Minnesota man who shot, killed cougar felt he had no choice

The man who shot a cougar in Jackson County on Sunday said Thursday that he and his companion had little doubt they should kill it because children live nearby and horses are kept on the property.

The man who shot a cougar in Jackson County on Sunday said Thursday that he and his companion had little doubt they should kill it because children live nearby and horses are kept on the property.

That does not appear to be a legitimate reason to kill a mountain lion under Minnesota law.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Niskanen noted Wednesday that the animal posed no "immediate threat" to human life. That's the standard that, in general, would need to be met to kill a cougar, and technically, no one other than a licensed peace officer or permit holder is allowed to kill the animal, which is rare in the state.

The DNR is investigating the shooting and won't comment on specifics, but the facts don't appear to be in question: The cougar wasn't attacking people, but the people felt threatened, nonetheless.

Daniel Hamann, 26, and Bruce Ihnen, 47, gave this account in interviews with the Pioneer Press:


About 6:30 p.m., Ihnen saw the cougar after finishing chores at his brother's farm in Round Lake Township. As he drove away, he saw the animal in his headlights before it went into an 18-inch-diameter culvert.

Ihnen then called Hamann, a friend and neighbor, and told him to come over and bring a gun. Hamann, who is a hunter, did not grab one of his regular hunting rifles. He took a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic assault rifle.

"I figured I needed to have as many rounds as I could," Hamann said.

After his friend arrived, Ihnen

went to one side of the culvert. He shone a light into the culvert, and the mountain lion came out the other end.

About 10 yards away, Hamann was crouched down, rifle at the ready.

"It came out, looked at me, and I shot it," Hamann said.

Hamann did not keep track of how many rounds he fired.


"I didn't even count," he said. "I just kept shooting. I wanted to make sure it was dead."

Both Hamann and Ihnen said there was little question in their minds that the animal needed to be killed. The grove of trees where Ihnen first saw the animal exit is on his brother's land, where he keeps horses.

In addition, several homes where small children reside are nearby, both men said. Hamann has a 3-year-old child and another on the way.

Hamann said he did not know at the time that Minnesota law prevents cougars from being shot. But now that he knows, he said, "I probably would have done the same thing. There are small children around here."

It's believed to be the first citizen shooting of a mountain lion in modern history in the state.

Cougars, which have increasingly been spotted in northern Minnesota and even the Twin Cities metro area, have strong protections in Minnesota.

Unlike Iowa and South Dakota, Minnesota has no hunting season on cougars, and threatening or even attacking livestock is not justification for killing one under state law.

While that might seem unsettling for farmers, the absolute restrictions shouldn't be a surprise, said Dan Stark, wildlife predator specialist with the DNR.


"We don't allow people to kill protected animals, especially when they're rare species," Stark said, noting that, while mountain lion sightings have risen, they're still exceedingly rare, and no breeding population is believed to live any closer than the western Dakotas. "It's consistent with provisions for protected animals in the state."

Unlike black bears, wolves or other native predators, mountain lions have been known to ambush people and kill them.

Stark noted that such occurrences are rare, even though the big cats live in mountains not far from heavily populated Los Angeles.

He also said that, despite common beliefs to the contrary, there have been no verified attacks by cougars on livestock in Minnesota. "They primarily prey on wild animals like deer," he said.

Stark said it's a "reasonable assumption that the 125-pound male mountain lion is wild, wandering from the Black Hills of South Dakota in search of a mate. But, he cautioned, until a genetic analysis is complete, no one can say for certain it wasn't a captive that escaped.

"The best thing to do is to be cautious, like any wild animal," Stark said. "Go inside and wait for them to leave the area. If it doesn't leave the area, it's a law enforcement situation."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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