Large cat sighting disputed

Originally reported as cougars, DNR officials now conclude it was bobcats

Nashwauk, Minn. — The report of a pair of mountain lions in Itasca County has been called a case of mistaken identity by a Minnesota DNR wildlife official.

After news of the sighting – first reported by the Pioneer Press – circulated on the Internet, Dan Stark, the Minnesota DNR’s large carnivore program leader, investigated the sighting but said it is likely the cat pictured in a tree was a bobcat, not a cougar.

Stark visited the property Monday to investigate. He said he didn’t find any traces of it.

But he took a cardboard cutout of a 100-pound cougar, placed it in the same tree it was pictured in, and then took pictures of the cutout from the stand where 16-year-old Jordan Bowen, of Rush City, was hunting Nov. 8 when he saw the cat.

“The bottom line is it’s not a cougar,” said Stark, who said comparing the pictures show the cat was too small to be a cougar.

Stark said his initial reaction to one of the photos was that it could be a cougar, but in another there were markings that are not typical of the large felines.

If there were two cougars in Minnesota, that would be a first.

“That would be unprecedented,” Stark said. “We haven’t observed that before. To have some information that it occurred would be interesting, but that doesn’t appear to be what happened.”

Dan Bowen, the boy’s father, disagreed with Stark.

“He had the silhouette in the tree, but it was lower,” Bowen said. “How do you deny the photo? The photo doesn’t lie. You can look at the photo and see a mountain lion in the tree. Bobcats are like 18 inches long. This cat is clearly larger than a bobcat. What’s the big secret here? They are acting like this was a Sasquatch sighting.”

Bowen said the markings aren’t enough to discount the cat’s size.

“Who says every cat has a purebred coat on them?” he said.

Jordan Bowen said he was deer hunting near one end of a swamp when he heard a big buck snorting through the thick brush.

“It ran around the tree, and I saw something right behind it,” he said in a phone interview. “I was planning on shooting it until that mountain lion surprised me.”

He said he then witnessed the cat quickly scale a tree about 35 to 40 yards away from him.

“It was 40 feet up in the tree in a matter of seconds,” he said.

The cat sat in the tree for about 10 minutes, and Bowen said he looked at it through his gun rifle scope, getting a better look at it. The cat stared at him.

“If that thing would have come after me, I would have shot it,” he said. “It could have jumped up my tree so quick. It was two times the size of me.”

The young Bowen said he is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 110 pounds.

“That thing was just massive,” he said.

He snapped pictures of the cat with his smartphone.

The cat slowly crawled down the tree, he said, before running into another cat, which it proceeded to fight. His phone’s available file space ran out, he said, and he was unable to get pictures of the two cats together.

“They swung at each other and started screaming,” Bowen said. “My brother and sister could hear them from 1,000 yards away.”

His siblings were hunting on the other side of the swamp, and Dan Bowen, who was also hunting even farther away, confirmed that his other kids heard the noises, though he said he did not.

Jordan Bowen did manage to record some audio of the encounter between the two cats, but wind makes it difficult to make much out, Stark said.

“There is one animal that makes a growl noise and there is something else that is kind of squalling,” Stark said of the recording. “Regardless of what he saw, it was a pretty unique wildlife observation. Not too many people get to witness that from their deer stand.”

Dan Bowen, who said he takes his son’s word on what he saw, aside from not being swayed by Stark’s comparison pictures, said the main reason for spreading the word was to inform the public, since the cats out West are known to be far more aggressive than other large predator species, sometimes attacking people.

“That thing was 40 yards away from him,” Dan Bowen said. “He knew exactly what he was looking at.”

The closest known population of the cats is in the western Dakotas, though single cougars have been spotted in Minnesota before. While female cougars are known to have a much smaller home range, male cougars have been documented to do much wandering and have larger home ranges.

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