Photographing a Mountain Lion
In the Eye of the Wild: A Photographer's Encounter with a Wyoming Mountain Lion
In the heart of Wyoming's rugged wilderness, under a winter sky vast and unforgiving, one of my dreams was about to unfold. Like most winter mornings when photographing wildlife, I was on a quest to capture the elusive beauty of wild country when wildlife was on the move. The journey was not just about photographs; it was about witnessing a moment of pure, unscripted wildness.
The morning was cold, with a biting wind that whispered the secrets of the wild. Snow blanketed the landscape, a canvas of endless white. We had missed the frost cover Bison we were looking for, they had moved out of the valley and into the shelter of the trees away from even our longest telephotos. The Wolves were nowhere to be seen. We had had good opportunities with foxes diving for rodents in the open fields this morning but were we greedy, after all there was good light and a full tank of gas.
As I drove away from the valley I had high hopes we would still find something interesting. Going past the place were our cameras had played tag with a shy coyote I spotted something unusual – a depression in the snow, possibly telling of a recent hunt. Intrigued, I maneuvered the SUV carefully, eyes peeled for any sign of life.
From the back seat there was an exhaled whisper "-COUGAR-" and there it was. Lying almost imperceptibly in the snow was a mountain lion, its ears just above the little snowbank. The lion lay beside what may have been its prey, a testament to the circle of life in the wild. My heart raced; this was the moment we had been waiting for. I have always been excited by any chance to photograph predators. I began my wildlife photography career by chasing Grizzly Bears at a time when their population was declining and there were fears that the total population could be lost in the lower 48 states. Then there is the ongoing project to protect Wolves, but this was something new to me. Finding a Mountain Lion in its own wild habitat, not running, and close enough to photograph had been a decades old dream.
With the stealth, we set up our cameras, checking exposures, and securing good resting places on the cars windows. We moved slowly and near silently, careful not to disturb the majestic creature. The mountain lion, aware of its audience, gave a cursory glance towards the SUV. In that moment, the world seemed to pause – photographer and predator, connected in a silent understanding.
Then, as if deciding to grant us a greater gift, the mountain lion rose. It moved with a grace that belied its power, every muscle rippling beneath its sleek coat into the sage. I exhaled and released my tension, but then struggled with the fear that we would not see the big cat again.
We waited, but after what seem like a long time the cat peered around the thick brush. Then in what seemed beyond belief the lion began to walk, slowly and deliberately, through the snow-covered sagebrush. Its eyes, amber and penetrating, remained intently fixed on the photographers in the SUV.
Our cameras clicked away, each shot capturing a fragment of this rare encounter.
The lion, curious and unafraid, seemed to perform a dance for the lens, moving through the snow with a stealth and elegance that only a creature of the wild could embody. The vision of those beautiful, but deadly eyes lock onto mine are forever burned to my mind. In a moment I felt more like the prey than the hunter as the cougar moved in toward us. Then as quick as only a cat can be, the big predator changed direction.
As the mountain lion disappeared into the expanse of the Wyoming wilderness, we knew they had captured something extraordinary. The photos were not just images; they were stories of survival, of beauty, and of a brief, sacred connection with one of nature's most enigmatic creatures.
Back in front of the computer reviewing the photos, each image revealed the raw, untamed essence of the mountain lion. These were more than photographs; they were a tribute to the wild heart of Wyoming, a reminder of the untamed beauty that thrives in the hidden corners of our world.