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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Big cat columns always draw lots of reader interest

People long have heard and told stories of big cats, call them mountain lions, cougars, panthers or whatever one calls them. To many people they are very real.
A recent column I wrote about the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife’s effort to study bobcats and their habits, prompted an interesting email from a reader, John Blevins, who lives near Bardstown.
     “I enjoyed  the article on bobcats, have you ever thought of doing an article on big cat sightings in Kentucky?”, wrote John.
I’ve written several columns in the past about big cat sightings, including a confirmed mountain lion sighting in Indiana. There also have been a number of recent confirmed sightings in Missouri as big cats seem to be expanding their range. 
Mention big cats and it prompts stories.
John Blevin’s big cat experiences relate back a half century, and to current time. Here in part is whatthe relates:
“I had never heard a panther scream but the old timers where I lived, who still remember when panthers were still there.. They said they sound just like a woman screaming,” said John.
“I live out in the woods, and my wife and I just got back in around 10:30 p.m. sometime in November 2011.  We parked the car and got out.  As we did, I never heard such an awful scream in my life and I have spent a long time in the woods and never heard anything even remotely like it.
“It did sound just like a woman screaming.  My hair was standing up, I was glad to get in the house.  OK call me crazy, but me and my wife both heard it. 
  “A few nights later my son brought a friend home that lives in Louisville, and I told the story to them. The friend, who I do not know, said "Oh, yeah, me and my dad were walking in Bernheim Forrest a couple of weeks ago and one stepped out on the path, stopped and stared at us for a few moments.”
Blevins said there were plenty of wild land where he
grew up in southern Kentucky along the border with Tennessee.
“People who live out in the boonies and work the woods  have been reporting sightings of big cats(Black Panthers) for years.  Most people scoffed at their stories.
        “I saw one myself when I was about 10 years old.  I was playing in a small creek about dark , I came up the creek where a big boulder had fallen in it. When I raised ny head, I was face to face with a black panther probably not 10 feet away.  
“When our eyes met it spat at me.  I probably did exactly the wrong thing and ran away as fast as I could. Of course no one believed me because I was just a kid.  
“Fast forward 50 years, my grown son and I were hunting on the back side of the same mountain where I had seen the panther as a kid.  We had met for lunch on the ridge that ran up to the top of the mountain and big rock outcroppings.  My son was facing towards the top of the ridge, and I was facing the opposite way.  
“Suddenly, he points past me and says "What's that?"  I turned and saw a big panther making great strides toward us.  I turned and cocked my gun and I have never seen anything move so fast in my life, it was just a black blur. This was at noon about 50 yards away in open forest.”
      Another incident involved another son. “He called me from Frankfort and said he was jogging when he saw seven deer cross the road. He didn’t think anything about it until this big black cat came out on the path and stopped and stared at him.  
“He has a border collie, and he said it was bigger than that.  He said he felt really vulnerable and started looking around for a stick or rocks to use as a weapon.  He is a believer now...We live about 40 miles from where my son said that he saw the panther.
      “I know the experts say that the panthers have been gone for 100 years but many of the experts have never been off a paved road.”

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