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Close encounters with cougars

Chris Heffernan, left, and his son Sheldon took this cougar in early January near their home 10 miles west of North Powder. Sheldon, a University of Idaho student, shot the cougar after tracking it with help from his father and brother Justin. - Submitted photo
Chris Heffernan, left, and his son Sheldon took this cougar in early January near their home 10 miles west of North Powder. Sheldon, a University of Idaho student, shot the cougar after tracking it with help from his father and brother Justin. - Submitted photo
NORTH POWDER — Cougars are adept at retracing their tracks.

Chris Heffernan of North Powder will never forget this after a harrowing experience two months ago.

Heffernan was riding a snowmobile a half mile from his home about 10 miles west of North Powder in mid- January when he spotted a fresh cougar track, one made minutes earlier.

“It was hot,’’ Heffernan said.

Alarmed, he cell phoned his sons Justin and Sheldon who came immediately to help their father track the animal.

The Heffernans circled the area and found more fresh cougar paw prints. The tracks appeared to stop at a large ponderosa pine. Chris and his sons were convinced the cougar was in the tree. Firearms in hand, they looked up and surveyed the tree.

Nothing could be seen.

Still, they continued looking, certain the animal was hidden among the needles and branches.

Next Chris, about 15 feet away, re-examined the tracks and made a horrifying discovery.

The tracks indicated the cougar had walked up to the tree but then turned around, retracing his steps in the opposite direction.

“I knew we had been had,’’ Chris Heffernan said.

This meant one thing — the cougar was in the tree Chris had his back to and was just 10 feet from.

Alarmed, he looked over his shoulder to see a daytime nightmare — an adult cougar 10 feet above staring back from the tree’s branches. The predator was coiled and ready to pounce.

“It was looking right at my soul, looking right through me,’’ Heffernan said.

Armed with only a handgun, Heffernan locked his firearm on the mountain lion and called Sheldon, who had a much more powerful gun, a 7mm magnum. Sheldon arrived post haste, knelt next to his dad and took the cougar with one shot. The animal died instantly.

The Heffernans, who both had cougar tags, took the cougar to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office. ODFW biologists measured the cougar at 7.5 feet and estimated it to be about 9 years old.

The cougar is the second the Heffernans have encountered in the area in the past 3 1/2 years. The family has also found evidence of other cougars. It is why they forever take cougar precautions even when near their house, Chris Heffernan said.

“They are beautiful animals but too close to home.’’

 
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