Late in the day and fearing for his safety, a Wisconsin bowhunter shot and killed a cougar Nov. 11 in the bluff country east of Alma, Wis., according to the state's Department of Natural Resources.
Ben Karasch was hunting from a tree stand on private property near the town of Montana, Wis., when he saw the 128-pound male cat.
Karasch called in the shooting to the DNR's violation tip line. Like in Minnesota, cougars are a protected species by state law. Shooting a cougar is considered reasonable only if a person feels threatened or the animal attacks domestic livestock or a pet.
Lt. Tyler Strelow, a DNR conservation officer, told the Star Tribune that colleagues in the area and a biologist investigated the site the next morning, collected evidence and the animal and talked with Karasch. The DNR then conferred with the Buffalo County district attorney, who decided charges weren't warranted. Strelow lauded Karasch's report to the DNR, and said his prompt follow-up was an example for other hunters.
"The hunter feared for his safety. There's no question there," Strelow said.
Karasch couldn't be reached for comment by the Star Tribune but told Outdoor Life he first spotted the cougar about 40 yards off. It kept moving toward him, he said, even as Karasch yelled and waved his arms.
Added Karasch: "I've hunted deer since I was 12 years old and most of my shots have been at about 20 yards. This cougar was half that distance away.
"All these thoughts are running through my mind, I felt extremely scared and vulnerable at that moment with the cat still staring at me. With how close the cougar was and his lack of fear even though I tried to scare him away, I felt like the only option I had was to shoot."
He released an arrow when the cougar was within about 13 yards.
Randy Johnson, the DNR's large carnivore specialist, told Wisconsin Public Radio that it was the first time a hunter had shot a cougar in the state in 115 years.
Strelow said field staff in the area recently received images from public trail cameras showing a cougar. That's not uncommon in Wisconsin, Minnesota or other Midwestern states. Many seen are males, likely looking for mates, wildlife managers say, adding that in both states there is no evidence of breeding populations. Many of the cougars that show up are believed from the Black Hills of South Dakota, based partly on genetic data retrieved from dead animals. The Wisconsin DNR will perform a necropsy on the Buffalo County cougar, which was 2 years old.
About 15-20 reported sightings in Wisconsin are verified each year by Wisconsin DNR. Minnesota has verified 77 sightings since 2004. There have been eight this year.
Buffalo County is known widely for its trophy-sized whitetail deer. The nine-day gun deer season opens Saturday in Wisconsin.