Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, June 28, 1999

Animal stories: eyes in the night

Late autumn was closing in fast. It was time to prepare for our annual deer hunting trip up north.

It was late October 1998, and the decision was made to head north two weeks before the opener.

Purpose of the trip was to do some scouting, repairing old stands, cutting wood, and readying the cabin for the much anticipated hunting season.

The weather was perfect, an ideal time to be out and enjoy the great outdoors. I left home at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning, and arrived at my destination two hours later.

I unlocked the front door, and brought all the food and gear into the cabin. It was very cool inside, so I left the door open to let in the warm air. During this time the ashes were removed from the stoves, and a supply of wood was placed in the wood storage areas. There is a well on the place, so the water containers were also filled.

By the way, the rest of the gang would be arriving on Saturday forenoon, so I would be spending the first night alone.

Back to the events of the day. I finished those chores, ate midday lunch, and gathered the necessary tools, and headed into the forest to do the repairs that were needed on the deer stands.

In the afternoon the temperature reached 70 degrees, bright sun, just perfect, even stripped down to my waist for a time. The day had slipped away, and the sun had set by the time I got back to the cabin.

I started the fire in the Franklin stove, had something to eat, listened to the radio, and relaxed until around 10 p.m. At this time, I decided to take a walk with a flashlight in hand to check for deer that may come out into the clearings.

The cabin is located on the back end of 40 acres of woods belonging to Delbert Gerdes. The surrounding area is pretty well forested, with ridges, swamps, hills and of course lakes. There is a long meandering driveway from the township road that leads to the cabin and beyond to the lake.

I decided to walk the driveway to the road, and check a pasture, that had been cleared for livestock. I searched the edges of it with the light beam, but saw no sign of deer.

It was amazing how brilliant the stars are in the north country on an exceptionally clear autumn evening. The blackness of night is accentuated by the lack of artificial lights.

Nothing interesting was going on at the road, so I walked back down the driveway, past the cabin, and down to the lake. As I passed the cabin, the motion yard light went on.

Del has a dock on the lake, so I stepped on to it, noticed how calm the water was, not a ripple. The reflections of the stars on the water were unbelievable. I beamed the light into the clear water, and noticed the area around the dock had hundreds of minnows, which were in suspension there.

Next, I beamed the shore line in hopes of spotting deer, no such luck.

At this time, I decided to go to the cabin. It is located about 100 yards from the dock. By this time, the yard light had shut off, and there was total darkness again, except for my flashlight, and the stars.

I'm working the woods on my right with the light beam. Lo and behold, about 40 feet away was a pair of large eyes staring at me through the trees. There was a pale greenish cast to them. First thought ­ bobcat, no, eyes too big. Lynx, not sure.

I noticed it was next to a clump of trees; those greenish eyes just kept staring at me. They would disappear for a second as they blinked, really weird.

By now I had no idea what it was. My curiosity was getting to me, so I decided to squeak like a wounded mouse. Immediately those eyes vanished into the darkness,

Oh no! What's going on now? Holding the flashlight away from me, I worked the beam across the trees, just above ground level, and thank goodness, again spotted those eyes, and much more. It was just 20 feet ahead of me, on the edge of the trail. You can be rest assured I had quit the squeaking bit by now.

I could make out the general color of the animal, sort of tannish-gray, with a lighter underside. It also had a long slender tail, and it was as big or bigger than a German shepherd dog.

It was a cougar, also known as a mountain lion. It was obviously stalking me, thinking there was a mouse in the area of the light.

Needless to say, it was time for me to make my move. I suddenly waved my flashlight wildly, and let out a real loud yell, which I'm sure frightened any creature that may have been in the area. That cougar vanished into the darkness.

As you might expect, I very cautiously made my way back to the safety of the cabin. It was a relief to have that yard light go back on again.

Laying in the bunk-bed and alone, thoughts flooded my mind about some of the other possibilities that could have happened ­ not good.

I have become keenly interested in the cougar. Reading various articles on the subject, I learned that there have been several attacks on humans in this country in recent years, some fatal. Their range has been expanding according to reported sightings. I know there are cougars in the state of Minnesota.

In the end, I'm glad those eyes in the night turned out to be, just that ­ "eyes in the night."

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