April 16, 2002 11:00 pm
Kevin Loveland displays the 90-pound cougar he shot Monday while turkey hunting in the Palmer Junction area. (JONEL RICKER photo).
Kevin Loveland displays the 90-pound cougar he shot Monday while turkey hunting in the Palmer Junction area. (JONEL RICKER photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Kevin Loveland could not believe his eyes.

Loveland, Jonel Ricker and Ricker's oldest son Tyler, all of La Grande, were hunting wild turkeys five miles north of Elgin Monday morning when they had a cougar encounter of the most dangerous kind.

Loveland, a La Grande funeral director, was standing about 20 yards to the side of Jonel Ricker, who was near the top of a small hill. Ricker was calling in a turkey for his son, who was about 30 yards ahead of him.

Suddenly, Loveland saw a crouched cougar about 50 yards behind Ricker. It began running and a few seconds later was about 15 feet from Ricker. Loveland fired his shotgun and hit the animal. The cougar flew into the air after being hit. Then it ran within 3 feet of Ricker before dying seconds later.

Loveland, who could not see the cougar immediately after shooting it because it went down the hillside, was relieved when he saw that his shot had killed the animal. He had feared the worst.

"I was worried that it was pouncing on him,'' said Loveland.

Had Loveland not shot the cougar there is no telling what might have happened. Ricker was not expecting the animal and the cougar probably was not anticipating him.

Ricker, a La Grande attorney, believes the cougar thought he was running in on a turkey. He does know what would have happened if he had come face to face with the cat.

"He was on me so fast, we might have had a tussle without either one of us knowing who the other was,'' Ricker said.

He is grateful that Loveland shot the animal.

"I certainly did not want to face the consequences,'' Ricker said, adding that he was not in a position to shoot the cougar.

"I don't think I could bite through the hide of a cougar,'' Ricker said.

He was not scared when he saw the animal a few feet from him.

"At the time I didn't feel threatened; it was obvious that the animal was mortally wounded,'' said Ricker.

An avid and knowledgeable outdoorsman, Ricker does not want this incident to discourage people from enjoying the outdoors.

"I wouldn't tell anyone not to go out in the woods because of something like this,'' he said.

However, he would urge people to be cautious.

"You have to keep your eyes peeled. You are in their world and environment,'' Ricker said of cougars and other predators.

The turkey hunting party was in the Palmer Junction area around 7:30 a.m. when the incident occurred.

Loveland and Ricker immediately called the Oregon State Police. Loveland moved the cougar about 500 feet to a vehicle and transported it to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office in

La Grande. The animal weighed about 90 pounds.

Loveland and Ricker resumed their turkey hunting a few hours after the encounter.

Although the incident was frightening, Loveland and Ricker were able to laugh about it Tuesday. "I feel cheated. I saved his life and then had to pack the cougar out,'' Loveland said.