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Illinois hunting and fishing

Cay Ernst of Washington took this picture of a cat-like critter in the backyard of her home near Washington in Tazewell County.

Another Illinois cougar?

May 28, 2009 at 04:11 PM

Luke Gramp was looking for morel mushrooms early this month near Washington. He wound up finding much more.

Exactly what Gramp found in a wooded area of Tazewell County is a matter of conjecture. Big cat? Big dog? Bobcat? All are possibilities.

But the Morton resident is fairly confident the large, tan critter he flushed from a brushpile overlooking a steep ravine was a mountain lion.

“I probably wasn’t 30 yards away from him and the thing that stuck out the most to me was how big his paws were when he started running and how big his legs were,” Gramp said. “I’ve had plenty of encounters with coyotes and as skinny as their legs are, this was no coyote.”

Gramp said he had less than 10 seconds to watch the critter before it ran over a hill.

“Thank God it ran away from me and not at me,” Gramp said. “I don’t want to take my son out there mushroom hunting anymore, I’ll tell you that. As for myself, I don’t know if I want to go wander around there.”

And Gramp is not alone in spotting a big, cat-like critter within roaming distance of Caterpillar Inc.’s 2,550-acre, wooded and fairly remote Peoria Proving Grounds.

In late February Cay Ernst snapped a picture of a cat-like creature walking through snow behind her home at 1805 Santa Fe Road, southeast of the proving grounds. She was alerted to the animal when her basset hound started pounding on the back door — an unusual occurrence since the dog usually stays outside until summoned indoors.

While attending to the dog, Ernst saw a large, brown critter lounging in her backyard.

“It was about 25 feet off my porch when I first saw it, lying by a rock where there wasn’t any snow,” Ernst said. “Then it walked away like a lion would with big paws. And when I looked up cougar on the Internet after I saw it, I said, ‘That’s what was looking at me.’”

By the time Ernst got a picture of the critter as it left her yard, she was only able to photograph the top one-third of the animal’s body.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Bob Bluett is furbearer biologist for the Department of Natural Resources and said he reviewed the picture. “You can’t be sure, but in our estimation that was a bobcat based on the shape and position of the ear and the tail,” Bluett said.

Ernst isn’t so sure. She has looked at pictures of bobcats and said they don’t fit what she saw. She has also heard stories about clear trail-cam pictures of a big cat taken by someone on nearby Nofsinger Road.

Unfortunately, neither Ernst nor Gramp got pictures or casts of tracks to back up their sightings.

Even so, I’m more willing than ever to believe big-cat reports. Anything seems possible in the wake of last spring’s shooting of a wild cougar in a paved alley north of Chicago.

Illinois Outdoors

Remember that one? On April 14, 2008 police shot a 122-pound mountain lion in Roscoe Village. Genetic tests showed the cat had wandered more than 950 miles to the Windy City from South Dakota — pushed out because cougar habitat in the Dakotas is saturated.

As a result, mountain lions keep moving into new areas. A cougar was shot in Bossier City, La. last December. Another was shot in 2007 in Kansas. Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri have had multiple big-cat reports.

That said, there’s no reason to panic. Cougar maulings are rare. More to the point, most big-cat sightings turn out to be large yellow Labrador retrievers, large Golden retrievers, bobcats or something else.

Last summer there were numerous big-cat reports out of Alton, Okawville and Nashville in southwestern Illinois. At last check, nobody has been mauled. And nobody has proof positive of that cat, either.

Hey, if one-third of the Illinois big-cat reports panned out, we’d have a breeding population in the Prairie State.

But prior to the Chicago cougar, the last free-ranging mountain lion documented in Illinois was in December of 2004 in Mercer County. That cat was found dead, apparently shot with an arrow. Another cougar was found dead after being hit by a train in Randolph County in July of 2000. Prior to that, the last verified record in Illinois was from Alexander County in 1862.

Just in case this critter makes a return visit, though, Ernst is ready.

“My camera is sitting on the back table,” she said.

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Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 12:19 AM

They are here. Do they think every one that wanders into Illinois is killed and found? I would bet the three that have been found in the last ten years are less than five percent of the actual population.

“hunt anything”, the DNR is releasing them? Don’t be silly.

Posted by illin on 05/29 at 04:35 AM

there is no doubt, that is a photo of a very rare, land walrus!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 08:54 AM

sure doesn’t look i picutre of a bob cat…...
of course it the state has a picture of and elephant and they have claimed we don’t have elepahnts then the will call it a fat gray horse smile

just like the wolves we don’t have smile
or badgers or river otters or ....
oh i guess we have all those now that we didn’t use to…...
looks like a big cat to me…. not much else it could be (i would guess most seen are pets that have gotten out of hand and then released irresponsibly

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 09:01 AM

Come on, its a cow can’t you tell.  There aren’t any cougars in Illinois.(LOL)  If thats a bobcat, I’ll eat my hat. I think the insurance companies are releasing them to control the deer population. Them and Paul Shelton.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 09:50 AM

I’m sorry, but thats not a bobcat, way too small & no spots or markings. I’ve had them walk within 10 ft of me turkey hunting and that’s not a bobcat.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 11:27 AM

The real reason for not more confirmed sightings is because all of the standing corn.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 11:31 AM

Could be a deer bedded down…..........

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 12:24 PM

I doubt there is a need to release them, but I have heard this rumor years ago. I doubt also that most are escaped from captivity, a lot of people that keep them from have them declawed and that’s not to mention the inspectors that come out to check on things might get pretty suspicious when no animal is present. I think the most logical explanation is they moved in from surrounding states. Regardless of what all us humans like to think, not every species needs us to survive or reestablish a population in an area.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 12:35 PM

ive been told they are here and that the dnr had something to do with it? usually jeff lampe will get on here and clear this up. but if he doesnt i think that will answer our ?‘s but they are here but how they got here is the ?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 10:52 PM

Thats why all the Quail and Pheasants are gone the Cougars are eating em. Would be cool to see one though and it would be a little more interesting mushroom hunting.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/30 at 08:38 AM

Cool yes, but being in the timber with a walking stick kinda makes you wonder how you would react. I think they are migrating this way look at the bear story. I wonder when we will start hearing more stories about the timbers moving down from Wi. and Mn. I’ve read about those folks losing hounds and bird dogs to them. Would put a differant spin on things.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/30 at 12:20 PM

never seen a bobcat with such a slick solid look as in the pic….where are the bobcat color markings…looks alittle big even for a big bobcat…look at the pic then look at the pic of the dead one shot in chicago ...... Hmmmm , look similar ?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/30 at 01:40 PM

absolutely unbelievably believable that this bob bluet would state that this critter resembles a bobcat. pure, worthless bureuacracy. now let me say what i really think!!!!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/30 at 09:53 PM

I have no respect at all for the IDNR’s legal position on Mountain lions, which basically translates to shoot them first and ask questions later…..because they don’t exist. I regard that position as a small step away from conspiracy to violate the ESA.

Same sentiment applies to black bears as far as I’m concerned. Let huntable populations re-establish themselves. As a hunter I’m all in favor of that.

Posted by Henry Holt on 05/30 at 10:27 PM

HH, are you saying you want lions, bears to be listed on the endangered species act? Can you explain the dnr’s position further?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/31 at 11:25 AM

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: anything that eats poodles and joggers can’t be all bad.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/31 at 07:53 PM

timetogo, eastern cougars are ALREADY listed as endangered in Illinois by the federal ESA, and it’s open to debate as to whether or not there ever was a genetic difference between cougar populations east and west of the Mississippi. Seems to me that there’s room for discussion, and indiscriminate policies offering no protection to what was once a nstive Illinois species are inappropriate.
I think its safe to charecterize the IDNR position as “shoot first ask questions later”, and I think the reason behind that is that they don’t want a breeding population of mt lions in the state. Thats the tail wagging the damn dog if you ask me. The non-native feral cats that kill hundreds of thousands of songbirds in this state every spring are protected, but native cougars are not. Go figure.

Posted by Henry Holt on 05/31 at 08:19 PM

I’d rather not have a lion population here in Illinois primarily for safety (peace of mind) reasons and secondly because I don’t think the deer and other wildlife need anything else to reduce their numbers. I can’t imagine the ILDNR releasing these animals, but I’m glad thet they take the stance that there are none in IL. Currently if one shows up it’s open season, but once the ILDNR states we have a population then on the protected list they go.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/31 at 09:34 PM

There have been rumors of mountain lions elsewhere in Tazewell County.  But this is the first I have heard of in the Washington area.  What “standing corn” is keeping more from being confirmed sightings?  The corn crop is just getting planted and is not even ankle high yet.

I cringe every time I see a house cat loose in the ditches and woods.  All the songbirds, rabbits, upland game being eaten by the house kitties!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/31 at 09:38 PM

That’s a very interesting thought, Henry H. According to NatureServe (, the eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) – although federally endangered – is considered nearly extinct throughout its historic range in the U.S. – from Georgia all the way up to Maine, including states such as Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan. Interestingly, however, there are no known historical occurrences of eastern cougars in Illinois. As we all know, the more common cougar (P. concolor) has a much greater distribution and is considered a historical resident of IL (although it is officially considered extinct from the Midwestern states – IN, IA, IL, MO). So now we see that (A) there were overlapping historic distributions of cougars and eastern cougars throughout much of the Midwest and eastern U.S.; and (B) the common cougar (P. concolor) is still largely known throughout other states. So today when a cougar shows up in Illinois, it is pretty much assumed to be the common cougar (P. concolor) without much need for genetic verification, etc. Some will argue that more needs to be done to determine if Illinois sightings belong to listed species, others may say that a cougar is a cougar. I think that if the protected subspecies (P. c. couguar) were more common in the Midwest then the DNR might handle things differently. As it stands now, the protected subspecies is on the brink of extinction in the U.S. If there is conspiracy regarding protection status, then it’s at a national level because you can bet that Illinois would be under much more pressure to handle things differently if the protected subspecies was recently observed in a neighboring state like IN or MO.
I have my doubts that a self-sustaining breeding population of cougars will ever become re-established in Illinois. Some of it is ecology, some of it is society, some of it may be politics.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 08:50 AM

We’re talking about different species, illinoisbonecollector. One is a subspecies of the more common, widely distributed cougar - which was native to Illinois at one time (but now extirpated). I pointed out that the protected subspecies is not officially historically known from Illinois. Whether or not that’s a conspiracy is a different story. Of course, we all know that the more common cougar (P. concolor) was historically native to Illinois and has become more frequent to our state. But it is afforded no protection under ESA. It is the opinion of some that the spread of P. concolor may eventually lead to the extinction of the endangered subspecies P. concolor couguar due to the loss of genetic differentiation from interbreeding.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 09:55 AM

ShelbyHuntr, the Eastern Cougar subspecies was not, and is not, defined on the basis of DNA, so I think the use of the word “genetic” isn’t supported by science. I believe the subspecies was defined stricly on the basis of skull morphology (using a very small sample) and geography.
Here is a link to the 1981 FWS recovery plan which includes a nice strip of Southern Illinois in the estimated historic range of the Eastern Cougar. In the plan I think they assume that there has always been hybridization between the subspecies along the Mississippi. Makes for interesting reading. Anyway like I said before I’m biased, in that I would prefer to live in a state that tolerated huntable populations of large predators such as cougars and bears.

Posted by Henry Holt on 06/01 at 10:28 AM

Thanks for pointing out the distinguishing characteristic, Henry. I just figured that there would be a genetic basis (and there still should be one) regardless of any other characteristic (I wouldn’t make it very far as a cougar biologist in Illinois). And I agree with you that there was likely a lot of interbreeding in areas where the species overlapped - like right here in the Midwest. Over time, that has probably not helped the subspecies to remain differentiated - which is one reason we see the current distributions as they are today.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 11:00 AM

I think it’s debatable that there ever was a subspecies in the first place (that could have been distinguished on the basis of modern DNA testing). Species definitions are changed/adjusted frequently. Domestic dogs for example, are now reclassified by many to be the same species as a wolf. Unfortunately when it comes to Eastern Cougars politics and special interests rear their ugly heads, and hunters may someday be left in the cold. The only thing that could change that scenario is if they get reestablished and start eating east coast joggers.

Posted by Henry Holt on 06/01 at 11:36 AM

How can anyone not believe we don’t have a few cats in IL? Just like how can you not see the cat in the pic is a Mt. Lion! The DNR will REFUSE to ever say that we have a few runing around our state until some gets attacked AND they are somehow able to capture it…because we all know Bobcats attack joggers and poodles smile If they;re here let em be just like the bears. We have room..and maybe a few peeps from chicago will get thinned out in the proccess smile

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 11:41 AM

I hope 40,000 invade the state capital and clean it out.  Theres probably a bunch of bottom feeders still there trying to pass a budget that hoses us all.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 08:21 PM

If we don’t have them in Illinois and IDNR and the USF&WS;doesn’t plan on stocking them in Illinois, then why did Southern Illinois University do a study two years ago on the “public’s acceptance of the re-establishment of the Cougar into Illinois.”  I, along with several other outdoors enthusiasts were contacted by the University, interviewed, and spent about two hours discussing Cougars and Cougar sightings in Southern Illinois.  Having spent twenty-five years in Arizona, I have seen a few cougars in their natural habitat.  There have been close to 250 cougar sightings below I-64 in Illinois in the last few years, according to one noted cougar “enthusiast/sleuth.”  These sightings were not all from hysterical people looking for quick fame and attention, but from police officers, firemen, surveyors, electrical linesmen, hunters, fishermen, bus drivers, and everyday citizens just doing routine chores around their houses.  Now to those of you not familiar with Pope and Hardin Counties, it is not strange or uncommon to see bobcats in the wild.  They are the little cats with spots and the bobbed tails, not the large, tawney colored cats with the big twitching tails.  You know the Missouri D.O.C. didn’t “officially” admit that there were cougars in Missouri, until two years ago when one of their biologists happened to catch one on his trail camera.  That was just across the Mississippi from Southern Illinois.  If they are not here, then a lot of people are mightly confused down here.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/01 at 08:59 PM

BigD, seeing a cougar up close and personal in the wild is an experience no sane person is likely to forget. I had a lion pass me by at about 10 yards in Wyoming a few years ago (after I had filled my deer tag) when I was only armed with binocs, a camera, and a cup of coffee. I had just seen him charge a doe and miss, and got out my camera in time to photograph him as he passed by just upwind of the base of my stand. No I didn’t crap in my pants, but that memory is forever etched.
For what it’s worth, I’d say that the biologist that said that critter in the photo looks like a bobcat if full of horse-ba-dordy.

Posted by Henry Holt on 06/01 at 09:25 PM

Henry Holt thanks for the repy. I am not usually a fence sitter but on this one for now I am . I am sure most livestock folks would not want more predators. Other states have reimbursement programs for loses, and yes joggers, kids, pets among others could be seen as prey in the right circumstances. I think I would want to carry while afield.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/02 at 07:37 AM

The poster way at the top who requested that readers come to McDonough County is correct. There is a trailcam photo of a mountain lion hanging in the bowshop here in town. It could have come from anywhere, I know. It’s the trucks that drive three in a row with two or three reinforced steel crates and radio tracking antennas out the window that bother me quite a bit. They come through Macomb every two or three months. Being a pro-am photographer I’m pretty disgusted with myself that I don’t have a few photos of those. How else would you explain such a rig? Working in Farm King in sporting goods I and the other guys that work back there have taken in more accounts of cougar sightings than I can count on fingers and toes. A little digging needs to be done on the subject, for sure. Don’t be so quick to point fingers at the State DNR. It’s the Federal Gov’t.

Posted by JMcCullum on 06/02 at 12:21 PM

Once again the bonecollector has made it clear he has no idea what he is talking about. Please stick to collecting bones (Im guessing that is what you do) and leave the thinking up to the professionals.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/02 at 02:07 PM

Interested in cougar sightings in Illinois check out this link:

According to the experts, they don’t even consider a cougar sighting valid unless you have a cougar carcuss, obtain DNA evidence, or take a photograph with a positive identification and validation. “... in nine Midwest states: Arkansas, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa. Since 1990, researchers with the non-profit Cougar Network have confirmed more than 150 cougar presences throughout this region, he said.”

“The researchers did not include Illinois or any state east of the Mississippi River because cougar confirmations there are almost non-existent, said Nielsen, an assistant scientist with the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at SIUC. Only two such confirmations were in Illinois ? one in 2000 in Chester and one in 2004 in Mercer County ? and Nielsen was involved in investigating both.”

This was written before the biologist from Missouri caught the cougar on film on his trail camera last year.  It just gets interestinger and interestinger.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/02 at 10:12 PM

It seems that the state of Wisconsin’s DNR has the testicular fortitude to admit there are cougars in their state based on the story here on PSO.  Their biologist indentified tracks in the mud and confirmed it was a cougar. As we continue to get the dumb-founded answers like “it was a bobcat” but what else would you expect out of our biologists.  The same ones that said “Big Bucks are the last to drop their antlers” You know who you are JB. From now on all pictures should be directed to our fisheries biologists.  At least they get it and have a clue.  By the way Henry Holt, better keep a tight leash on that wiener wonderdog or he might be a cats lunch next time your on a track.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/03 at 04:19 PM

Trust me, I’ve watched my weiner dog around wounded bucks, and he has substantially bigger stones than your average illinois deer hunter. He would likely give a mt lion no more respect than he would your thumb should you be so foolish as to stick your hand in my truck window. He attacked a year old male roweiller a couple of months ago and I don’t know who was more scared, the dumb dog or his stupid owner that walked him to within striking distance.

Posted by Henry Holt on 06/03 at 04:43 PM

How could anyone with eyeballs in their head call that a bobcat??? A deer, maybe. Look at the front shoulders on that thing. Big cat’s have a drop just like that behind their front shoulders, so at best case it’s a big cat. A bobcat? What kind of furbearer biologist do we have? It’s these kind of answers that generate ridicule from the very people we are supposed to trust. A spotless bobcat…yeah, that’s the ticket.

Posted by Marc Anthony on 06/03 at 05:13 PM

I’m sure they are here, but I wouldn’t be to concerned about carrying in the field if ones hunting you odds are you’d never get the chance to use the gun before it got a hold of you, the good news is their jaws are evolved to match a deers neck not humans so you have a good chance that it will miss breaking your neck on the first bite. Really though attacks on humans while they do happen, are rare even where there are a lot of them, I’d say if any one does see one consider yourself very lucky they really are secretive, probably why they use dogs to hunt them.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/03 at 05:13 PM

Mine would take on freight train if it went next to her food and don’t even try and snatch a deer out from underneath her either as you may get a surprize.  Between the two of mine, they may give a lion a run for his money.  Once they latch on, there aint no lettin go.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/03 at 05:14 PM

Cougs,I know what your saying but that extra option would be nice and while rare, an attack on me or somebody around me, I would rather throw something other than sticks and stones.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/04 at 08:51 AM

I can’t disagree with you there time to go it would be an extra sense of security. As far as this picture its really hard to say and I’ve raised them. My first thought as well as my brothers was a mountain lion, the coloring and size are what stands out, but if you look real close at the tail or more specific just under it, I think you can see the timber from the rear of the cat just under the tail all the way out (you have to look close) With a mountain lion the tail should have disappeared behind the hill like the legs. That’s about the only thing that makes me say bobcat. I can’t wait till someone gets a better picture of one of these animals, its only a matter of time. Take a look at some of these pics  I’m sure most people that enjoy the outdoors know what one looks like and I’m sure they are here, but keep in mind part of the reason I decided to move mine to MO. was too many people thinking they got out cause they seen them and stopping by to tell me only to say oh that’s not what I saw when I proved to them they were not on the loose.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 06/04 at 09:21 AM

This afternoon I was jogging with my 60lb boxer. We took the normal trail as we did a hundred times before. I spotted a fawn on the trail. My dog ran into the brush in which the fawn came. I heard my dogs tags and normal sounds of my dog breaking twigs. I stopped running to call my dog back. She responded and heard her tags coming towards me. I heard more twigs snapping, a small muffled yelp; then dead silence. I stood there for two minutes calling her name. Nothing. I walked into the woods for the next five hours and found nothing. She just disappeared.

My dog, Roxy, is not a runner and never strays far. I reported this to the FPPD and they were under the assumption that she ran. I disagree. Could this be a cougar attack? It happened very quickly.

I am in Will County and was running as i always do in the Hickory Creek Forest Preserve.

Any thoughts would be welcomed. Am I crazy or is this very possible that my large boxer was killed by a cougar?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/10 at 02:21 AM

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