Are There Mountain Lions In Appalachia?

On our first hike in the snow, The Deer Hunter ever hoping to see some sort of game was intent on seeing what animals had been out and about in the snow. While I looked in wonder at the snowy landscape and took lots of pictures, he looked for tracks. Apparently the only thing brave enough to venture out were rabbits.

The snow was still coming down while I snapped pictures and he examined the snow.

hiking in the snow
Fast forward to the hike the following day when the girls went along too. The snow had stopped falling except for a few stray flurries and it was much colder than Christmas day.

The Deer Hunter told the girls there’d be more tracks in the snow to examine today “Just wait and see he said.”

eating snow
From the beginning it was hard to keep Chitter moving. She kept stopping for a bite of snow claiming she’d never been so thirsty in her life.

We’d only went about 1/4 of a mile when The Deer Hunter excitedly pointed out some tracks near the side of the trail to the girls. At first glance he thought they were bear tracks. As we walked into the woods following them a little ways he said “You know I hate to say this, but they look like cat tracks”. I said “Well so what? We know there are bobcats here.” He used to have a trail cam set up above the house and got some pretty neat pics of a bobcat along with bear and deer. He said “No they’re too big for a bobcat.” Then he pointed out where you could see whatever it was had jumped several feet and then took off farther up the creek.

As we all stood there contemplating the theory of a big cat living above our house a big gust of wind came and blew the snow from the trees down on us. The girls and I started screaming thinking something was after us. The Deer Hunter told us “Calm down and quit acting crazy it was just blowing snow.”

We climbed back into the trail and continued on our way. Just a little ways ahead of where we were, you come to the proverbial fork in the road. Taking the left leads you farther up the mountain while the road to the right circles back along the ridge opposite to where we’d just walked. The day before The Deer Hunter and I took the right fork and we wanted to again because I lost my hat somewhere along the way on the first trip.

But first we decided to walk a little ways up the left fork, at least to the big curve it makes. As we stood around in the curve getting ready to head back in the other direction The Deer Hunter noticed the tracks again. Whatever had been spooked earlier on the trail had come out of the woods in the curve, crossed the road and kept getting it, or so we thought at the time.

Check out this short video I took while we stood around and pondered the tracks.

The mysterious tracks were soon forgotten as we continued our hike and marveled at the beautiful snow. We told the girls to soak it up because a White Christmas is unusual.

Then suddenly The Deer Hunter saw the tracks again. They had come down from above the road and went off the other side. Another few hundred yards or so and the tracks showed up again, at which point The Deer Hunter said “You know if it is a big cat it looks like we jumped it yesterday and then it circled back and followed us back to the house. We’ll see if we see any more tracks.” And we did. Ever so often on the rest of the way home we’d see where whatever it was criss-crossed the road over our tracks from the day before.

I couldn’t wait to get home. I just couldn’t wait to ask Pap what he thought about a big cat being up there. As soon as we got home I called him. He said “Well why wouldn’t there be? People have seen’em for ages in and around the area. And The Deer Hunter knows what tracks look like he’s been hunting since he was a boy.” Then he went on to tell me a story E.J. Whitmire told him.

E.J. owned the huge cattle farm that we live behind. He told Pap a cougar had killed one of his calves and while he was looking at the dead cow he saw the cat sitting in a tree licking it’s paws like a house cat. Then the big cat jumped down and took off through the woods.

I’ve been hearing about ‘painters’ since I was little. About their screaming and about them carrying off cows, hunting dogs and other farm animals. Reminds me of Charles Fletcher’s The Panther On Cold Mountain. The stories about painters living in western NC were alive and well when he was a boy too.

There are 2 sides to the question of whether mountain lions are in Western NC. The first side claims they know what they seen and the big cats are here. The second side says most folks who say they seen a mountain lion really saw a house cat, a dog, or a bobcat. To read about sightings check out this site: Mountain Lion Foundation. The Locavore Hunter has an interesting post about the existence of mountain lions in VA. He believes they exist, but that they are not the native Eastern Cougar, but exotic animals set free by pet owners who decided having a full grown cougar for a pet wasn’t such a good idea after all.

As for me, I’m a believer because I have my own ‘seen one’ story to tell. When I was in 7th or 8th grade Pap, Paul, and I were going to Franklin. I was sitting up front with Pap and Paul was riding in the back. Just before you start up the incline to where you turn off to the Standing Indian area a mountain lion crossed the road in front of us. It was broad daylight and Pap and I both seen it. Poor Paul was bent over tying his shoe and missed the whole thing.

The big cat looked just like what you see on tv-brownish yellow with a big long tail. To say Pap and I were excited is an understatement-we were in total amazement.

Back in the day, not long after I met The Deer Hunter, I told him about mine and Pap’s painter’ sighting. He laughed and said we probably seen a house cat or a bobcat. After all these years he still doesn’t much want to believe me, but after knowing Pap for the last 20 years he can’t dismiss the fact that Pap seen it too, and Pap most definitely knows the difference in a bobcat and a mountain lion.

panthers in western nc

After I told The Deer Hunter that Pap said he didn’t see why there couldn’t be a big cat up the creek, he said he’d changed his mind there probably wasn’t any mountain lions in western NC. I said “What?!!” He said “If there were some hunter would kill one. There are too many people hunting to not see one and shoot it sometime.” I asked him “Then what were the tracks we seen up the creek?” He said well he wasn’t sure about that.

So how about you-do you think there are painters living wild in Appalachia?


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  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    January 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    I do believe you have mountain lions. I guess it was in the late 1980’s when I was down south at my parents’ home in MS. My brother had flown in from CA and one day we took off from their home in town back out to my daddy’s old home place which they still owned. It once was a farm of over 100 some acres but is now covered with pine trees and some oaks. It has fresh springs on it and little streams running through to spill into a larger creek nearby. This is close to what they call the bottom or a big slew. Anyway, Daddy was driving the old truck with me in the middle and my brother riding shotgun. We were driving winding country roads back through forest and making our yearly trip by old country churches and grave yards my daddy knew as he was growing up. After sitting a while at the old house, we drove on around and up to the old pioneer Kennedy Chapel where my great grandmother had been laid to rest. Many years ago this area was full of little farms and a lot of families. Now people have moved to cities and this area is mostly forest. We were now getting deeper into forest and just as we came around a curve we saw a BLACK PANTHER that had bounded across the road and was just leaping into deep brush on the right side of the road. There is no mistaking a Black Panther and its LONG TAIL. We were all shocked and in awe! My father had heard about ‘painters’ being in the bottom many years ago when he was a little boy but had never seen one – dead or alive – unless it was at a zoo. I have had cats and kittens and no one can tell me it was a big house cat or dog. A cougar’s tail is very unique – very different from a domestic cat or dog. So yes I do believe they could be in your part of the country if I saw one in North East Mississippi.

  • Reply
    August 14, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Chalmer-Thank you for the great comment! The Florida cats moving north seems plausible to me : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    August 13, 2013 at 3:28 am

    My girlfriend told me a story today about being at her grandparents farm somewhere in West Virginia and seeing a black panther on top of the chicken house. The dogs started barking at it and her uncle and grandfather shot it twice and it snatched up a beagle and ran off. She swears it was black so my question is it possible that the Florida panther are migrating north up the Apalachian in search of prey?

  • Reply
    Bonnie Tibbals
    June 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I was born and raised in Nicholas Co WVa and I saw a mountain lion, bobcats and big black cats. They are there, I have heard more than I have seen.

  • Reply
    January 8, 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Loved the post! My 2 cents worth – “painters” are still around. My granmother and I heard one behind our house on 2 occasions, and on one occasion when we heard it, my uncle down the road saw one sniffing around his dog food and upsetting his hunting dogs the same night. I also saw some tracks that looked for everything like a HUGE cat print in my silt filled (used to be) “pond”. So, Im a believer!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Exciting Story! Wonderful, i like it. And fantastic photos.

  • Reply
    January 2, 2011 at 10:52 am

    I believe!
    I also believe there are Mtn. Lions in WV. My Dad was driving home from my great uncle’s house back in wilds of Clay County WV when a yellow streak ran across the road in front of him. He said it had to be a mtn. lion because it was too big to be a bobcat.

  • Reply
    Pat Siler
    January 2, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Hi Tipper, About 30 years ago, when we lived in central North Carolina, I called my husband home from work one day to chase one of our cows that had gotten out of the pasture. We were only about a half mile from US 64 so I didn’t want that cow to become hamburger on the highway. While running through the woods, my husband jumped a mountain lion that was laying in a pile of leaves. He was very specific about the way the mountain lion looked. The two dogs that were with him gave chase for a while then gave up. Every time we hear about a mountain lion sighting, he retells that story. I belive they are few in number but still here.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    December 30, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Tipper, I have hunted by myself in these mountains here across the divide in east tennessee for 55 years now but I have not seen a panther but I agree with Pap,there is no reason there could not be one out there today with all the deer in the woods to keep them fed. However , I must agree with Jim Casada . Here in Carter Co. Tn we have a bear season where there are lots of Plott and Bluetick hounds . I see in today’s paper that 34 were killed here in the short gun season in this county. 69 last year. I have however had up close and personal experience with some big bobcats. Not these little spotted ones we see in the books. I had one on my back in Georgia in 1992 and the other one was October 2009 in Lee Co. Va where I was turkey hunting. The cat that jumped on my leg from behind a big tree was a reddish light brown. He was bigger around than my grandsons’fat beagle and longer and taller. He didn’t bring blood like the one in Ga. that was on my back but it tore my leather boot when I screamed and it jumped down the ridge. I believe that bobcat would have had a pretty good sized footprint.
    Just my take from an old turkey hunter who still combs these mountains regularly. That last cat got a real surprise. Larry

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Yes,I believe the big cats are out there. They are just too smart to let us know!

  • Reply
    Mark Selby
    December 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the possibility of this being a wampus cat. But, since these tracks were in NC and the wampus cat is known to inhabit TN, WV, and VA, I guess it would be unlikely that it’s a wampus cat. But wouldn’t it be cool if it were?

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    December 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I enjoyed going for the walk in the woods with you.
    When living on our farm in western NC, we had a painter in the area and for a short time in our woods. I never forget it’s ‘cry’. Bone chilling is the only way to describe it.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 29, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Tipper–I’ll offer several thoughts on the matter of mountain lions (a.k.a.panthers, painters, cougars, big cats, etc.). Most come from the perspective of an outdoor writer who has done a fair amount of research and some writing on this particular critter.
    1. There are unquestionably a few cougars roaming the South (outside of Florida, where they still live in the wilds), but most if not all of these have been released.
    2. They are not black panthers. Cougars are a blondish-brown in color.
    3. I’ve generally got to agree with the concept that hunters would see and/or shoot the occasional one if they were around. Also, if they existed in any appreciable numbers at all bear dogs would tree them periodically. Indeed, one of the favorite breeds of dogs for hunting cougars in the West is none other than our own mountain breed–Plott hounds. I was in a business arrangement with an outfitter in Montana for several years who hunted cougars in the winter. His dogs? Plott hounds.
    4. Curiously, while you regularly hear of “sightings,” you almost never hear of screams. Yet the scream is so distinctive, so chilling, it would be noted if heard.
    5. Cougar meat is delicious–just a hint in case you get one:)–I’ve eaten it in hunt camps out West and the backstrap looks very much like a boneless pork chop. It’s a white meat and was a favorite of the mountain men.
    6. Clearly cougars were once quite common in the mountains. There are far too many place names using variants of panther for it to be otherwise. Check Bill Powell’s N. C. gazetteer (I can’t remember the title and am too lazy to dig it out) and you will find dozens of listings. A number come to mind immediately–Panthertown Valley and creek in Jackson County, Panther Creek in Graham County, Panther Creek in Haywood County. Panther Flat Top (Cherokee County I think, though it could be Graham), Panther Spring Gap in Haywood Count (in the Park), Painter Branch in Swain County, etc.
    7. I’m basically skeptical (by nature, I might add), but it would be wonderful if panthers did still roam the mountains a bit. Sort of like finding ivorybill woodpeckers in some remote area.
    8. I’ll conclude by noting that a cousin who is quite knowledgable on the woods and such stuff (he’s a national wildlife refuge manager in Florida but grew up in Bryson City) says he saw a cougar in the Smokies some years back.
    Great topic and one which evokes lots of opinions.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    December 29, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Looks like you enjoyed your walk in the woods. I don’t know if there are mountain lions in Appalachia or not, wouldn’t doubt it, though. We saw some big cat tracks in the abandoned coal mine area above where I lived as a child. They may have been a bobcat, though.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    December 29, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Tipper like you for many years wildlife experts denied the existence of big cats in Mo. Then they started showing up on game cameras and being hit by cars and then they all of a sudden changed that position. If you don’t have a picture of it or run over it with your car then it doesn’t exist : )

  • Reply
    kathryn magendie
    December 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

    We see big cat tracks and sometimes I see scat I wonder if it’s big cat.
    My neighbor swears he saw a tawny big cat one day in front of where we live – he said it had a squirrel in its mouth, crunched once on it, and then ran off.
    But, one day GMR and I were walking in our cove, up behind us, and I looked up and saw a big black critter – I wasn’t a dog and it was too dang big to be a house cat – it stared at me, I stared at it and then I turned and walked away.
    There’s lots of things in these mountains that I hope stay hidden – hate to see them killed off for no reason than to say they could do it-won’t be for meat.
    Your walk reminds me of walks here at Killian Knob 🙂

  • Reply
    December 29, 2010 at 7:01 am

    I happen to think there are a limited number, even here in Georgia. I don’t have a seen it story but I can tell you that my father has always laughed at me when I told him that a bear ran out in front of me when I was in high school late one night. It was WAY too big to be a dog. He and my uncle said that they aren’t here in the foothills like a little further north. But last year, one was hit on the interstate in our county. Hmmmppphhh…imagine that! What do I know?!? There’s been cougar killed in middle/south Georgia so I think its likely.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing your Christmas joy, your gorgeous cold-as-christmas “Winter Wonderland” photos, and the bonus of big-cat-tracks video!
    My Daddy used to tell of being stalked at night by a painter, while with a group of other teens, on the way home from a church party, as they trekked through the woods, deep in the Ouachitas of western Arkansas. They heard the screams, but managed to stay ahead, and arrived home unscathed.
    I do wonder if there could be any left in Southern Appalachia; or, if they are hybrids, as some here in FL are? Exotic pets on the loose? Another possibility, of course.
    I know they have been spotted in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge/Canaveral National Seashore, where they are certainly protected – but the rangers and officials who manage it will never own up to it, for obvious reasons.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 28, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Our neighbors swear they’ve seen them. Back in the Eighties, word was that the government had released mountain lions in the area — government sponsored cougars is whht folks called them

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    My family is from SouthEastern Ohio tri-state area of Ohio, Ky & West Virginia and they’ve been seen here since my dad was a boy back in the ’30’s. Still seen in the hills report my family who hunts there.
    Happy New Year to you & your family Tipper!

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    December 28, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Well I’d say anything is possible with these mountains. But I also know that we have a pretty good sized bob cat close by and if he/she were to walk through the snow, I think the tracks might be a bit exaggerated which could lead one to believe it was a big cat. Panther tracks are really pretty good sized. Really enjoyed the post and the pics.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    It is so beautiful, I am really sorry I missed it. I think we have a mountain cat near our house too. I have heard something that sounds horrific and seen some kind of track in my flower garden.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I have always heard tales of mountain lions here in extreme Eastern Ohio. (Of course, we have our share of bigfoot sightings too – lol!) I can’t decide one way or the other; like the Deer Hunter, I have to wonder why we haven’t had any confirmed kills – could they really be that wily? Still, we do have coyote and fox and bear, so who knows???

  • Reply
    Debora Kerr
    December 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    People see mountain lions here in the VA Piedmont every year, particularly in my area (Midlothian/Bon Air). We are smack dab in suburbia, so the county government always writes the reports off as nonsense. But there are plenty of deer here for the lions to eat, so I personally believe they’re out there.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    December 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    A bit over a year ago, a friend was starting construction on a new cabin in Brevard. He was on his way to meet the excavation guy when he saw a mama bear and two cubs heading into the woods. He told the excavation guy about and he took out his phone and showed Tom a picture he had made of a critter on his back porch the previous night. Big tawny cat bigger than a large dog with a tail as long as his body. The guy lived in Burnsville, NC. Cougar is only cat I know of that looks like that…

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    December 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    My Granny Salmons grew up in Yadkin County in the late 1800’s. She talked of seeing “Painters” when she was a girl.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Well that is one big house cat walkin’ behind you then eh? I’m all for assumin that there is one and bein prepared to deal with one. Not in a worry wart like manner that makes things worse, but havin an escape plan, which usual includes takin a brave dog along. We have ’em here, we’ve not seen them a lot but the evidence and their style of kills, them and bear.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Wonderful pictures! I do believe
    the panthers exist cause I can
    remember my parents talking about
    them when they were young. But the
    story that sticks in my memory is
    what my grandmother Deliah faced
    when she was young and had just
    started raising her large family.
    One evening her husband and some
    friends took their dogs and were
    going camping deep in the woods
    to get wild hogs for their winter
    meats. Just about dark granny said
    she heard something that sounded
    like a woman screaming. But is was
    different somehow so she wouldn’t
    venture outside. Then a few minutes after, something started
    scratching on their old tarpaper
    roof. She got the broom and would
    bump the ceiling everytime it
    started scratching and it would
    jump and start somewhere else. She
    did this about all night and her
    husband and other guys came home
    shortly at daybreak. The “thing” was
    gone but the dogs picked up the
    tracks and all the men followed it
    till the dogs treed. There they shot it out and brung it back to the house. Granny said it was long
    as a hoe handle and black and had
    a real long tail, and thought it
    had been watching and waiting.
    I have seen those big cat tracks
    while deer hunting up at Rainbow
    Springs in the snow too…Ken

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve not seen a snow like that in ages. We seldom get snow here any more and when it does, it usually soon melts. Nice pics of it and your family. Those cat tracks are kind of scarry. There have been seen close to here but haven’t heard of anyone killing one. Just hope I don’t see one close to me.

  • Reply
    steve allen
    December 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Love the story and pic’s etc from your tracking adventure, Maybe you can post the pics of wild animals your husband captured from his trail cam. I would love to see the Bobcats and Bear. Maybe he should put it back up and we might see the panthers. Really liked the video too.
    Steve Allen
    Florence KY

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I think they are there and those paw prints prove it. i kept waiting for one to jump out of the trees while I watched to video. i could hear the snow crunching while you walked. we have cougars here in florida and i believe every state has them, no matter what they are called.

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 11:54 am

    I bet there are Mountain Lions! I wouldn’t be surprised a bit! Around here, my husband and I have seen foxes in our yard, a bear walking along in the woods, coyote in the neighborhood, and tons of deer everywhere!

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 11:43 am

    What a beautiful place to walk! Yes, I think there are big cats around, even around here. My nephew and his wife saw a pair last summer. I always heard my parents talking about them when we were kids living in Eastern KY. Loved the video!!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 28, 2010 at 11:24 am

    A great tale, Tipper. I like the way the Deerhunter thinks – logically and skeptically.
    That said, I’m inclined to be a believer in terms of there being big cats in the mountains even though I don’t have a personal witness story to tell. Here are some older ones, all dating to the 1970’s:
    A cousin of Jim’s and mine, James Burnett, who grew up hunting and fishing with us and now manages a wildlife refuge in Florida, saw a painter while fishing several miles up Deep Creek. He was fishing with a buddy who saw it first, and hollered at James. James looked up the creek to see the cat land on a rock in the middle of the creek, then make another jump to the far side and disappear. Same pattern you described – long tail.
    In the same time period (mid-70’s),there were two other reported sightings in the Great Smokies Park by very credible witnesses:
    1) A park service trail crew worker (and mountain native), Raymond DeHart, saw one up near High Rocks. High Rocks is a remote location on Welch Ridge, which separates the Hazel and Forney Creek basins. High Rocks is just under 10 miles by foot from the closest road (the end of the Road to Nowhere).
    2) Park workers over in Cataloochee spotted one (I don’t recall the details on that sighting, but I think it was well up Caldwell Fork, in the vicinity of the “Big Poplars”)
    The place where you and Pap saw one – near Standing Indian – is similar in that it is quite remote.
    So here’s what you need to do: Set up the Deerhunter’s trail cam again, then send Chitter and Chatter up there every day or so and walk past the camera so that if the curious cat trails them, you’ll catch photos of it. And hey – if it gets one of the girls, you’d still have one left 😉

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Jackie-no we didn’t find my hat : ( The girls said maybe the mountain lion got it : ) It was a Granny original too-I’ve had it since before I had the girls. I’m still hoping it turns up.

  • Reply
    Just Jackie
    December 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I believe there are lots of “wild” things in our woods. I am fascinated by all the tracks in the snow. Something was after our chickens last night. Two sets of tracks lead to the coop. One I’m guessing was a possum because you can see where it’s tail was dragging but not sure what the big paw prints are. Did you find your hat???? 🙂

  • Reply
    Angie Campbell
    December 28, 2010 at 10:39 am

    My grandparents had a farm between Tellico Plains and Madisonville TN from probably the late 1930s to the late 1980’s. I can recall them talking about “panthers screaming like a woman back in the knobs”….or “back in the holler”. A couple of cousins went squirrel hunting in the early 80s and said they saw tracks…..the one around there was supposedly black. The old tree by the farmhouse also had claw marks in the bark, mom says she could remember bear coming right to the house one winter when she was little. Love your blog! Keep up the great work!

  • Reply
    December 28, 2010 at 10:33 am

    your winter wonderland is quite beautiful, tipper. wish i were there to walk in its glory with all y’all! 🙂

  • Reply
    teresa atkinson
    December 28, 2010 at 10:30 am

    And the deerhunter is a right nice lookin guy. He does not make many appearances here.

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