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Hikers clash with mountain lion

Ron Vining didn’t think he would use the walking sticks he got for Father’s Day to protect his children and himself, but that’s what he did when he faced a mountin lion later that day.

Vining, of Powell, was hiking up Dead Indian Creek in Sunlight Basin Sunday with his wife, Leann, daughter and son-in-law, Alisa and Ryan Dempsey, and grandchildren Payton, Kensi, and Kanin, when a mountain lion crashed the party. 

They were about one and a half hours up the trail across Wyo. 296 (Chief Joseph Highway) and Dead Indian campground when Payton, 5, wanted to climb a boulder the approximate size of a minivan. Payton was packing a BB gun he set aside for his ascent, Vining said.

As Payton began his climb, a mountain lion came out from the backside of the rock, Vining said.

Vining spotted the male lion when it was about 6 feet away.

“I saw the lion getting ready to lunge at me,” he said.

He grabbed for his .45 caliber revolver, but the tie down holding the handgun in the holster wouldn’t come loose. He did not have bear spray, Vining said.

Ryan was up the trail 40 or 50 yards and out of sight. Vining called for help, he said.

He had his Father’s Day gift: a set of walking sticks similar to ski poles.

“It was the first time I ever used these sticks. I swung at this lunging lion and hit it across the face and it was enough to back him off,” Vining said.

Fighting back was an instinctual reaction. “I’m going to do whatever I can to protect my family,” Vining said.

Although the lion withdrew 6 or 8 feet, he was poised to pounce again. But this time Vining had enough time to free his weapon and fire. Although he couldn’t see exactly where the bullet struck, Vining is sure he hit the lion, he said.

The lion retreated, but in the direction of Alisa, who was carrying 4-month-old Kanin, and Ryan, packing Kensi, 2 1/2. Kanin slept throughout the encounter, Vining said.

Ryan ran down the trail to Vining’s aid, he said.

When the lion saw the other people dashing down the trail, it fled. Ryan took a couple shots, but missed, Vining said.

Kensi sustained some scratches on her face from branches that slapped her while she rode on Ryan’s back as he ran to Vining, he said.

“After it was over, I was shaking,” Vining said.

Vining and his family hiked out. They tried the Dead Indian campground host’s telephone, but couldn’t get reception. As soon as he could, Vining called the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s office in Cody and left a message describing the incident, he said.

On Monday morning, he met with Chris Queen, Powell game warden, and Luke Ellsbury, bear conflict officer, from the Game and Fish office in Cody. Employing hounds, the lion was treed approximately 400 yards from the scene of the incident and destroyed, Vining said.

Vining did wound the animal.

“That lion didn’t go very far because it was injured,” said Dusty Lasseter, Game and Fish bear wise community coordinator in Cody.

Whenever a trophy game animal like a mountain lion is killed without a license out of season, an investigation follows, said Tara Teaschner, Game and Fish public information specialist in Cody.

The case remains under investigation, Queen said.

Lasseter transported the lion to the department’s Wildlife Forensic and Fish Health Lab at the University of Wyoming for necropsy (animal autopsy). The lab also will examine the lion, about 1-year-old, for any possible diseases, he said.

Vining and his uncle, Wes Vining, mentor local youth in the Polestar hunter mentor program. Both men strive to project a positive image to teenagers.  On Monday, Vining took two teenagers fishing in the Beartooth Mountains. He will not be discouraged from recreating in the wilds, but he did pack along a pistol and shotgun, he said.

Since it appears they startled the cat and it was not actually stalking them, he harbors no grudge against mountain lions, Vining said.

Queen said people should be alert for bears in the backcountry, but they also should be aware of potential conflicts with mountain lions.

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13 comments

  • posted by Ryan Dempsey

    April 30, 2013 8:38 am

    I've typed and retyped this comment a half dozen times now, not wanting to "offend" those who have posted comments on "you should have saved the lion, not the family" types. My family and I have a great respect for all wildlife and the outdoors, but more of a respect for life itself, especially that of my family. The whole ordeal lasted about 10 seconds. But the impression left on MY kids, it's still there. It's one thing to sit with a nice cup of some watered down mocha thing, from the comfort of your own house, and make a comment. It's another to have seen the whole thing happen.
    And by the way, it was a male. So forget the whole "protecting her cubs" thing, that's what we were doing.

  • posted by Righteous

    March 31, 2013 4:37 am

    Correction: encounter

  • posted by Righteous

    March 31, 2013 4:29 am

    Here's a thought: Don't go hiking or camping in mountain lion territory with your children. People seem to go out of their way to put themselves in risky positions so that they have an excuse to slaughter these beautiful animals. There are many areas in the country known for having big cat activity and humankind continually encroaches upon this wildlife. If you don't want to have a nasty encounty with a big cat, go to a mall.

  • posted by Meow

    October 20, 2012 9:49 pm

    Meow.... here kitty kitty, you should have fed the kitty your hand and it would have left you alone....

  • posted by RAH

    October 18, 2012 10:46 pm

    I agree with KRJ, LC. To:Rambler, Amy and Scott. I love animals alot, I truly do, and I love to go camping and hiking out in the beautiful nature; but GIVE ME A BREAK! with your "animals have more rights or just as much as humans" Evilutions warped minds. This family had "little ones with them" small children. Would you perfer that the mountain lion, being a oppurtunistic hunter go after the easiest prey and eat the little kids, and then take the remains back to her cubs??????? Wake Up! This family (the guy) did what they had to do; and so would have YOU Too! if in the exact same circumstance with small children. Your Evilutional views are sick! Mankind has rule over animals...Period! This family wasn't going out looking to kill this lion.

  • posted by Ben There

    July 02, 2012 6:42 pm

    Rambler... Your view of the natural world is through someone else's eyes. turn off the TV, get off the couch, and enter the real world, and see it.... AND... experience it for you'r self! Get some cred

  • posted by KRJ

    June 27, 2012 8:17 pm

    Rambler wrote: I have this image in my mind of this Mountain Loin being a mother just protecting her cubs. Then she hobbles backs to her cubs bleeding just to make sure they are all ok when all of the sudden she succomes to her bullet wound. Then all her cubs starve.

    Good Lord. Really? Mommy Mountain Lion bravely hobbling back to Baby Mountain Lions, licking them gently on each of their button noses as their big dark eyes cloud over broken hearted while watching their mommy slowly breathe her last breath. And then the spunky young cubs finally and reluctantly scampering away to search for food in the big bad world. Cue sad then inspiring Disney music.

    The man acted appropriately and although it is unfortunate that this mountain lion died, wild animal/human interactions sometimes go bad. Thankfully it went bad for the mountain lion and not for this young family.

    Those making up Disney stories about this interaction would be best served by hiking on their treadmills instead of anywhere on trails in the west.

  • posted by LC

    June 26, 2012 10:59 pm

    I admire this man for fighting off an attacking mountain lion with a walking stick. He defended his family, and saved their lives.
    Would you airhead progressive liberals have perfered that the lion would have killed a member of this mans family?

    In the Oregon Basin there are two draws full of antelope carcass'es, victims of no doubt a mountain lion, that means that many; some twenty plus; antelopes didn't return home to their young.....their young which perished no doubt because of a preditory mountain lion.

    Why don't you simple minded progressive's join your counter parts in "The Peoples Republic of Kalifornia", or some other strong hold of twisted, demented thinking.

  • posted by Erin Winters

    June 26, 2012 11:44 am

    A few years back on a tree near 14A before you get to Garland, we had a great dog who treed a mountain lion in my Dad's yard. I must say it was one of the scarier moments of of my life. My husband is a hunter and wishes he would have picked up a license on our way out to see this massive cat. My dog never left from beneath that cat. But what if my father who lived alone would have come out and not been alerted by the dogs? I say you protect yourself when you have to, but luckily my good old dog kept it at bay while Game and Fish were on their way. I'm not going to let an animal take my life to keep it's alone life. Just like the fearless fox that kept around our campground this past weekend in the Big Horns. Even to save my puppy from this rabid animal I would shoot. Luckily other campers showed up the next day and he had other campers to bother, but needless to say, our tent was never slept in. I'll be darned if any person or animal threatens the lives I love. Vining did what he had to do, and it's one less mountain lion to worry about watching you from the trees.

  • posted by Scott Feyhl

    June 25, 2012 12:36 pm

    In spite of the belief by many that packing a gun is the only sure protection in the event of an encounter with dangerous wildlife I believe using bear spray would have yielded 1 less victim in this event.

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