In winter when I go out walking, I pack a stout Smith & Wesson revolver. It’s heavy and makes an awkward lump under my coat. The cylinder is filled with six hollow-point .357 rounds—designed to leave more than a dent. I don’t carry the Smith because of gangs. I don’t carry it because of crime. It’s because of predators.
Predators are a fact of life in America’s “back forty.” In the past five months, my neighbors have shot three mountain lions within a mile or two of my house. One of them was hiding in plain sight, just 50 feet or so away from the town store. That was probably the same cat that killed my neighbor’s four day-old colt, which was corralled down the road from here.
The cats are afoot, and aplenty. Our state fish and wildlife department knows we’re crawling with them, and will occasionally send a warden to dispatch a lion that has taken up housekeeping in the valley. But new homesteaders keep on arriving. When I’m out walking—often in the dark—I peer deeply into black barn doors, and scrutinize the limbs of overhanging trees. It’s a strange and prickly feeling, the sense that you’re prospective prey. Of course, I do have the Smith. But it is well known that cats tend to attack by stealth, and from behind.
The hunting and killing of large predators is a touchy business. Many city folk can’t stomach the idea. I can see their side. Large predators—cats, wolves, bears—are gorgeous creatures, and look positively magisterial when staring out of the pages of a wildlife magazine. It is also, I believe, a great privilege to live in a country where large carnivores still roam free. When I lived in Scotland, you were lucky if you ever saw a hedgehog, let alone a deer. Our North American predators are big, strong, beautiful animals. Talismans. Totems. No wonder our sports teams are cluttered with large carnivore names. Who, after all, would christen their football franchise “The Sage Hens?” That’s right. No one.
So we Americans adore our predators. But the stark reality is that some few of us must also live with them. And here are the facts. Predators kill cattle, sheep, and horses. Predators kill pets. And on rare occasions, they kill people. So what to do? The idea (I’ve heard this proposed) that rural residents are invading predators’ territory and should therefore remove themselves to the cities is unacceptable. More realistically, the Rancher offers the predator a bargain: Don’t come into my town, to my house, to my corrals. Don’t eat my horses, cattle, sheep, or dogs. Stay out of my sight and out of my stock. Come here to do your killing, Long Tooth, and be hunted yourself. Keep to the timber, the desert, the wild—roam free and in peace.