Hunting Season Opens Amidst Increased Cougar Sightings
This year has been a big one for cougar and mountain lion sightings across Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. And those numbers seem to be on an upward trend; something that may keep local hunters on their toes this year.
According to a recent report from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, in 2022 so far, there have been 7 verified cougar sightings across Sauk, Richland, Grant and Crawford County, with 10 so far across the state this year; 4 of those reports came from Richland County alone. Several of the reported sightings were caught on local trail cameras and pictures can be found here.
In Illinois and Iowa there have also been increases in big cat activity and sightings. The Illinois DNR captured and relocated a tracked cougar that traveled from Nebraska and through Iowa without incident or being seen. A mountain lion was also hit by a vehicle in late October just outside of Chicago. According to the Illinois DNR, there have been eight confirmed cougars in Illinois between 2002 and 2022. Of those captured or killed locally in that span; all were sub-adult, 2 to 3 year-old, males. DNA analysis indicated that these animals were genetically similar to cougars from South Dakota and strongly suggests that these were all wild males dispersing from that western population.
Illinois DNR wants to remind residents that mountain lions are protected under Illinois law. That means it is illegal to hunt or harass them, unless the cats are a threat to people or property. In any instance, the authorities (State DNR) would like to be informed when a cougar is sighted.
In Iowa, sightings continue to rise in the Western areas of the state but have been steadily moving toward the resource heavy area which includes the driftless region of the Tri-States. The Iowa DNR confirmed around 16 cougar sightings from 1995 to 2014. In 2014 there was a confirmed deer kill by a cougar in Northeast Iowa. More recent sightings just occurred in Madison and Warren Counties as well as in Indianola. See the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Cougar Sightings map below which is current up to last year (2021).
Our Departments of Natural Resources know that young male cougars do continually travel across the Midwestern states. This is usually done in an attempt to find a mate, or expand their shrinking habitat; as their original areas see increased competition for, again, mates, but also food and territory. While Iowa might offer ample food, it lacks the vast expanse of wild country and female mates that these young males seek. So they often continue moving on, which means there are currently no known breeding populations in Iowa. State biologists can confirm, and at an increased instance this year, that cougars do wander through Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri. Confirmed sightings do remain rare to nonexistent in other Midwestern states from Kansas to Ohio.
The cougar is the largest wildcat in North America and can weigh up to 160 pounds. And With deer hunting season officially open its more now more important to be aware of your surroundings. Cougar do NOT hibernate, so they are out and actively hunting during and throughout the winter months. The Tri-States is more than capable of supplying these large predators with a healthy and thriving deer population.
Since hunting season is officially open; and you, and the cougar, are going after the same prey. It might be a good idea to know how to deal with a run-in should it occur.
- DO NOT RUN! Running will stimulate the cats urge to hunt/attack you.
- Stand tall and make yourself BIG.
- Attack first. Scream loudly at the would-be attacker and throw objects if necessary.
- Keep children and small pets close, standing between them and the cougar while slowly backing away.
- If attacked, fight back with a sharp object if possible, aiming for the eyes of the big cat.
Again, the DNR wants the public to report cougar sightings in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. To report one, access the large mammal observation form on the DNR's website and include details of the exact location, time, date and description of the animal. Photos of the animal or its tracks are also helpful to the agency. Place a ruler next to tracks to help provide a size reference. Biological samples (hair, scat) are also very helpful.