By David Humphreys, Co-Founder of MTN Talk
Zach Smeltzer crept through the woods near English Point in Hayden, Idaho. Gripping his compound bow, the 19-year-old spotted a deer in the distance and followed the buck one quiet step at a time. Smeltzer and his family lived nearby, which made it convenient for the Hayden resident to hunt the land near his home.
The deer crossed an open field and ducked into a dense patch of trees on the opposite side. Smeltzer followed.
As the young archer trailed the deer, he heard an unexpected noise near his location.
“I heard a little noise,” Smeltzer said. “It was a noise to the left of me in the bush. I thought it was either a squirrel dropping pinecones or a deer.”
Unsure about the source of the noise, Smeltzer instinctively notched an arrow and prepared to fire. He pulled the arrow back and glanced over at the source of the noise.
“When I look over, I caught eyes with this mountain lion 14’ away from me,” Smeltzer said. “It froze and then I froze. Either this thing is stalking me or we just happened to catch eyes.”
The muscular, adolescent cougar stared at Smeltzer in a crouched position. Smeltzer managed to keep his cool through the terrifying event.
“I felt like I had a lot of time to process it all,” Smeltzer said. “I had logically thought out whether or not I should shoot it. It wasn’t a fear thing, it was more of what I need to do to come out of this. I could’ve ran at it or yelled, but I just thought I didn’t want that to be the wrong decision.”
In one fluid motion, Smeltzer aimed his bow at the cougar and released his arrow. Once the arrow made contact, the mountain lion jumped into the air and fled the area, leaving behind a trail of blood in its wake. Smeltzer collected himself, scanned his surroundings, then ran back to his home.
After briefing his father about the event, he and a family friend followed Smeltzer back to spot where it happened. They waited two hours to ensure the cougar had expired. Once they reached the area where Smeltzer shot, the 19-year-old crawled through the brush to find the mountain lion.
“I had to army crawl with my head down to the ground because the bushes would get into my face. I was following his blood trail, then I look up and he was about 5’ away from me. It was kind of scary because I wasn’t sure if he was still alive.”
After the incident, the Smeltzer family reached out to the Idaho Fish & Game.
“The fish and game actually thanked me. They had to go in and investigate and see what happened because you cant just shoot a mountain lion. Fish and Game explained that they would’ve had to go in and trap, extract, or kill it and take it out of the area.”
Smeltzer assumed that, because the forest he wandered was near his home, it wouldn’t harbor such a large predator.
“I was not planning at all to see anything like that,” Smeltzer said. “It was near our neighborhood and I’m thinking the only thing out there is going to be deer. Honestly I had no idea that a mountain lion would be that close to a neighborhood.”
The Hayden resident now carries a sidearm to protect himself in the wild. He also explained how important it is to hike, camp, and hunt with a friend. The buddy system, according to Smeltzer, is important.
“It’s always in the back of my mind that something could be out there. I’d honestly say it would be better to go out with someone, but if you’re by yourself—even if you think it’s a safe area with no bears or mountain lion or anything—I would always bring a sidearm.”
Have you ever seen a cougar, bear, or moose in the wild? Let us know in the comments below! As always, thank you so much for reading.