It was a bright sunny morning. Beautiful blue skies.
Leaf rake in hand. The dog lagged behind, sniffing as usual.

The garden was just ahead, not more than 10 feet away.
A scuffle. A deep growl. My legs stopped moving.
The dog laser-focused on something angry nearby.

The palette crashed spilling nursery pots across the path.
The cat scream split the morning calm like an untimely tear of a dress seam.
The dog leaped, feet running before touching ground, barking fearlessly.

The cougar looked nearly as big as the 100-plus pound dog.
The giant cat didn’t know the dog also liked to climb trees

and that chasing lions was her birthright.

Not all wildlife is friendly

Courtesy ODFW

Living in a rural area, we are often surprised by the variety of wildlife all around us. Some of it is not very friendly.

Oregon is home to more than 6,000 cougars, also called mountain lions. Quite a change from the estimated 200 cougars counted in the 1960s.

Oregon has three cat species, all belonging to the same family as the domestic house cat. Cougars however are considerably larger than a house cat. Size will vary depending on location and prey population. Males can top 200 lbs. with females being somewhat smaller and lighter.

Territory pressures

Chance interactions with humans increase as cougar populations grow and humans encroach on territories. In recent years, more cougars are being seen in the wrong places, like suburbs.

Interactions occur not just from population increases. Territorial pressure, particularly with males also increase. Males are very territorial and will push out or kill young male cougars to retain it.

Cougars have the largest range of any wild land animal in the Americas. Males can have a huge range of up to 500 square miles; females less.  

Normally cougars are very solitary. On occasion will work as part of a pack (females raising young will congregate). Cougars can be found on the western half of North America including southern Canada, through South America. Some are found on the U.S. East coast.

Prey

Like other cats, cougars are graceful and muscular hunters. Great leaping and short sprint abilities make it possible for them to take many types of prey. Cougars will sprint between 40-50 mph, but typically avoid long chases.

They have large front feet with five retractable claws to hold prey. Back feet are smaller with only four retractable claws. Foot prints will look similar to a large dog minus the claws.  

Common prey includes: deer, rodents, porcupines, beavers, raccoons, rabbits, wild turkey, small insects, and baby bears. No species prey on cougars except humans.

Silent hunters

Cougars are not considered a “big cat” like a lion or tiger–they lack the physical ability to roar. Cougars will hiss, growl, purr like a domestic cat, and are well known for their scream. To safely hear cougar screams browse YouTube.

Check out these great references from the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wild life to learn more:
Living with Wildlife, Cougar (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/cougars.asp ) which provides information on tracking, precautions, and safety.
Wildlife Viewing (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/cats) and hunting (https://myodfw.com/big-game-hunting/species/cougar).
Cougar Country brochure (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/docs/CougarBroch.pdf).

Other references include:
–Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cougar) which has an excellent detailed description on cougar characteristics, behavior, range, and more.
–True cougar story above based on author’s experience… Yikes! The dog was a rather large Rhodesian Ridgeback cross. Ridgebacks are used in Africa for hunting cats and will climb trees.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
Abraham Lincoln

A skunk’s publicity, as referenced above, would be its chemical defense system. All skunks have a highly developed, musk-filled scent glands (even the babies have developed the glands by day eight).

The pungent musk can be sprayed from two special glands near the skunk’s anus up to 10 feet away about five times before running out of fluid. It takes about ten days for the musk to be fully regenerated.

Predators

Ernest Thompson Seton (one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America) described the oily, yellow-colored musk as a perfume with the essence of garlic, burning sulfur and sewer gas “magnified a thousand times.”

As such, the skunk has few natural predators which include cougars, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, foxes, and predatory bird such as eagles and owls. Hunting a skunk, and the associated risks, make this a ‘starvation’ choice rather than a normal act.

Their black and white coloring makes skunks highly visible during the day and fairly invisible at night when they are most active. The coloring may not be for camouflage but as a warning advertisement for other animals. This strategy is called ‘aposematism’ and is used by many insects, birds, and other mammals.  

Except for Human Predators

Humans trapped and captively bred skunk for their fur and sometimes as pets. At one time skunk fur was highly sought after. Compared to other animals the fur is more durable and has a rich luster.

Skunk furs were the second most harvested animals after the muskrat. In the late 1890s, skunk farming became popular as a way to meet foreign trade demands. Captive selective breeding and selecting is fairly simple compared to other fur animals. There was high demands for blacker pelts. Skunk faming did not generate a great deal of revenue.

A pet or meal?

Some folks adopted skunks as pets and used them to rid barns of mice and rats. Skunks are highly adaptable to human-conditions and are easy to tame compared to other animals.

Skunk meat was eaten by trappers and indigenous people, and sought after by Chinese immigrants not only for the met but some medical properties. The meat has been described as “white, tender, sweet and more delicate than chicken.”  Maybe that is where the phrase “tastes like chicken” came from. You think?

Prey

Striped skunks frequently consume insects and their most favorite insect is the yellow jacket. Skunks are immune to the yellow jacket venom and will dig up their underground nest and eat the bees as they escape.

In the winter, skunks supplement their diet with mice, voles, and other small mammals. They will also feed on eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds, crabs, and beached fish, and vegetable matter (such as fruit, corn, and nightshade vegetables).

Home, Stinky, Home

Skunks make their homes in the ground, under buildings, and in hollow logs and often den communally. They will inhabit unused dens from other animals. They typically occupy dens during late fall, winter, and early spring for rearing kits.

REFERENCE:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Weasels, Skunks, Badgers, and Otters (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/weasels-skunks-badgers-and-otters)
–Brainy Quotes (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/lloyd_doggett_307751?src=t_skunk)
–Wikipedia, Ernest Thompson Seton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Thompson_Seton), Aposematism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aposematism), and Striped Skunk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Striped_skunk)
–Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden (https://www.cmnh.org/perkins-wildlife-home/woods-garden/striped-skunk)

Without Zane Grey we might not have sport fishing in Oregon. You might remember Grey as an avid pulp western storyteller and writer or as an amazing big game fisher.  

Pearl Zane Grey (1872-1939) made his fortune as a prolific writer and produced 89 novels, novelettes, short stories, etc. most of which were focused on westerns. His stories hit it big in 1910 with his third Western “Riders of the Purple Sage” which was wildly popular.

Novels to Film

Grey became one of the best-selling writers in the twentieth century with nearly 50 novels turned into films, and many stories translated into different languages. His many films earned him the title of “Father of the American West.”

In addition to western topics, he also produced eight books on fishing (including “Zane Grey on Fishing”, “Tales of Fishes”, “The Great Trek”, and more). For years, Grey’s total sales fell behind only the Holy Bible and McGuffey Readers.

At his death in 1939, his novels had sold more than 15 million copies in the U.S. alone. Grey used his eventual wealth, generated by his writing, to enjoy sport fishing as many as 300 days a year.

Fishing Books

His many worldwide sport fishing travels were captured in his books (such as “An American Angler in Australia”, “Tales of Florida Fishes”, etc.). This skilled fisher also had some favorite haunts here in Oregon.

Grey visited Oregon in 1919 to fish the Rogue River and Crater Lake. He returned to Oregon throughout the 1920s to fish the Rogue and write about it (“Tales of Fresh Water Fishing”). In freshwater, he enjoyed fishing for bass, trout, steelhead, and salmon.

One of the places he escaped to in Oregon was a rickety log cabin near Winkle Bar in a remote lower Rogue River canyon. He built the cabin in 1926 and used it as a personal getaway for fishing, hunting, and writing.

Visit the Cabin

Today, the cabin is a favorite stopping point for boaters and hikers and is owned/maintained by the USDI Bureau of Land Management. It was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.

By the mid-1930s Grey become ‘less enchanted’ with the Rogue due to increased fishing competition. He turned his rod toward the North Umpqua River. His writings helped give both the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers a national reputation of preeminent steelhead-trout streams.

Big Game Fishing

Grey was also into big game fishing and loved to fish for broadbill swordfish, giant tuna, and marlin. He caught the first 1,000-pound-plus marlin using rod and reel. What a thrill that had to be!

At one time, he held over a dozen records for big game fishing (all have since been broken) which included a 464-pound marlin, 758-pound tuna, a 1036-pound Tiger shark, and more. He also held three records for Pacific sailfish which was named for him (Istiophorus greyi).

Grey was one of the first to explore and document sport fishing in New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Central and South America, Nova Scotia, Galapagos, and the South Pacific. In New Zealand he perfected using ‘teasers’ to lure fish closer to the boat. He also developed a special reel, bass bug, and steelhead fly.

The legend of Zane Grey’s fishing passion lives on through the Zane Grey Invitational fishing tournament and other tournaments/events held worldwide. One recent event (September 2021) in Bethel, New York combined painting and fishing (Zane Grey in Plein Air Workshop and Competition — https://www.zanegreypleinair.com/).

To the Last Man

One has to ask if Oregon would ever have become a sports fishing mecca without Zane Grey’s help and insight. His stories and love for the west inspired many a person to take the fishing challenge.

He sums up his love for the wild west in a forward in his book “To the Last Man”

“I have loved the West for its vastness, its contrasts, its beauty and color and life,
for its wildness and violence, and for the fact that I have seen how
 it developed great men and women who died unknown and unsung.
Romance is only another name for idealism; and
I contend that life without ideals is not worth living.”

Zane Grey

REFERENCES:
–BD Outdoors, Inc., Zane Grey (https://www.bdoutdoors.com/zane-grey-fisherman-angler/_
–Zane Grey’s All Tackle Deep-Sea Fishing Records (https://www.zgws.org/zgfishre.php)
–USDI National Park Service, Zane Grey (https://www.nps.gov/upde/learn/historyculture/zanegrey.htm)
–The Man Who Lived two lives in one (https://vault.si.com/vault/1968/04/29/the-man-who-lived-two-lives-in-one)
–Oregon Encyclopedia, Zane Grey (https://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/zane_grey_1872_1939_/#.X2zaJj-SmUk)

All photos royalty free Unsplash.com