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I remember making a resolution last year after encountering two strange creatures in the woods south of Edson, Alberta while out hunting on October 17, 2022. It was such a beautiful fall day, 12:30 in the afternoon, sunny and warm, and out walking a fence line. Sorry, got off the subject and that’s another story. But, I had decided to not hunt anymore after the 2022 hunting season because of that encounter.

However, once this year’s season got close, I just had to do it once more! I am 67-years-old now and I have loved hunting since I was seven-years-old hunting gophers on my grandfather’s farm. But, recently, I had been battling a “fear of the woods” because of last year’s encounter.

I was determined to get over that fear this year and get back to doing what I loved to do. Driving to some location, getting out, walking cutlines, pipelines, game trails, 50-year-old logging roads, stream courses and such, all by myself. I loved the bush, I loved the quietness, I loved watching animals and picking berries, chattering with squirrels, everything you other outdoorsmen love to do. I loved to see how close I could get to animals or how close I could call them to me without harming them. I have left many trophy animals walking around while I got a hearty laugh and a big smile out of it. The bush was so innocent and safe to me, until... it wasn’t!

This bowhunting season was going to be my last, I was sure. But the season wasn’t turning out so good this year. It was too damn hot to hunt. From August 25 to September 15, 2023, it was over 28 Celsius just about every day in WMU 340. I am not a morning hunter when the temperature is cooler. Mornings are for coffee, news, and putting your feet up—not for hunting (lol).

Anyway, September 16 comes along, the last day of bow season, and I really wanted to get a cow elk for winter meat. I checked the flagpole—wind coming from the east, quite smoky. Okay, I know where I am going.

I got into the truck and drove to the spot, got my gear together, drank a litre of water (so I don’t have to carry any), nocked an arrow, and proceeded to walk a kilometre to a place where I knew the elk hung out. I started this practice of nocking an arrow right away after losing opportunities to take animals that walked out in front of me at close distances, unexpectedly. Reaching for an arrow in the quiver was enough to send them running, leaving me without the shot. So, now it’s ready at all times

The spot is a pretty good spot with a new pipeline and new clover on it. It’s bordered by a seven or eight-year-old cutblock with lots of grass, shrubs and small trees. It’s close to the river, where the elk can wade in the water during these hot days, has great bedding areas, and everything an elk would love.

I walked down the hill and across the pipeline to the edge of the cutblock. Hmmm... I see many elk tracks here, just as I thought. Looks like a couple of different bulls, several cows, some calves by the tracks, nice... I walked along the edge of the cutblock looking for good sightlines for shooting. I walked a stretch for a hundred yards and then back again, looking for the perfect spot. And here it was—five spruce trees, varying sizes and ages, close together to match my green camo, sightline for at least 60 yards into the cutblock on the right, and 20 yards into the cutblock on the left. I’d be able to see what was coming and prep for them when they came out. The pipeline was treeless and to my back, with me looking into the cutblock, wind in my face. Great, everything is in order and I am comfortable with where I am at.

I give off an elk bugle (it’s pretty early), but I might as well let them know I am here and open for business. I follow with a couple of cow mews. Okay, 18:30, I let off another bull call and a couple cow mews from two different cow calls. At 18:45, same deal, but just cow calls this time. At 19:00, bull call, cow mews. I think I hear a branch break deep in the cutblock on my left. At 19:15, cow mews.

As I am looking to my right, I suddenly hear what sounds like a big animal running towards me on my left—thrump... thrump...thrump... on the borderline of the two areas. As I look over to my left, I see a blur of an animal running into the bush 40 feet from me and from the colour of it, it looks like a coyote. No big deal was my thought at the time. Then, bursting out of the bush 30 feet from me comes a MASSIVE COUGAR! He is old, huge, scraggly hair hanging down his sides with black tips on the hair. His paws are huge and his claws grip the ground as he races towards me. At 20 feet from me, he stops momentarily, and recognizes that I am not an elk.

Cougar encounters are becoming more common in Alberta.
The thought “bear spray” enters my mind, as I immediately start backing up and yelling, “NO! NO! NO!” Hoping to either scare him away or order him to not attack! His eyes lock onto my eyes and my eyes lock onto his eyes. They are black eyes on a mean and angry face. As soon as we were eye-locked, his ears flattened out, he opened his mouth, and quickly started moving towards me. The “bear spray” thought was gone, as it was too late now. I drew back my bow as he reached the 10-foot mark, and I released the arrow. The arrow hit him in the right eye close to the tear duct, and I could clearly hear bones breaking as the broadhead penetrated his skull. He somersaulted backwards and bounced into the cutblock, growling, screaming and hissing. I could see his hind legs in the air as he tried to rub the arrow out of his head in the ground. I quickly grabbed another arrow to put it on the string but was shaking so much I just couldn’t get it on. I started backing up towards the truck, a kilometre away. I knew that cougars often hunt in pairs so I was afraid to turn my back to the situation, but you do not make much time walking backwards. I turned and ran 25 yards and then turned to see if anything else was following. Then ran again. I did this all the way back to the truck.

The first photo is where I was (yellow bag) when he stopped at the 20-foot mark (white paper) before coming for me. The second photo I had moved away from the bush about eight feet when he came at me.
As I got to the truck, I realized how lucky my shot had been because I didn’t have time to aim. I had time to draw the bow and let the trigger go, and that was it! And if I hadn’t had an arrow already nocked, I would not have had time to remove one from the quiver and notch it! Had I missed this lion, I wouldn’t be writing about this experience to you. Had I hit his forehead, the broadhead might have ricocheted off his head. Had I hit his body, his momentum would have had us colliding and I’d be dead.

This whole episode lasted 15 seconds from the first thrumping to the arrow release. FIFTEEN SECONDS! Those 15 seconds were a blur to me as my mind went blank. I did not feel fear or panic. I simply knew I was in deep trouble. I had to deal with it as best as I could, quickly. There were no thoughts of escape to the truck. It was simply here and now and IT! I didn’t think of the consequences or have my life flash before my eyes. I believe primal instinct took over and allowed me to maintain a focus that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve with my own will.

I drove silently back home, shaking all the way. I was and am suffering from shock and trauma from this encounter now. I phoned Fish and Wildlife when I got home and told them the story. They said I couldn’t keep the animal if I found it because it was not “in season”.

I stayed up all night, unable to sleep. In the morning, I called two friends to come with me to the area and get that cougar, assuming he’d be dead by morning. It was the first day of rifle season and we went prepared for the worst. When we got there, we found blood where he’d been thrashing around and the broken arrow. The blood trail went for 30 feet and then stopped. The arrow had 4 inches missing off it.

There is a cougar dead or walking around with a broadhead and four inches of arrow in his head. We searched for three hours, walking parallel with each other to the old growth forest and back to the pipeline. There was no cougar carcass anywhere.

I went back to the area two days later, alone, looking for raven activity, and two days later after that. Where the ravens are gathered, the carcass will be below them. No ravens anywhere. I have not been back there since.  

This could possibly be my last bowhunt, as I am not much into tree stands. I have too much energy and am too impatient to wait it out in a tree stand. We will just have to wait and see what happens next year! ■

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