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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:16 pm 
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This may be a first in how I went about posting this, I had to be Lickety split :)
Cougars have always been a fascination and a keen interest of mine and there is much to learn about them. I've been learning as I go mostly and it doesn't stop. Your area may be different in landscape a prey but much of this can still apply. Let me share with you some of what I have learned through my pictures, stories and of my own personal observations over the years. Although I got carried away with the reading material here. I'm sure that you will find some of the pictures worth looking at, enjoy.

Chapter 1, "Tracks"

Let me start off with the most obvious of Cougar signs, their tracks. I'll open with a brief introduction on what to look for and how to read their tracks. I have included several pictures of what the tracks look like and of various track patterns. Finishing off with a story of tracking a cat in the snow.

Among many other clues, the easiest thing to remember is this. The heel pads of all cats have 3 lobes on the bottom and 2 lobes on the top. Whereas a canine's heel pads have 2 lobes on the bottom and 1 on the top. As with many animals, a Cougar's front paws are bigger than their rear paws. Cougar usually double register their rear paws into the tracks of the front paws. Turning while walking usually negates the double registering of paws. When moving quicker, the rear paws will land in front of the tracks of the front paws. The claws seldom register except in some instances where they will show as lines in front and slightly atop of the track. Heel pads less than 1 7/8" across would indicate those of a female or an adolescent. Heel pads wider than 1 7/8" are typically male. The actual heel and toe pads of a Cougar are much smaller in size than one would think. The heavy thick fur that surrounds the pads is what makes the whole track look much bigger. The fur acts as a sound deadener and muffles any noise underfoot. One other point worth mentioning is that the high toe pad of a track indicates the inside of the track. Much like the middle finger on our hand and the dew claw would be their thumb. This is how you can tell whether its a left or right track.

The following pictures are some examples of Cougar tracks that I have taken. The snow pictures were taken some years ago when I was tracking a Cougar. I should mention that before I tracked this cat I did my homework. I circumnavigated the mountain via a logging road to determine his entrance and exit points. That's when I made the discovery you are about to read. I then backtracked to where the cat entered the forest off the road. At this point I estimated that the Cougar tracks were about 2-3 hours old. I determined that by the snowfall ending at around dawn and by the time I first discovered them. I followed him for an hour uphill through forest, across fallen trees and open mountain tops. Tracking an animal in the forest where the snow is sparse and spotty, is time consuming. This Cougar was walking a fairly straight course of travel, North by NorthEast. With this in mind I was able to pick up it's tracks here and there where the snow was spotty. My dog was a big help here as well. Tracking him led me to this beautiful vista where I stopped for lunch. The biggest surprise came after lunch. That was where his tracks deviated to the East. His tracks led me to where he had sat down on the outer ledge of a cliff overlooking an old road/trail below. Something down there had obviously caught his interest that made him change course. I knew that it wasn't prey as the Cougar's impression in the snow clearly indicated a sitting position as opposed to a crouching down position. It must have been something that elicited his sense of curiosity. I looked down into the direction that his sition position dictated. I could make out tracks on the road and I had a good idea of what made them too. I continued carefully down off this cliff by means of a different route then that of the Cougar. I came out onto the road where I was several hours earlier. There below my feet, were the boot tracks of a few hikers with a dog. That's what sparked the cat's interest alright. You can clearly see the Cougar's tracks stepping atop the hiker's boot treads in the snow. I'll bet that they had no idea that they were being watched by a Cougar. Then for a very short time, followed by one. Further tracking showed that the cat lost interest in them after 50 ft. I wonder how many times something like this has happened to us all, unbeknown to us at the time?


Chapter 2, "Scat"

This chapter deals with another obvious Cougar sign, scat. As with many animals, scat from a Cougar comes in many shapes and sizes. Largely dependant on the cat's last meal. Typical Cougar scat is long, twisted, segmented and pinched on the end. The segments will be either twisted and coiled around one another or compressed into adjoining sections. The lead segment, or first man out, will be rounded and cupped at the other end. The adjoining segment is compressed against it which formed that cup impression into the lead segment and so on and so on. Finally, the end segment will be tapered and pinched at the finished end. It's the strands of hair which form the pinched end. If the scat has little hair in it then the finished end will be more roundish. I have also found many scat samples that are Wolf like in appearance. Completely tubular with segments compressed together. Aside from the catty smell, the only give away to me was that it was found atop a Cougar scratch pile. Depending on where it lives, the scat will have hair, small bits of bone and sometimes bits of hooves in it. All Cougar scat, when fresh will have a very strong catty odor to it. You see, the first thing a Cougar consumes after a kill is the organs of the unfortunate victim. Scat from a Cougar after a recent kill contains mostly blood meal in it. This scat is very dark, may have little hair content, is very moist, tar like or sometimes even runny. If you spot this, you can bet that there is a Cougar in the near vicinity. This also means that there is a fresh kill nearby and that the cat will be in the area for a few more days feeding. The hair found in scat naturally occurs but it's also for good reason. The hair is what wraps around the bone fragments as it passes through the colon. Thus entangling shards and bone splinters and preventing puncturing of the colon wall. Cougar scat can be found along game trails, hiking trails, at trail junctions, powerline corridors, and logging roads to name a few. Often located on the sides of trails and travel corridors. Personally, I think this is because it will visually last longer and less likely to be trampled upon. It is well known that Cougar scat is not only a scent marker but also a visual marker to other Cougars.


Chapter 3 "Scratch piles"

This is one sign that many people are not aware off. Scratch piles are primarily created by the males and placed within their large territory. The bigger the male cat the wider it's hips and thus the wider the scratch pile. In the first set of pictures you will see a male planting his front paws firmly on the ground. Then alternates between both rear paws to push back duff material until a satisfactory amount of debris is gathered. He will then urinate, dribble or defecate upon this visual marker to complete the task. So rather than doing it's business and covering it up like a housecat. This marker is meant to be seen, poop and all. It's not uncommon to find more than one scratch pile in one place. I've found as many as 4 together, all scraped into a slightly different direction. Cougars will continue to use the same scape locations for years to come. I often return to areas where I have come across Cougar scratch piles. These locations are key areas in determining if Cougar are in the area. Scratch piles can be found on the sides of trails and travel corridors and found most often at trail junctions. These markers are highly recognised by the female Cougars within his territory as well as marauding males in search of new territory. Deer are very aware of these markers and are known to freeze on the spot, then look in all directions and turn tail and retreat. I've had female cats come in from one direction, defecate on it and return back the opposite direction. Females in heat will also seek out these scent markers in search of the male. All land predators and prey species recognise them and react accordingly. Aside from the reactions of Deer, I've photographed Marten defecating on them, Bears ignoring them, Cougar marking them and Wolf rolling on them. Elk are very aware of them and approach them with great trepidation too. Sometimes just the sight of one is enough to deter a prey species from continuing further. However, most animals will still come right up to them to smell how fresh they are. Heck, I've even been known to get down to do the same. I once tracked a cat down the edge of a drainage creek when I came across a newly cut trail built by mountain bikers. The darn cat followed this new trail in his territory and made 4 new scratch piles along the way. The trail was only about 400 ft. in length. Clearly making it be known that this is his territory. Scratch piles or even mock scratch piles make tremendous distractions for most animals. Even if you don't have Cougars in your area, I would give it a shot.


Chapter 4 "Scratch pile requirements"

No two scratch piles are the same in shape or size. What they do have in common is where they are typically found. Any loose material such as gravel, decayed logs, sand, moss, pine needles, forest duff and the like. So long as it can be gathered and formed into a heap, it will do. The following pictures show the types of areas in which they can be found and of the material that they are comprised of.


Chapter 5 "Kill sites"

Finally, the end, at least for the Deer. I'm finishing off this post with some pictures from a few Cougar kill sites. Both of these sights were right near a water source, creeks. The Deer like the lush vegetation for cover, food and abundant fresh water. I've spent most of my camera trapping time near water sources. Down low in the valleys where the water runs fast, clean and the forest are lush. The first kill site was found spitting distance from a river. There were Cougar tracks everywhere and the only other tracks to be found were mine. I could easily tell that some of the tracks were very fresh and not many hours old. While poking around the area I saw a blood drop in the snow. I noticed cat tracks leading away from the blood drop and went under the overhang of the Cedar tree. I lowered my head down, lifted the Cedar bow upwards and ducked underneath. That's when I came to the sight of the first picture. This was my first Cougar kill site as well as my first Wolf picture. Over the course of the next month or so. I had 5 dogs, Marten, Turkey Vultures, Mice and a Wolf come into the set. I also discovered a Cougar latrine some 60 ft. from the kill site. There were at least 6 piles of Cougar scat in a one yard circle. Most of the scat was full of blood meal, dark and rich looking. I concluded that this must be normal. From that moment on, I still believe that if you come across multiples of blood meal rich Cougar scat. That a kill site is not far away. This particular site is located 10 minutes from the hwy. and 30 ft. from a very popular hiking trail, hence the dog activity. Yet not one person followed their dog to see what got it's interest. That's where a camera trapper differs I think.

The picture of the next kill site was sent to me courteous of a fellow hiker. The day after I received that picture, I went out there and set up my camera. I have no reason to believe otherwise that the Cougar came back after the hikers left and fed the morning before I arrived. To finish off more of that Deer. It was found right smack dab on a seldom used hiking trail next to a wetlands with a flowing creek. Thick dark forest of mature trees all around. On my first visit back after my initial set up. I found no pictures of a Cougar feeding on the kill. Instead I got a picture of a Bear's face, poking into the upper right of the picture frame looking at my camera. Followed by a portrait of him standing above his claim. Then of him dragging off the carcass uphill to a secluded location. I found the remains 75 ft. up the forested hill. I set up my camera there and along comes a Marten, then the Bear again and then the Marten. I was rewarded with hundreds of Marten pictures and a dozen or so Bear close-ups for my efforts.

Cougars don't have molars for grinding bones as Bear and Wolf do. They have molars that are for slicing tendons, chewing off hide, and cracking small bones like ribs and such. I have also found that the skin and meat of Deer legs. Were chewed down to the knees but no further. This is typical of what I find at Cougar kill sites. You will not find this where Wolf and Bear have been feeding.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:18 pm 
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Chapter 1, "Tracks"


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:20 pm 
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Chapter 2, "Scat"


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:22 pm 
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Chapter 3 "Scratch piles" - Part 1


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:25 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 03, 2019 9:27 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2019 1:30 am 
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Man oh man, what a write up & the images. I can't wait to read it & have a real good study of the images..

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:18 am 
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Wow, thanks for sharing all that knowledge.

Blessings..........Pastorjim

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2019 7:58 am 
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Thank You for taking the time to Sharing all this information and Photos. From this one can get a education of what goes on where Cougars roam.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 04, 2019 8:01 am 
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Wow, you put some time into this. Very nice!!

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