"He was in pounce mode"
Imagine you were on a routine work call and came face to face with a snarling puma. "I don’t get paid enough for this," wasn’t Josh Pierce’s first thought last Friday, but Pierce, who works for Timberline Mechanical as a plumber, says it occurred to him after he managed to flee.
Pierce’s adventure began Friday, December 28 when he was called to the Danni Ranch subdivision south of Crested Butte to look at some frozen pipes. The Young family’s guesthouse, Pierce explained, was a cabin built on posts with an enclosed utility area in the crawl space. But according to Pierce, snow had slid from the roof to the ground, effectively enclosing the entire underside of the cabin.
"It was boxed in all nice and warm," he says. Cozy enough, it turns out, to make a perfect lair for a youthful mountain lion.
Pierce says he was somewhat wary as soon as he wriggled his way into the approximately two-foot high crawl space. "It smelled like a wet animal," he says. "I was hoping it wasn’t a skunk or a coyote."
After crawling in about 20 feet, Pierce says he was quickly convinced he wasn’t dealing with your average packrat or skunk. "After it hissed and spit at me, I realized I was looking into the eyes of a lion not more than five feet away," he says.
Pierce says since he had hunted lions before, he knew to try not to intimidate it or appear threatening. However, high on the list of mountain lion safety tips is to make yourself look large. Unfortunately, since Pierce was on his stomach, he didn’t have that luxury.
According to Pierce, he was feeling particularly vulnerable because he didn’t even have a pair of pliers to fend off the soon-to-be frenzied feline. "He was in pounce mode," Pierce says. "And I had nothing but my hands to defend myself."
Since any safety tips were moot, Pierce undertook his only option—which was to get out of the crawl space—hopefully while his skin was still intact. "I was backing out, trying to get the heck out of there," he says.
Pierce says fortunately the puma didn’t press the issue, and "After I backed up a ways, he put his fangs back in."
After he managed to extricate himself and take refuge with homeowner Janet Young in a garage, Pierce says he called friends with a hunting tag for cougars in hopes of subduing it.
According to homeowner Barry Young, the first group of hunters chased the cougar out of the crawl space, but it managed to get away. Not knowing the whereabouts of the large cat, the Youngs and their three young granddaughters spent a harrowing evening indoors.
"We were very nervous about letting them outdoors," says Young of his grandchildren, who are two, five and seven years old.
Staying inside was probably a good call, because according to Young, the cougar returned that evening to once again take up residence within the crawl space.
The next day, however, another group of hunters Pierce called upon managed to kill the cat with a bow. "They came with four or five bloodhounds, and managed to track it down," says Young. "We were very thankful for the hunters."
Division of Wildlife area wildlife manager J Wenum says mountain lion season runs from mid-November until the last day of March.
Timberline Mechanical owner Ron Chlipala who is Pierce’s boss, says that he felt bad for the cat. "It’s really unfortunate, but if there is a case where it was appropriate to put one down, this is the case,” he says.
Pierce says he is still negotiating that pay raise.