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While out driving at about 8 p.m. last Friday

6/11/08 – While out driving at about 8 p.m. last Friday camper Gary Freiermuth and his wife and daughter had a unique wildlife encounter near Lichen Lake on the Grade Road, which cuts through Superior National Forest about six miles south of Sawbill. Gary recounted it in an e-mail for us when he sent a photo-file of the animal’s paw print:
“The night was quite windy following the thunder storms and I believe the wind noise allowed us to get closer than otherwise might be true. The animal was walking west away from us as we were coming from the east. We commented that it was very slender for a bear. We were able to get to about 75 yards when the animal turned to see us. Unexpectedly, rather than go into the woods on its near side, it went north across the road, across our field of view, and into the woods.
“This is what we saw. From the nose to the tip of the tail, it was totally black. Not charcoal grey, but very ink-black. It was a darker black than a black bear. It had a very smooth coat. It was long, slender, and had a very long, full, but not bushy tail that it carried horizontally but slightly tipped up at the very end and carried the tail horizontally at the same height as its body as it moved. As the animal moved, its body lowered somewhat to what I could describe as semi-crouch. It moved quickly but not at an all-out run. It had a smallish head relative to its body. No markings of any type were visible. From nose to rump I would estimate 5-5 1/2 feet. The tail seemed nearly as long as its body. Based on the size of my dog, the animal was about 25-26 inches tall at the shoulder and 100-110 pounds. Very sleek.”
The Freiermuths then stopped to look at the animal’s paw print in the road, and took photos. The print measured about 3 5/8 inches across. Because the existence of wild black cats like this in North America is unconfirmed by scientific researchers, Gary is reluctant to go around telling people, positively, that he saw a black cougar (a.k.a., mountain lion) in the North Woods. But that sure is what it sounds like.
Gary continues, in the e-mail:
“A second time minutes later, we saw only its head as it poked out from the woods about 50 yards from us while we were photographing the tracks. The contrast of the black or almost blue-black color and the current light green state of the area’s vegetation was striking. As it got closer to evening and as we talked about what we had just seen, it got a little creepy standing on the edge of the road. What a great experience.
“I hope you enjoy this note and realize how lucky you are to live in the midst of such a wild and special place.”
We certainly are lucky, Gary, and thankful for your sharing your experience seeing a black cougar, or whatever it was, in our neck of the woods. – Lee
The photo Freiermuth shot of the purported big black cat’s paw print. When we checked this print against examples in our field guides, it appeared to match up best with the cougar/mountain lion entry.