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August 21. 2012 2:27PM

Cougar caught on camera in southwestern NH?

This photograph of a mountain lion, also known as a cougar, panther, or catamount, was taken in Alstead, New Hampshire by a hunter and lifelong resident who wants to remain anonymous because of what he refers to as past hassles with Fish and Game. 

A hunter and lifelong wildlife enthusiast out looking for shed antlers this spring in Alstead, New Hampshire just happened to have a camera along when he came upon a startling sight over a rise on the trail and photographed what seems to be the first verifiable mountain lion in modern New Hampshire history to be caught on film.

The man, a retired professional who has hunted in the West and has seen plenty of cougars, does not want to be identified. “I've had problems with Fish and Game and do not want to be involved with them in any way,” he said, “and besides, I just plain don't want the hassle.”

This past May 3, the man said, he was on a deer trail looking for shed antlers when he topped a slight rise and saw movement in the woods close by, and out onto a fallen tree stepped a mountain lion, an apparent full-grown animal that would weigh well over 150 pounds.

“It was about 50 feet away,” he said. “It just stopped and looked at me. I don't carry a camera all the time when I'm in the woods, but this time I happened to have my 35 millimeter hanging around my neck.”

“That was the last shot on the roll, and I immediately stood still and began reloading the camera,” he said. “It stood right there and watched me, but there was no way I could reload fast enough, and it just walked off into the woods, in no particular hurry.”

The photographer has hunted extensively in western states with viable mountain lion populations and has seen them there, as well as in New Brunswick, where many residents believe there is a small population, perhaps remnants of the officially extinct — as recently declared by United States wildlife agencies — Eastern cougar.

Cougar sightings are reported every year in New Hampshire, all over the state, but until now no clear, verifiable photograph has surfaced, although a trail-camera image in Sharon a couple of years ago was thought clearly to be a mountain lion by many people. Fish and Game did not agree.

Patrick Tate, who among other duties serves as the clearinghouse for cougar reports at Fish and Game, viewed a computer inage of the recent image sent to him by email Tuesday afternoon. “I'm certainly interested,” he said, “and want to investigate the scene.”

Some wildlife professionals will, off the record, agree that people are seeing what certainly seem to be mountain lions, and agree that some cougars do seem to be out there, perhaps passing through — the real unknown factor being just where they're coming from. Few wildlife experts are willing to entertain the thought that there might be denning pairs producing young, but many farmers, loggers, hunters and hikers reporting sightings believe this is indeed the case.

Editor's Note: John Harrigan has been an outdoor columnist for the New Hampshire Sunday News for 37 years.

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