‘Brazen’ Montana lion kills deer in Emerald Hills yard


Mar 11, 2001
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‘Brazen’ lion kills deer in Emerald Hills yard

By MARK HENCKEL, Gazette Outdoor Editor


Seeing mule deer in your yard in Emerald Hills is really nothing new. But seeing a dead mule deer, killed by a mountain lion, right in your front yard, is causing a bit of a stir in this residential area on the southeast edge of Billings.

“It’s a brazen cat,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Brian Golie in summing up the incident Tuesday.

The mountain lion killed the mule deer doe in the front yard of Larry and Kim Edinger, who live at 4498 Box Canyon Springs Road, sometime Saturday night or very early in the morning Sunday.

“My husband, Larry, got up Sunday morning to let our cat in,” Kim said. “And there was a deer by the kids’ trampoline that had been attacked by something. It was right in our front yard.”

After the Edingers called the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department, Golie went to investigate.

“I thought it was going to be a dog kill. We get those. And I wanted to rule out a black bear – we’ve had black bear calls out there,” he said. “But it turned out to be a mountain lion. We think it was yearling – probably an 80-to-90-pound cat – but we can’t say for sure.”

Golie said that the mountain lion had attacked the deer over quite a distance, finally pulling the animal down and breaking its neck in the yard. It had then fed on the deer for a time before leaving the scene.

Because the lion kill occurred in a residential area, FWP officials made the decision quickly to try to catch the cat.

“There is a day care in that area, and that bothered us. It’s in a residential area. So we got the dogs on it right away,” Golie said. “We have a list of houndsmen that we call. We got on the track and followed it for about a quarter of a mile, then the rains came and washed the scent away.

“The cat went straight south, toward Pryor Creek, but where it is now, we don’t know,” he said. “But if people see it and if we hear about it, we’d like to run it again.”

Golie said the evidence they saw of the mountain lion’s behavior indicate that it’s likely a young cat and shows little fear of being close to humans.

“It’s a brazen cat,” he said. “Normally, when you track cats or hunt cats, when they come to a meadow or a yard, they stay in the brush and go around them. This one went right through yards. It’s probably a young cat, raised around people.”

Golie said it’s also likely that the mountain lion has found itself a great place to live in the pine-covered slopes and suburban environment that Emerald Hills has to offer.

“The problem we have in Emerald Hills is that the deer move in on the green grass there and the birdfeeders. There’s no hunting in these places. There are a lot of deer and the deer there are just easy prey. That’s where I’d be if I was a predator,” Golie said.

In the wake of the mountain lion incident, phone calls to local FWP officials have been increasing.

“We’ve been getting a bunch of phone calls from anxious homeowners who are concerned about the lion being there,” said Harvey Nyberg, regional supervisor for FWP in Billings.

Added wildlife manager Charlie Eustace, “The calls are coming from individuals who walk, or jog, or have children and are concerned because of the report of the lions.”

Some of the problems in Emerald Hills and other suburban areas are created by the residents themselves.

“Some people are feeding deer. Or they’re feeding birds. This has caused an attraction for deer that brings them to the area. The mountain lions are simply following the deer,” Nyberg said.

Suburban mountain lions are not new to Emerald Hills or many other parts of the Billings area.

“I’ve gotten reports of mountain lions ever since I first came here in 1978,” Eustace said. “Just about every year, I’d get sightings from people seeing lions or tracks somewhere in the Emerald Hills, or Briarwood, or Duck Creek, or Alkali Creek or Five-mile Creek. I don’t know how many lions there are, but these are areas that are perpetually used by lions.”

In the case of the Emerald Hills mountain lion, FWP said it would like people to report it if they see this cat, particularly because of its location and its behavior. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, they can contact FWP at 247-2940. At other times, contact the sheriff’s office at 256-2929, which will contact a game warden.

Nyberg said they’d like to catch the mountain lion, darting it with a tranquilizer if they can, and move it far away to a safer location. If they couldn’t dart it, they’d kill it if they had to in the interest of safety.

As for Kim Edinger, she hopes FWP catches up with the cat. She said she had seen mountain lion tracks in the area before, most often in the snow. But she had never been involved in an experience like this.

“We’ve got two big dogs and a medium-sized dog and they never barked once during this thing. The game warden told us that dogs instinctively know to back down from mountain lions,” she said.

“I have a 4-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl,” she said. “I won’t let the kids out there in our backyard. My kids are instructed not to go outside alone. It all just makes me kind of nervous.”


Mark Henckel is the outdoor editor of The Billings Gazette. His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be contacted at 657-1395 or athenckel@billingsgazette.com.
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