Case: Rambling down the yellow brick road of my mind

National Park Service photo via AP / A mountain lion is shown in California's Santa Monica Mountains in September 2019. Although there are thousands of mountain lions in the U.S., most are found in the western half of the country. As "Guns & Cornbreads" columnist Larry Case learned during his time as a DNR officer, that didn't keep people from sighting what they were certain were mountain lions in West Virginia.

Lions and tigers and bears ...

If I do have any loyal and/or regular readers out there, it may be that by now, you are used to the fact that sometimes I will go on a kind of mental walkabout.

In doing this, I am free to discuss with you whatever is creeping out of the crevices and cobwebs of my mind. I'm sure you know the mention of these three large predators comes from a line in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz." Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are discussing what they may run into on their journey down the yellow brick road. The Tin Man tells them they will be seeing lions and tigers and bears.

(By the way, probably like many of you out there, the scene with the flying monkeys scared the crap out of me as a little kid.)

From being a hunter for many years and a DNR officer for almost 40, I have had lots of experiences with animals — predators and prey and everything in between. I guess most of the incidents were good or at least interesting, but some of them not so much.

Most of my events concerning lions have been with mountain lions or cougars. By now, some of you know of my episodes with those people who seem to think there is a cougar lurking behind every tree in every state east of the Big Muddy. I have never been able to fully explain my view on this animal and its presence, or lack thereof, and I would bet I won't be able to do it here either.

It seems there are a lot of folks out there who want to believe in the worst way that they saw a mountain lion in West Virginia, Kentucky or Tennessee. When I was on the game warden job (or now through different articles and websites), if I would tell them no, they did not see a mountain lion, they sometimes would go berserk and do an imitation of something you might have seen in "The Exorcist." It is hard to explain to people that time after time, when I would see the animal in question, it was almost impossible to understand how the person who reported it could mistake this animal for a cougar.

House cats, of course, are the most common critter mistaken for the mountain lion. But I also saw different sizes of domestic dogs, coyotes and a roadkill gray fox in incidents where people swore they saw a cougar. (I am not making this up.)

On top of all this, in my area of West Virginia, there has never been a documented incident of a wild cougar being captured on a trail camera. Lots of people swear they have one on their buddy's camera, but when asked, they are never able to produce the picture. Also, there has never been a documented roadkill cougar produced in this area, nor have the many, many owners of bear dogs (hounds that might easily tree or corner a mountain lion if one was around) ever reported such an incident.

Even with all this, people still insist they saw a cougar run across the road, or that Uncle Joe has one that lives behind his barn.

One more quick note: There was an incident where a couple guys reported seeing a lion, like an African lion, in a very remote area. I was ready to dismiss it as this lion probably crawled out of a whiskey bottle, but unbelievably, evidence started coming in where a person near this incident had a couple lions, real African lions, in a pen — and, of course, they escaped. Go figure.

My experience with tigers is much more limited, but there was an actual occurrence of a Bengal tiger that escaped from an enclosure that housed some exotic animals, and for a brief minute there was an authorized hunt for the tiger in a wilderness area. It was unclear what actually happened to the big cat, but we figured the owner of the animal scooped him up pretty quick to avoid any messy incidents.

I did read a lot about a guy named Jim Corbett who spent most of his life in India when it was an English colony, and a lot of his time there he was in pursuit of man-eating tigers and leopards. This was a real problem in Corbett's day in the remote mountain villages of India, as the tigers and leopards he hunted down took more than 1,000 victims. Corbett stalked these man-eaters mostly alone and on foot. His accounts of these hunts in his books such as "Man-Eaters of Kumaon" are truly fascinating, and if you don't know about Col. Jim Corbett, I encourage you to read up on him.

For those of you who have been kind enough to follow my many ramblings in these pages, you know I have had many dealings with bears, mostly black bears, those in the Ursus americanus clan. I dealt with bears quite a bit in my 36-year stint as a DNR officer. There always seemed to be a lot of bears wherever I was stationed at the time.

Bears are intelligent, animated and fascinating creatures that can sometimes run afoul in their dealings with us humans. Just to be blunt, they can be a real pain when they insist on staying in and around populated areas. It is all related to food, of course, and they love to get in your garbage cans, dumpsters, bird feeders and pet food bowls.

Like many wildlife-related problems, it is usually more the fault of the humans involved than the bear. If you are the wildlife agency person dealing with the problem, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do in removing the bear. It was remarkable to me that whenever we entered a community having a bear problem, the citizenry seemed to be pretty evenly divided between those wanting to be rid of the bear and those who said they wanted the culprit left alone.

So whatever we did, we were going to make half of the people mad. It was great fun.

(That's sarcasm, folks.)

So there you have it, the latest little adventure of my mind and memories being let out and allowed to ramble around unsupervised. Thanks for reading.

Oh my!

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at