So from time to time we get a reminder that we are not at the top of the food chain. It happened to me again 4 days ago.
I was hunting with one of my twins for the first time on some family land in East Texas. The evening prior I had hunted with the other twin and we didn't see much before darkness ended our outing. This particular morning I walked to the stand at 0520 with my liitle man cub holding my hand. It was very chilly and we had to complete a 3 mile cold wet ride in a Kubota Utility Vehicle before the 1/2 mile walk through the woods to the stand. Everything went well and we were set up in the small box blind long before daylight. We rehearsed a couple of times what we would do if we saw a deer. He would move very slowly and turn his head until he saw the deer. Then he would get down from my lap and move over into the corner of the blind out of the way making sure not to touch the walls of the blind making noise. When I got the gun up he would plug his ears and wait for the shot. Everything went well and right at daylight we spotted 4 doe walking toward the feeder. He watched them through the binoculars for a few minutes until 3 bucks came up and ran them off. By the time the bucks were chowing down he had moved to the assigned spot and I had the gun up. As I was waiting for a shot on the largest buck, something spooked him and he ran about 20 yards away and stood sniffing. I aimed a his shoulder and took a hurried shot. The buck jumped then bolted off. The other two stayed where they were until they saw us get out of the blind then they two ran off. I had shot it with an M4 with Eotech and 3x magnifier chambered in 6.8 SPC at 95 yards.
We were excited that we had finally wacked a buck because it was pretty late in the season. After shooting a doe with the same rifle last month I was expecting an equal level of damage and lots of blood when we walked down to where the buck had been standing and started to look. After 15 minutes of looking we could not find any blood and the little one was starting to get cold on this wet, foggy morning. I called my mom to come down to the property and pick him up. It was 0730.
After mom picking him up at around 0750 I continued the search. I was very systematic but the fact remained that there was no blood. I started to doubt my marksmanship. The deer had only been standing 95 yards from the stand and I redoubled my efforts to find it after I chased away the doubt from my mind. It had been a couple of hours and I started a wider grid search that set me walking through the 10' tall planted timber adjacent to the hardwood thicket that I hunted it. In a few minutes I saw the antlers sticking up out of the grass not 75 yards from where I had shot it. With the short trees it was hard to see very far but I noticed something awry as soon as I got close. This is the scene of the crime.
Something had eaten half of my deer in one sitting. Both hindquarters were eaten down to the femur and the guts were strung out in the surrounding grass. One of the hind quarters was almost torn from the body with the hip dislocated and just skin and sinew holding it on. There was still steam coming from the body. There deer had been dragged about 10 yards from where it fell and was initially attacked.
Here is the place it was grabbed first. Note the tufts of hair that were ripped out.
So upon stumbling into this scene and being in dense vegetation which didn't allow more than about 10 feet of visibility I was very glad that I had decided to lug the rifle around with me during the search. I immediately changed my status from "rifle on the shoulder intently looking for signs" to "Holy Shit do I need to shoot something that is big enough to eat me". I made a circle in the immediate area with the rifle at the ready and found nothing. There were not any tracks to be found either. I doubled back to the Kubota and returned to pick up the body. After loading it I headed back to the house to salvage the front shoulder and back strap and show the twins that Daddy had found the deer that he had shot. I left out the gory details since it was their first hunt and I wanted it to stay a positive experience. As I was driving I tried to figure out what might have done that to a deer sized animal while I was within 75 yards. I called a buddy and he and I came up with 5 possibilities.
Pack of Coyotes
Pack of Dogs
Here is another picture of the aftermath.
Based on the evidence I am leaning toward a Mountain Lion and here is the reasoning. Feel free to educate me if you have any other thoughts. I am very open to ideas here.
Hogs, Dogs, and Coyotes- None of these animals could polish off that much meat by themselves in 90 minutes or so thus it would have to be a pack. A pack of any of these animals feeding would probably be easy to hear from such close proximity as I was searching. Dogs probably wouldn't have shown much fear and I would have had to run them off or at the very least seen them leaving. I don't think that any of these animals could drag a big deer by themselves and aren't likely to work together toward that goal. Coyotes and hogs would probably eat the guts more than the meat at first. The guts were pulled out but discarded uneaten.
Black Bear- although finding a bear track in the area as a kid, I don't see this as a probability. They are more like "big racoons" that tend to eat berries, corn, and human refuse. While they might hunt or eat a meal of opportunity, this doesn't really fit their M.O. and I think I would have smelled one or heard one as I got close.
This leaves me with the Mountain Lion. They are big enough and exist all over Texas. They eat deer as a main staple in their diet. Are able to easily drag a kill up and their proclivity for doing that is one of the telltale signs. Males have a reported home range of 80-200 square miles overlapping. It could of chowed on the deer, attempted to drag it into deeper cover and was interupted when I walked up.
The important part though is although I was raised on this land, have walked every inch of it as a kid hunting, playing, working, and riding, I am still not the top of the foot chain. 37 years I have been hanging out there and I believed that I knew everything about it. To say I was comfortable there is an understatement. I got that fresh, exciting middle of the food chain feeling as I went out last night to fill the deer feeder and change the disk on the trail camera. Next time I am visiting I am going to spend some more time walking the creeks and see if I can find any tracks to help solve this mystery- with rifle of course.
Never let your guard down. Always be in condition yellow- even on your home turf.