Arizona and the Rim Country has a very healthy population of mountain lions, even though they are seldom seen by the general population who frequent the outdoors.
A person may go an entire lifetime enjoying fishing, hunting or hiking and never see a lion in the wild.
In all my years of hiking the Arizona back country, this outdoorsman has only seen three mountain lions and the total viewing time may have been less than five minutes.
There is an ongoing study of mountain lions in this area being conducted by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, which is gathering data called the Urban Interface Project. The field technician who is doing a lot of the work is Thorry Smith and he shared with me that cougars, otherwise known as mountain lions, are rather difficult to study, because they are so secretive and will cover so much territory hunting for food.
In the wilderness, they are at the top of the food chain and are extremely efficient at hunting their next meal. Deer populations, in part, have dwindled because of the impact of the cougar, but most animals from javelina to rabbit are fair game.
Local resident Mark Runzo and his son, Caulin, were hunting deer in unit 23 this past season and had one of those rare cougar encounters.
They were hunting in the early morning hours when deer are up and moving. Then they spent the middle of the day using an electronic varmint call in hopes of seeing a coyote or bobcat.
As they were sitting on a hillside watching for a coyote to respond to the call, 11-year-old Caulin told his dad he had just seen a mountain lion. Mark disregarded the report and continued to glass the nearby canyon, when all of a sudden a movement caught his eye inside of 40 yards.
He looked up to see a full-grown male lion stalking the noise to make a predatory kill. After a very quick shot from a .243 rifle, they were able to take this trophy cougar home as a bonus for their father-son deer hunt.
No doubt, this episode in the Arizona wilderness will be retold many times when the Runzo's get-together for other family hunts.
This weekend, enjoy the Rim Country, God's creation.