When Joshua Caldwell heard the gun shot, his first thought was that his daughter had bagged the bull elk they had seen earlier. As it turned out, 12-year-old Alyssa Caldwell had actually shot a mountain lion instead, at a mere five yards away, from where it could have pounced on the young hunter.
“I already had a feeling that something was watching me or something, but I didn’t see the cat until it was close,” Alyssa told CBS 7.
Alyssa and her father were building a makeshift blind in the New Mexico wilderness just south of Colorado, where they thought was a good vantage spot to see elk. The trip was an exciting one for the 12-year-old, who has been hunting since she was nine. She had previously taken deer and small game, but an elk would be her biggest challenge yet, and that required a new gun. For the New Mexico trip, Alyssa toted a .30-06 rifle, a respectable choice for elk hunting. Turns out it is lethal against cougars as well. Alyssa recalled that the big cat dropped instantly from a single shot, but she kept the rifle trained on the mountain lion nonetheless.
Her father, who was retrieving some shooting sticks from the blind, was about a minute away from her when he heard the shot.
“I asked if she had shot a bull,” he told Lone Star Outdoor News. “She told me she had shot a cat. He was only about five yards away from her. She thought quick. When I saw how close he was, I got emotional.”
Game wardens investigated the shooting and concluded that Alyssa did indeed act in self defense. Being stalked by a mountain lion can occur occasionally while in their territory, and the cats are sneaky enough that many hunters, hikers, and campers never notice. Sometimes, however, crossing paths with one of these predators can be dangerous. In September, a mountain lion that stalked a group of picnickers in California seriously injured a young boy before his family could drag him away. Wildlife officials advise fighting back when attacked by one of these large cats, and to keep facing the animal if possible.
Alyssa and her dad did not get to keep the mountain lion, but they were able to keep hunting after the incident. Just two days later the young hunter bagged her first bull elk and concluded a memorable—and most importantly, safe—hunt.
Image courtesy National Park Service