A California coyote hunter found the roles of predator and prey reversed last week when a big cat pounced on him and he shot the cougar.
The incident occurred Friday near the northern shore of Mono Lake, between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border.
The hunter, dressed in camouflage and lying on his belly, was blowing a call that mimicked a wounded rabbit in an effort to lure a hungry coyote, said Lt. Bill Dailey of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The hunter spotted a flash of movement and looked over his shoulder just in time to watch a mountain lion leap toward his head.
He threw up his hands to protect his face, the animal struck, bounded away, and the hunter fired twice, killing the cat, Dailey said. The entire ordeal played out in mere moments.
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“It happened extremely fast,” Dailey said. “He didn’t even have time to aim. … It was 100 percent instinctual. It wasn’t like he was premeditating this.”
The hunter, whose name has not been released, sustained a minor injury to his head, and went to an area hospital for rabies shots. He notified wildlife officers that he had killed a mountain lion, a species protected under state law. Following an investigation, wildlife officers determined he was justified in shooting the cougar “given the suddenness of the attack” and the “fear for his life.” He won’t be charged.
As for why the cougar pounced, investigators believe the cat likely mistook the hunter for the injured rabbit he was mimicking. Coyotes are legal to hunt year-round in California.