Of the hundreds of reports that have been published about mountain lion sightings in our area, some of the following are among the most spectacular ever printed.
The first incident emerging from the fields off Co. G by Wonewoc in 2012 was but a taste of the amazing events that had been unfolding in an area of only one square mile. That summer Rose Graber noticed something out of place when she peered out the window of her rural Union Center farm house.
“I saw what I thought was a calf walking through the yard,” she explained. “All I could see was the back of it, and it was the tan or brownish color of a jersey.”
Rushing outside to herd the calf back into its pasture, Graber quickly discovered she’d been in error.
“It was a cat,” she said. “It reminded me of an overgrown farm cat. It was bigger than a dog, though, and had a huge tail that hung down. As it bounded into the woods on all fours, I realized this was something extraordinary.”
It may have been the same lion that invaded farmer Lester Leatherberrry’s property about a mile away on July 3, 2012. Early in the afternoon of that hot, sunny day, Leatherberry discovered that a 1,200-pound beef cow was missing. He found its remains in a pasture about a half mile from his barn.
“One hoof and one shoulder were ripped out,” he reported.
As Leatherberry retraced his steps to his farm buildings, he suddenly noticed a strong odor “like a skunk or a silver fox.”
Passing beneath a tree, he was startled by a low growl from above. Looking up, he was shocked to see an enormous tan cat crouched on a limb.
“It had a three-foot long tail,” stated Leatherberry, “and was about the size of our collie, which is like Lassie. I got the hell out of there.”
As he made a hasty retreat from the impending danger, Leatherberry observed the cougar leap to the ground and lope off in the opposite direction. He contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and was told not to touch the carcass of the cow. When shown tracks near the body, the DNR representatives dismissed them as belonging to a dog, and said they couldn’t be sure what had killed the animal.
Leatherberry says the remains disappeared after three or four days, and isn’t sure whether the lion returned or the DNR removed them.
By far the most disturbing incident to occur in the vicinity happened on the property of Leatherberry’s neighbors, Evan and Trudie Roloff, several years prior.
Mike Walters of West Bend had been turkey hunting with Trudie’s brother Milton. Walters had been hunting futilely in a hilltop field for about 45 minutes, when he gave up and walked downhill. He believed the incessant bellowing of a cow or calf in the valley below had frightened any game from the area.
Reaching the bottom of the hill, the hunter interrupted a life or death struggle. At a distance of only 15 or 20 yards, Mike was stunned to see a mountain lion attacking a heifer.
“The heifer was standing in a creekbed,” he said. “As it saw me and raised its head, I could see this cat standing on its hind legs, a paw on either side of the heifer’s head.”
Walters readily admitted to being frightened.
“I really wasn’t sure what to do,” he said. As I backed up I fired a couple warning shots in the air. In hindsight I wish I’d shot it, I had no idea what the cat would do. And at the time, I was afraid of hitting the heifer.”
Walters raced to the vehicle, and returned shortly thereafter with Evan Roloff. However, by that time, both cougar and heifer were gone. The cow’s remains were discovered about a week later. A DNR representative told Roloff, “Nobody had the right to shoot that cougar.”
Another case of a probable cougar attack was reported by Wonewoc-Center High School student Heidi Brunner. Her family raises horses on their farm near Elroy.
Last summer Brunner found that one of her horses had been injured. “It had claw marks on its shoulders and a gash on the top of its nose.” she reported.
It is well known that dogs (domestic and wild dogs, coyotes and wolves) attack a large animal’s legs, while lions prefer to leap up on the backs of their prey or fall upon them from above.
Brunner says she has heard loud screams nearby. When attempting to feed her horses one night, she found them behaving uncharacteristically.
“They wouldn’t come up the hill to get their food,” she said. “When I went down to get them, my flashlight was reflected by a very strange pair of eyes.”
Two sightings that happened within days of each other in the autumn of 2002 near Lime Ridge help to illustrate the unconventional nature of this phenomenon in the area.
Early one evening as Joe Meyer was trying to complete some combining, his headlights exposed an amazing sight.
“I had just begun to make a turn,” he explained, “and there it was about 40 yards away in the woods, on a trail my son had cleared to remove wood. That cat was huge. It stood at least three feet tall, and had a big round head and a big long tail.
“It was five or six feet long, without the tail, and was kind of a light tan color. It just stood in the road looking at me, its eyes shining in the light.”
When Joe shut off his engine, the cat scurried off into the woods. Meyer said he knew exactly what he’d seen, since his brother is a hunting guide in Wyoming and has several mounted cougars in his home.
Several days later, friend and neighbor Dave Haugh had an encounter of his own. “It was early evening, and my wife and I were going out to eat,” Haugh said. “While she was on the phone, I happened to glance out the window, and here was a big, black cat. It looked like it had hold of a rabbit.”
The animal was about 200 yards away, strolling through the brush and briers at the edge of a neighbor’s pasture. Haugh says he has no uncertainty about what he saw. “I saw the whole cat,” he insisted, “and it was black and bigger than most dogs. And I could see that long tail.” Shortly afterward, Haugh told his friend of his sighting. “He said you’re not going to believe what I saw,” Meyer reported.
Haugh joins a long list of area residents who have reported seeing black ‘panthers’.
The most recent to do so was Tom Bender, who encountered one in broad daylight this February. Bender was puttering about his Elroy-area farm about noon, when he was amazed to see a huge black cat crossing an open pasture about 100 yards away.
“It surprised the hell out of me,” he admitted. “It climbed one hill and then crossed over onto another. It wasn’t in any hurry.”
Bender, who estimated the cat at four or five feet long, without the tail, says that something had recently killed several of his cattle. When he informed the DNR, he was told that wolves were probably responsible. Bender, who doesn’t live far from the farm of Sherry Jones, where two horses were attacked in a much publicized incident in 2010, reported he twice saw light complected lions during the time frame.
One of Bender’s neighbors, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a very frightening meeting with a lion this January. The woman’s ordeal began about dusk when she went to the barn to check on her livestock.
Peering into the shadows, she observed that her cattle “were all huddled together. I have two bulls, and it looked like they were trying to defend the cows and calves from something.”
As the woman attempted to open the gate to enter the barn, she had the fright of her life. “This cougar rushed out of the darkness,” she reported, and leapt over the gate and over my head. I must have startled it.”
She estimated the mountain lion weighed about 90 pounds, and says it was tan in color. It came so close to her head, that she easily determined it was a male.
Last fall she observed a slightly smaller version of the lion that leapt from her barn. She believes it was the same cat, not yet fully grown.
“It was a little smaller than a German shepherd,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. It looked like it was playing with a rabbit.”
To be certain, she grabbed a pair of binoculars, and got a good, long look at the animal as it ascended the hayfield that rises above her barn and vanished into the woods.
The DNR’s response to cougar sightings often leaves area residents shaking their heads. One such incident was prompted by an encounter on Co. Trunk O near Elroy in the winter of 2011. It was about mid-afternoon when Marlys and Larry Schotten spotted a “light brown” mountain lion crossing a snow covered hayfield. Larry said ‘Look at this!', Marlys revealed. “We pulled over and watched it for eight to ten minutes. It had a long tail, we saw it cross a creek and disappear into a wooded area.”
The animal left a trail of tracks, which the Schottens pointed out to the DNR. “They said the tracks were from a huge ‘animal,’ ”Marlys said.
Stanek is a former Hillsboro Sentry Enterprise reporter.