly (if possible) be aware of yourself. How you’re feeling physically and your mental state. How far have you gone? How far back? Do you have enough daylight? Enough drink and food? A compass, GPS, flashlight, knife… and a firearm?
SECOND: Be PREPARED! Some of that is in the above paragraph, but what if? If no one knows where you’ve gone how can they find you if you don’t return as planned? Medications? Basic first aid kit? Overnight stay in the woods? Rain wear? Boots or shoes? PLAN AHEAD! Don’t just assume that everything will be “just fine”!
THIRD: Know YOUR LIMITS! Be honest with yourself and your experience thus far! Sure, you could push it a bit – but be wise in your estimation of the situation vs. your abilities.
FOURTH: Know YOUR FIREARM! By practice and use. A .22LR revolver might be OK for smaller critters, but what about a bobcat, mountain lion or bear?
The other potentially dangerous predators on our list include:
The DOMESTIC DOG THAT’S GONE WILD!
They aren’t usually in packs but many hunters and others have encountered them in the wild! Many “pet” dogs have been bred as hunting dogs for birds, small game and even larger game as bears, elk and other antlered species. Some get lost in a remote area, and in loving the chase fail to return to their owners or operators. Several just “leave home” for the excitement of a wild life! Others are “dropped off” in a remote wildness area since they’ve become a burden or nuisance to the owner! And there are likely other reasons why certain canines turn “wild”.
One of my bear hunting partners and I were Norm’s clients for a spring bear hunt. After giving us “the scoop” for the day, Norm departed for the Pearson International Airport in Toronto to pick up his daughter who would be involved in a wedding. He would be gone for the day and we were on our own! He assigned two distinct locations, and it was up to us to decide where each of us would go. But since I was travelling with my friend in his pickup, he’d have to drop me off at “my” site before returning to his. In the process we heard the howling of a hound dog. We remained in place until this hound showed up with a radio collar! It then seemed to adopt us for the day, so my partner locked it in the back of his pickup until our hunt for the day was over. We knew it was a lost dog, but who owned it and how did it get lost in a remote wilderness? Long story short, it got returned to it’s owner who lived in Whitby, a suburb of Toronto. It was “rented out” for a hunt and the “renters” failed to retrieve it for unknown reasons. Thankfully, the phone number of the owner was on the collar. But the point is: actually many domestic dogs get lost for one reason or another and turn wild for survival in wilderness areas.
How do we recognise them and what do we do? In the case of that hound, it was looking for human help, but would it have survived on its own through the months ahead, especially the winter months? Not likely with its short legs in 2 to 3 feet of snow and – 20*F. So, most domestic dogs that actually turn wild for survival may resemble a wolf! Yet, usually they don’t look like a mature healthy wolf. There’s something about them that makes you feel uneasy! They might be following you or looking at you as though you could become their prey! That’s NOT a lone wolf that’s unhealthy and famished but a dog gone wild! Don’t try to save it! Put it out of it’s misery as efficiently as possible! And some become predators of domestic animals such as sheep. Not all are the result of becoming lost in a remote wilderness. Some from “good” suburban homes are “dumped” into farm country in the hopes of them being “adopted” on some farm. Instead, farm owners simply see them as stray dogs that may cause problems, so the rejected dog turns into a predatory canine! Often they do get shot by farm hands as a predatory creature. I knew one cattle rancher nearby whose tractor driver always kept a firearm in the cab with him.
But they could become a danger to those who are unprepared to recognise them for what they are and deal wisely but decisively with the situation.
Bobcats and lynx are of the same species. Bobcats tend to be the larger of the two. They are found in many parts of the world and throughout North America. I’ve been very close to one and another was unexpected in location and size. A big mature bobcat is fully capable of bringing down some whitetailed deer, though usually they feed on lesser prey. They are muscular and agile with keen senses. Rarely will you see them in daylight and up close.
But I did on two occasions. The first: I was deer hunting on the back of a farm with a woodlot, being invited by the owner who was a deacon in our main church in New Brunswick, and on in years. I was barely in my twenties, and his son was the main operator of the farm and older than I. He directed me where to hunt in the bush of their property. I headed out, early morning, over a very old bush trail. That took me over a knoll, and at the peak I met my first bobcat coming my way. In fact, we both were startled! It was a close encounter of the first order – about fifteen feet between us! How did I calculate that? I didn’t have time to, but it was about the length of a dorey… what’s that? Dories were made famous in the Atlantic Ocean when sailing vessels used them as weather-worthy small fishing boats for hand-lining cod, etc. My dad always had a couple for seigning nets and handlines, etc. They were relatively large row boats, which, as young men we borrowed to cross over a harbour to court our girlfriends! They were fifteen to sixteen feet in length but unsinkable! That’s how I knew that bobcat was about fifteen feet from me when we met! I stopped in my tracks, though I had a Brit .303 in my hands, and that feline took off like… well, a scalded cat! It wasn’t a big one but there were no doubts as to its genes!
< a decent image borrowed from the net.
The second occasion was in the same general area, but separated by twenty miles and a few years. There was a lumber mill on the Nashwaak River, near Stanley, owned and operated by wealthy members of, again, our main church. I was driving by (with my wife) the main entrance to the mill and saw, standing still, a huge bobcat! It didn’t move as I passed within a few yards of it. I could not have believed a bobcat could be that big had I not seen it — with my wife – first hand! I’m glad I didn’t meet that one at fifteen feet at the back of the farm! Maybe it would have skeedadelled as well, but I doubt it — that cat never moved when I passed within 20 yards of it! It looked well fed — likely on the best deer of the area! And being that close to the mill in operation with men “milling” around, and traffic passing by, I’ve no doubt it was indeed quite fearless!
There’s something that urban dwellers, and even suburban types, don’t understand about rural Canadians: Rural Canadians dwell on a land mass that’s eight to ten times that of city and suburban dwellers. Yet, the city types have more clout – through politicians – than rural people, many of whom are as well educated (they have to be for successful entreprenureship in whatever their occupations) and very knowledgeable of their ecosystems — more so than even the so-called “professionals” because they experience on a daily basis what’s going on there in real time. New Brunswick, in sharp contrast to Ontario, for example, has about 1/2 its total population living in rural New Brunswick. Ontario has about 85% of its total population living in urban areas! How much do they really know about the rest of Ontario that’s 10 times larger? Over eleven million Ontarians basically live just north of the American border that stretches for 1678 miles (nearly 2700 kilometres). That’s a very thin slice along the southern border of Ontario, which reaches all the way up to James Bay in the north!
The long and short of it is this: I’ll trust the word of a rural New Brunswicker, in his/her experience of wildlife over that official in government office at Fredericton, the capital. The same applies here in Ontario. Our Provincial Capital is in Toronto, and the Federal Capital is in Ottawa. And I (we) have lived in rural Canada as well as it’s big cities. And I have known some key people who have worked for the Ontario Government in wildlife management, so that all I think and say isn’t totally based on my personal experience alone.
I don’t profess real hands-on experience other than what I’ve read and seen in videos. Though I did see six or eight on a rural farm about 45 minutes drive north of here. That was my first sighting several months ago, and I did see them for a second time on the same farm about a week later. Since then, I’ve not sighted them again though I pass by that property on a fairly regular basis. They were coal black and the pic I’ve previously published was representative of what I saw, though not of the group itself.
It has been “officially” recognised that “wild hogs” are now Ontario residents! Though hunting them was initially discouraged (“It might send them into hiding”) it seems the MNRF has recognised the error of that logic and now simply ask for reports of sightings.
They are not only a nuisance but very destructive of agriculture properties. And they are very invasive! They’ve become “wild hogs” with no respect for fences or other man made boundaries. They also can be aggressive with their sharp tusks! Some attain 400 + lbs, so they are potentially dangerous in any encounter.
Since I’m a “bear hunter”, and some of these critters are of the approximate size — and perhaps disposition — I’ll “be loaded for bear” just in case I meet up with one (or more) as I did with that bobcat just over the knoll!
My motto: “Always be prepared for what could happen – not for what should happen!” If you are hunting – and expecting a 25 – 30 lb coyote, be prepared for a 100 lb wolf! Don’t assume that you know all the details of your future — before it happens… but just in case, be prepared by putting your hope in God who alone knows the future because He controls it! (The apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, ch. 8). You don’t know that? Then read “The Good Book”, there’s a map there for your future! Some people like maps while others wet their finger to test the wind’s direction!
“A philosopher is like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat”! (I picked that up somewhere)
Human philosophies are like droplets of rain on an umbrella in a wind storm looking for a consistent reality. (This one is original)
And then, there are:
CAPTIVE WOLVES THAT HAVE ESCAPED OR BEEN RELEASED:
The penning of wolves has been a practice in Ontario for several years, at least until a woman who tended them at one location was attacked and killed. I don’t know the current status, but several years ago there was a resident who built a pen for wild wolves in one of my prime hunting areas in Haliburton Highlands. I saw the pen several times when I passed by on one of the dirt sideroads from the main paved highway that went north from Gooderham to Hwy# 118 going east out of the town of Haliburton.
That stretch of highway from Gooderham to Haliburton has several dirt sideroads on both the east and west sides, and much of it is Crown Land with several lakes and wilderness. That’s where most of my hunting activities have taken place over the past three plus decades. It is beautiful country with high hills, valleys, ravines, streams and lakes. It is also cottage country around many of the lakes. Both hunting and fishing are active recreational pursuits in season. Then, tourism is encouraged and participated in during all four seasons, especially when the fall colours are in full display from late September to near the end of October. Just a drive through the area gives fresh life to the soul. I’ve spent many enjoyable motorcycle trips in that whole area, and there is wildlife galore, including wolves.
On one trip in late March for wolf hunting, I pulled into a sideroad that was just beginning to thaw. It had been snow covered with the formation of ice underneath due to snow melting and freezing several times over late winter and early spring. This particular sideroad was not maintained during winter months as there were no four-season residences on the lake at which it ended. But I could drive in over the slush and ice for a hundred yards or so. At that point the road widened so that during other seasons vehicles could pull off to the side for parking. Just beyond that point there was a woods trail on the left, the beginning of which had a clearing large enough for parking a few vehicles. We often used it during hunting seasons for deer and bear. Opposite that, on the other side of the road was an old clear-cut that went up over a ridge, then descended sharply into a ravine below. On top was one of our prime bear bait setups.
< This was the location of that “prime bear bait setup” I was seated behind the blind, but was deer hunting. This is just above where I encountered the two wolves.
I knew this area well and since March is mating period for wolves, I planned on some calling. But just after turning off the main highway to this sideroad, in my driver’s side mirror I picked up the presence of two animals that clearly looked like wolves to me. I slowed nearly to a stop and pulled as far as possible into the widened area of the road. The two creatures cautiously followed and then stood still at about thirty yards behind my parked van. By then I was quite certain they were wolves (too large for coyote), but why were they seemingly following me? My Ruger 96/44 was in the seat behind me, separated from the clip with ammo. I continued to wait them out as I didn’t want to spook them – or be attacked by them before I had access to my loaded rifle. They then circled my vehicle at a distance. Then I noticed further details: one was larger than the other, and a distinction in colour and behaviour was obvious. The larger one ( perhaps 80 – 90 lbs) was very wolf-like in appearance and behaviour. It stood at about 35 yards from my vehicle while the other was smaller, and darker in colour, but approaching my side of the van, it stared up at me. I then noticed it wearing a tracking collar! Looking more closely at the larger one, that seemed in charge, I noticed it too had a tracking collar (NOT a radio collar). Ah-ha! Two wolves that had been tranquillised, or in captivity, and then either released or had escaped.
< A perfect image of the larger of the two wolves. The title for this wolf was “Timber Wolf”!
The pen I’ve already mentioned for captive wolves was only one sideroad – about 1/2 mile (.8 Km) on the same east side of the highway from where they showed up in my rear-view mirror. I’d previously seen wolf tracks crossing the highway from deep snow on the west side going into deep snow on the east side not more than 200 yards from the pen. Sooo… 1 + 1 = 2 wolves having escaped from that pen OR possibly had been released for tracking purposes. It was evident that a human presence (and a vehicle) was not totally novel to them — but they (especially the older and larger) were not ready to become friendly. After a “standoff” for what seemed like 10 minutes, they left for their – no doubt – hunting adventure down the road and around a bend out of sight. Legally, I could then have shot at least one, but decided against it for several reasons, and with them out of sight I decided to follow their tracks as far as my van permitted in the uncertain road conditions. As it turned out, they only went a couple of hundred yards before turning off the road and down into thick woods and brush country — well known to me.
I was alone in that venture, but later discussed it with friend Ken the CO. He had not policed that area so was unaware of the specifics for penned wolves there, but conceded there were laws involved. The enclosure was made of chain-linked fencing about 12 ft high without a roof. Therefore it might well have been possible for certain wolves to have escaped over the top. It was quite obvious that those two were on the prowl for prey. Were they potentially dangerous? Yes – if that had been an unwary and unfamiliar person who pulled in there for a rest stop, and got out of their vehicle thinking that these were two lost dogs that belonged to someone, he/she may have attempted to get them into their car or truck! The result of such actions could well be tragic!
Til the next… and last, when predatory bears will be discussed…
Over the past dozen years I’ve written more on this theme than any other. So, if you R – E – A – L – L – Y want to, it’s all recorded in those 400+ pages – somewhere in there…