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On-the-Spot: Mountain Lion Steals Turkey

On-the-Spot: Three mountain lions steal turkey, face down WON Staff Writer!

By BILLY DRIESSEN/WON Staff WriterPublished: Apr 19, 2019

BUTTE CITY— Mother Nature has always been unpredictable and if you are not prepared and cautious a run in with wildlife can result in serious injury and even death. For this writer I had a firsthand encounter while hunting less than a mile from my front door that left me humbled by how quickly the odds can shift from your favor, even if you’re the one holding the gun.

With most of the winter weather arriving in force at the beginning of spring, the rivers continue to flow high and muddy, which leaves little to be desired for a guide looking to fish. I did my morning drive over the Butte City Bridge of the Sacramento River to inspect the water quality, which had worsened yet again from increased flows from the Shasta dam. That’s when I spotted about a dozen turkeys below the causeway with multiple toms strutting around. I decided I didn’t need to catch fish to enjoy myself and decided I was going to try for a gobbler.

TWO OF THE three mountain lions that faced off WON Staffer Billy Driessen and took his turkey stare at him from the cover of brush along the Sacramento River. WON PHOTO BY BILLY DRIESSEN

I dug out my 22-foot Koffler jet sled and headed upriver in search of a decent turkey spot, which is actually a fairly difficult task in itself right now with the water being as high as it is. Many of the gravel bars you can hunt are covered in water. I came around a gravel bar and spotted a pair of hens near a patch of bamboo on a spot that I had seen many other people hunt over the years.

I put out a single hen decoy and hid on the backside of the clay berm. My boat was tied to allow me to stand right on the bow of my boat and peek my head above the cliff. I didn’t even bring a call along with me, because I had been taught to call them in with nothing but my mouth. It didn’t take long before the two hens I had seen arrived first, followed by a pair of jakes and one big strutting double-bearded tom. I fired with my Remington model 1100 with 2-3/4-inch steel No. 2 shot duck loads. The big tom fell instantly without even giving a death flop. I unloaded my weapon and started to clamber up the cliff when the bird got up unexpectedly and took off running.

Fortunately, the gravel bar I was on was very sandy, so its tracks were easy to follow. I marched quietly in search of my quarry with a steady 20 mph north wind at my back, making it hard to hear anything. Suddenly, out of nowhere, 3 does busted through the brambles like a herd of elephants and just about ran me over, fleeing in terror. Even with that as a warning I had no idea what was coming next.

I spotted my turkey lying dead in the center of the trail around 35 feet away and started to head towards it, excited that I was able to track down this prized bird. Then, something happened so suddenly it was as if someone was playing a prank on me: From the same general direction as the deer that nearly trampled me came two very large and very full grown mountain lions that ran up to the turkey and instantly started tearing into it like they had hunted and killed it on their own.

The first two cats never so much as looked in my direction and it had happened so suddenly that I was shocked and still asking myself if this was really happening, when a third cat, smaller than the other two stepped onto the trail and looked right at me. In the blink of an eye the smaller cat charged my way in two bounding leaps that covered over 20 feet of ground and entered an offensive pouncing position with its front end low to the ground and its butt high in the air like a kitten about to pounce on a ball of yarn.


THREE MOUNTAIN LIONS along the Sacramento River grabbed the tom turkey shot by WON Staff Writer Billy Driessen and ate it while a third lion faced him off and backed him out of the area. This photo is of two of the lions taken from his trail cam. WON PHOTO BY BILLY DRIESSEN

At this point I was terrified and as the cat charged, my natural reaction was to back up. As I did my feet got caught up in the overgrowth and it sat me right on my butt about 12 feet from the lion that was still in its pouncing position, only now it was holding its maw wide open, showing its brilliant white teeth that became a bright yellow just near its gum line. It held its tail high in the air like a Brittany spaniel on point, only this one was whipping from side to side and twitching like an old tabby mouser about to catch a bird.

My thoughts kept going to my shotgun, which was now in the dirt as I crab walked backwards attempting to get back to my feet. I had unloaded my weapon before climbing up the hill and with the heavy brush I was marching through I had no thought towards reloading it until I caught sight of my bird and knew whether it was crippled or had succumbed. In the background I could see the two larger lions fighting over the turkey, which was mostly a pile of feathers at this point. The largest cat had the head in its mouth, right at the base of the neck where it met the feathers it chewed it right off and swallowed the whole jelly head like it was a freshly cooked noodle.

Once I made it back to my feet I had regained some composure but was still in shock and adrenaline had completely taken over my flight or fight reflexes. I had my shotgun in one hand now with the action opened and pointed towards the sky as I dug frantically through my Carhartt jacket pocket that had my car keys, chewing tobacco, and two shotgun shells in it that I was having absolutely no luck finding. The closest cat remained in the same position making a sound that I couldn’t attempt to replicate if I tried. That’s when it dawned on me it wasn’t an attack position, it was a defensive position and I was too close to what was now their meal and so I began to back away at a nice and steady pace to put some distance between us.

As I rounded a bush and we began to lose sight of each other the last thing I saw was the cats ears went from being flat pinned backwards to coming back up at attention. Once I had made it to open ground I had about 100 yards back to the bow of my boat. I now had two shotgun shells in my gun and was practicing how fast I could run backwards like our P.E. teacher used to make us do in school. By the time I made it back into my boat and was floating down the river I had tears in my eyes. Whether they were tears of joy, fear, or just pure adrenaline taking over my body I don’t know.

I contacted the authorities and made a report just minutes later, before I had even started my boat motor. The next phone call was to the landowner whose orchards back up to that area where he and his sons work every day and as the crow flies was probably a mile from their front door as well as from town city limits. That is when I discovered that his young son had run into the cats in the same general area just days before and they had been getting footage of them on the game trail camera for weeks now.

It is no big mystery that there are mountain lions on the river and it isn’t the first time I have seen them, or more than one together for that matter. I have come across pairs of them getting water at the river edge as I drive the boat up river many times, but never a mile from the city bus stop and the busiest highway in the county. Without the ability to control the population of these apex predators this problem will only get worse, there will be more and more human encounters until one proves fatal and it will have been too late to make a change that might make a difference. 

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