Mountain lion thought to have attacked teenage hunter
The State Journal-Register
BAYLIS — A 14-year-old deer hunter said he was attacked by a mountain lion Sunday evening, just a minute’s walk from his family’s Pike County home.
His father, a Baptist minister, said his son was fortunate.
“If God had not protected that boy, it would have been over,” said Gary Dice, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Pittsfield.
The young hunter, Jeremiah Dice, managed to fend off the attack with a knife and then ran home.
Jeremiah was taken to the emergency room out of fear of rabies, according to his mother, Pam Dice. He had no puncture wounds and was treated for scratches on his face and released.
Jeremiah described the mountain lion to a “t,” Gary Dice said.
The family was waiting Monday afternoon for representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to arrive and examine Jeremiah’s clothing and knife.
“DNR is concerned I can’t prove it,” Gary said. “I trust my son, and I want the truth.
“Regardless of what it was, it is still out there, and it attacked a human being.”
‘It’s big … I’m scared’
The attack occurred near Baylis, northwest of Pittsfield. There are only three confirmed reports of mountain lions in Illinois since they were eliminated from the state in the late 1800s. Missouri, however, has confirmed the big cats 26 times since 1994.
Gary Dice said his son was hunting in his stand when the boy heard a flock of turkeys take flight nearby.
“Then the deer started snorting,” Gary Dice said.
Jeremiah saw a large animal standing near a flag placed 20 yards from the deer stand to help hunters distance. Jeremiah then radioed his mother to alert her to what was going on.
The big cat walked out in the open, not far from a flag placed 30 yards out.
After hearing it leave the area, the boy radioed to tell her he was coming home.
“He said, ‘Mom, there’s a big cat back here,’” Gary said, relating Jeremiah’s words. “He said, ‘It’s big… he ran away, so I’m going to get down and go to the house. … I’m scared.’
“He took three steps, and it was on his back,” Gary said.
Jeremiah elbowed the animal in the ribs, throwing the animal off of him.
“He got to his knees, and there it was face to face with him,” Gary said. “He told me, ‘It just got real still, and I didn’t know what to do.’”
Jeremiah reported the animal’s breath smelled like “dead rabbits.”
“His fangs were out, and he looked eyeball to eyeball to me and lunged,” Gary said, retelling his son’s story.
The attack shredded the bill of Jeremiah’s cap and pushed it down over his face — providing some protection. His heavy camouflage coat was shredded down to the boy’s belt.
Jeremiah is already an experienced hunter at age 14.
“I’ve taught him to hunt since he was old enough to sit still,” Gary said. “He is about six feet tall and over 200 pounds. He is not just a kid.”
Jeremiah told his parents he starting swinging his hunting knife in an attempt to get the animal to leave. He cut it, but not deeply, and the animal knocked him backwards again. Jeremiah hit it in the ribs again and let go of his knife.
The big cat rolled off Jeremiah and ran off into the woods.
Gary Dice said his son started to run — backwards at first, to be sure the animal would not follow.
He grabbed his knife and ran for the house, “the fastest he had run in his life.”
When the elder Dice first heard the report of a mountain lion, he was a few minutes from home and skeptical.
“But then I saw him and the look on his face of terror and fear,” he said.
Gary Dice said Jeremiah’s description of the big cat was that it was as large as a Great Dane, with a long tail that curled.
Depending upon the sex, mountain lions range on average from 75 pounds for a female to 160 pounds for a male.
Gary Dice found the shredded cap, but never did find Jeremiah’s bow.
As for Jeremiah: “He’s fine,” his father said. “But he hasn’t slept since.”
Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.
According to the website Living with Wildlife in Illinois, domestic dogs and bobcats are most likely to be misidentified as a mountain lion in Illinois.
Bobcats weigh 10-40 pounds, while mountain lions weigh 75-240 pounds. Both are secretive and elusive.
Most sightings are fleeting.
Mountain lions once were found throughout the United States, according to The Cougar Network.
Conversion of prairies to agriculture, logging of forests, elimination of prey species like white-tailed deer and predator-reduction programs led to their extirpation from Illinois by the 1870s.
*”Mountain lion,” “cougar,” “puma,” “catamount” and “panther” all are names for the same animal: Puma concolor.
*There have only been three confirmed sightings of mountain lions in Illinois since the late 1800s.
*Missouri has had 26 confirmed reports since 1994.
*See a map of confirmed sightings.