Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back to fly-fish-BC

Cougar photo irks hunter


The photo of a Trail hunter straining to lift a massive cougar has generated controversy and as the photo spiders its way through cyberspace, heated debate follows, which is the last thing the man holding the cat was looking for.

The photo was taken after local cougar hunters tracked and shot a 160-pound cougar in the Pend d’Oreille and was subsequently posted online by a friend of one of the hunters. Media soon reported that the man holding the seven-foot two-inch cat, Trail resident Jay Mykietyn, had also shot the animal.

“They didn’t even have the courtesy to phone me,” said Mykietyn.

“It’s my picture with a cougar that I didn’t shoot.”

Mykietyn had already filled his cougar tag so it would have been illegal for him to shoot another cat, however, hunting partner Gerry Merlo was perfectly within his rights to harvest the animal and apply his own tag.

“It’s all part of game management and cougar hunting is here to stay, they kill lots of deer, elk, and moose – we have to have a balance and Mother Nature doesn’t take care of things like that,” said Mykietyn.

But there are detractors. Rossland city councilor Jill Spearn wondered online how “cougar hunting could be considered sport in the 21st century,” suggesting that it should be “outlawed.”

Pronouncements like these have made many hunters defensive but Mykietyn and others remain undeterred. Hunting is a precious and vital part of their heritage, something woven into the fabric of Canadian rural living and they mean to defend and preserve it.

Area cat hunters are a small fraternity. They share hounds and work together to exercise and train dogs.

The task is not an easy one, hunting cougars is difficult and expensive, but the few who do raise dogs are committed, spend hundreds of hours training, and at times are faced with unavoidable risk.

Mykietyn has been hunting all his life, tracking cats for 16 years and training his own hounds for 11, during which time he has lost one dog to a cougar.

When dogs are killed, “we feel sad and we have a little tear, but they’re soldiers, they are bred to do that, there is nothing that they’d rather do,” he said.

During last month’s hunt, one of the three hounds on the chase, a young pup named Rocky, was severely mauled by the cat. Mykietyn revived the dog, and after a pricey visit to a vet in Pullman, Washington, “the dog will make a full recovery.”

Because of the elusive nature of cougars, the Ministry of Environment has been unable to field an accurate study to determine populations. Nevertheless, hunting regulations put strict quotas on the cat harvest.

In Trail area management units 4-8 and 4-9, hunters are limited to one tag per year and each cougar killed must be reported and inspected. Once 10 female cougars are harvested and reported, hunters can no longer hunt in the area. But in the eight years a Fruitvale reporting and inspection station has operated, that quota has yet to be reached.

“Cats are almost impossible to hunt without dogs; a cat won’t tree because there’s a person following it, you have to have dogs, you have to have noise, and cougar hunters are selective with what they shoot - they don’t shoot every cat they put in a tree,” said Larry Hill, a Fruitvale hunter who has been scoring trophy animals for the West Kootenay Big Game Club for 28 years.

Hill says that most cougar hunters will tree cats, take a picture and let them go, doing so for training purposes and the thrill of the chase. And while he admits this particular cat is large, Hill has definitely seen bigger. Even Mykietyn acknowledges that he has come nose-to-nose with over a half-dozen larger cats and was with his father when he bagged the world-record, a seven-foot eleven-inch lion.

Responsible cat hunters try to avoid the spotlight as much as cougars avoid being spotted.

“Advertising like that (photo), it takes a long time to get straightened out . . . with cougar hunting, we keep a low profile, we don’t rub it in anybody’s face.”