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A Youngster's encounter
with a mountain lion

Zach points to the spot where the mountain lion appeared while he was fishing on the shoreline next to the bridge, and below, Woody Baxter is asking him if the lion was crouched.







Zach poses in his "bigger than the lion" pose, just like he learned in school during a presentation by Woody Baxter from Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

by Patricia Swan Smith
For the Pathfinder

November 11, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

Look big and live. Run you die," were the thoughts that popped into Zach Balcom's mind when the mountain lion appeared about 18 feet away from him and hissed. Zach was fishing that August evening this past summer on Morrell Creek when the encounter took place.

He remembered everything he had seen in a presentation at school about lions and bears, and the drama played out just like it was supposed tohe got away safely.

"When I saw him backing away from the creek with his arms spread out like that I knew something was up," Zach's father Jim Balcom said. "His arms were spread as wide as they would spread. He had his fishing pole in one hand and his box in the other, and was backing up slowly."

The class presentation given by Woody Baxter from Fish Wildlife & Parks about how to deal with mountain lion and bear encounters may have made the difference between Zach being attacked or getting away safely.

"We don't have a lot of statistics," Baxter said, "but unfortunately for Zach, we can look at this and say it worked this time. There is no sure-fire recipe for dealing with lion or bear encounters, and I hate to see any kid go through it, but it's kind of exciting to learn that the presentation worked."

"I'm impressed you remembered all of that," Woody told Zach during an interview about the incident. "Was the lion big or small?"

"I don't know," Zach said.

"I'll bet he probably looked pretty big standing there hissing at you," Woody said.

"Yea," Zach replied. And from the size of his eyes and the expression on his face, it probably would be a safe bet to say the lion looked huge and cranky.

"My heart was beating real fast, and lots of stuff ran through my mind. Run. Die. Backup slowly and look big and live. I put my arms up and backed up until he was out of site. I had to look back so I didn't run into a tree, but I didn't turn around until he was out of sight and I heard my dad."

His dad called out Zach's name, and since he was out of sight, he did what would have come naturally to most kids at the first site of the lion he ran home.

His mother Vicki said that she is so glad the school has this program for the kids each year.

"When we were in Sidney, they drilled the kids for tornadoes," she said. "I would never have thought we needed drills for this."

"I don't want to do it again," Zach told Woody.

Woody laughed and said, "I don't blame you. I wish you wouldn't have had to go though it this time, but it's rewarding in a way to actually be able to talk to someone who used what I tell you kids in class. Of course this reward is off of your torture, and I'm sorry about that."

Both of them laughed and headed down the hill to look at the scene of the encounter.

Here are some tips in case of an encounter with a lion:

1. DO NOT make any quick movements or run.

2. Face your body toward the lion, and attempt to "look large" (such as raising arms and shoulders, spread open jacket or shirt, if with someone, stand close to each other, or even put a smaller child on your shoulders).

3. Make loud, firm vocal noises (or loud firm lies: "Hey lion, You're not so tough and I'm not scared of you" is one of Woody's favorite lines) High pitched screams may provoke attacks, as could running away.

4. Walk, SLOWLY backward; try not to turn your back toward the lion. Walk backward until you are out of sight of the lion, and then move out of the area.

5. Of course last but not least is Woody's final instruction: "Go home and change your underwear!!"

If a lion is ready to pounce on you, fight back with a stick, rock or bare hands. Try to hit the nose and face area of the lion.

Many people have survived lion attacks by fighting back with everything from rocks, sticks, fists and fishing poles. Do not give up or crouch downremain standing and fight back.

After any encounter with a lion, make sure to report it to your local Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden. This could be crucial to the safety of others if the lion is repeatedly having encounters with humans.

Other factors to keep in mind:

* Small children should avoid walking and playing near thick brushy areas especially in the mornings, evenings and during darkness.

* Keep in mind that when there are deer in the area, there is always the possibility that a lion could be near by stalking.

* Keep small children nearby, and try to keep them in the middle of a group.

* Do not let small pets run unleashed.

Woody Baxter has been giving the lion and grizzly presentation for several years, and last year he added a drill a couple days after the presentation.

"The kids did a great job," he said. "I was really impressed."

So, if you see Baxter running into a classroom at the elementary school yelling "Lion", it is only a test, not an indication he needs medication.

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