When Ryan Hansen and his fellow snowmobilers set out for a ride on December 27 near Spearfish, South Dakota, the only thing they expected to drop out of the sky was snow. Instead, the group was drawn into a struggle between predator and prey when a mountain lion and a terrified deer dropped off a slope and nearly onto Hansen. According to the Rapid City Journal, Hansen had to swerve to avoid the falling animals.
“You never imagine you would see a mountain lion, let alone one on the hunt and actually in the process of attacking an animal,” Hansen said.
Mountain lions have been a constant, if rarely seen, presence in South Dakota since the animal was first encountered by the Custer expedition of 1874. Sightings have been more common in recent decades, as the mountain lion population has grown. Capable of leaping more than 15 feet in a single bound and reaching speeds of 50 mph, mountain lions have a secure place at the top of South Dakota’s food chain. So much so that the animal began to reduce the deer population significantly, prompting the state to open a hunting season in 2005.
For Hansen and his friends however, seeing one in action was a rare treat. In the confusion of the fall, the snowmobilers initially thought two deer had been fighting.
“I’ve never seen a deer with a six-foot tail before,” said Jon Born. “Then I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s a mountain lion.’”
The deer was the first to regain its footing and quickly fled for the nearest cover. The mountain lion rose to give chase, and both were quickly out of sight for the snowmobilers.
Hansen said he regrets not being able to record the incident on film, but was awed by the experience.
Hunters in the state may get more chances to see a mountain lion, but the lack of snowfall is making it difficult. According to the Associated Press, 10 mountain lions have been harvested so far, with a quota of 76 animals and less than three months to go in the season.
File image courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service