The news that a mountain lion was killed last week in the rugged terrain of Palo Pinto County comes as no surprise to locals who have seen them repeatedly over the years.
One local landowner, Jim Young, estimates he's seen a mountain lion 15 times over the last 15 years, including a sighting three or four weeks ago when a big cat crossed about 80 yards in front of his all-terrain vehicle. Young and his three passengers all got a good look at it.
"They're here," Young said. "I don't particularly worry about them."
The mountain lion that was killed, estimated to weigh about 200 pounds, was struck by Graford High School basketball player Xavier Harrison about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on Texas 337 between Graford and Mineral Wells, said Game Warden Matt Waggoner.
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Harrison was on his way home from basketball practice.
"I just didn't see anything and then out of nowhere there's just a mountain lion stretched across my hood," Harrison told WFAA/Channel 8.
Young believes there are at least three mountain lions roaming his part of Palo Pinto County — there have also been unconfirmed sightings near Lake Palo Pinto and near Possum Kingdom Lake — but he said it becomes clear when a mountain lion is nearby.
"You pretty well can tell when they're on the place," Young said. "You don't see turkeys. You don't see deer. Everything gets really quiet."
From talking with other landowners, Young said the mountain lions roam along Keechi Creek, which winds its way through the rugged terrain between Texas 254 and 337.
'Personally seen two myself'
It's been about 15 years since the last confirmed sighting in Palo Pinto County, Waggoner said, but there have been plenty claiming to have seen one or more.
"From time to time, we do get reports but it's mostly 'I saw this' or 'I saw that,'" Waggoner said. "It was nothing we could confirm."
But Jim McLennan, who owned the now-closed barbecue restaurant Hashknife on the Chisholm in Peadenville north of Mineral Wells, said mountain lion sightings aren't that unusual.
"I've personally seen two myself," McLennan said. "It's not as unusual as people think it is."
When his restaurant was still open, McLennan said cowboys from the nearby Wagley Ranch would regularly talk about mountain lion sightings and say a family of them lived back in a canyon on the ranch.
"They're there," McLennan said. "There's no doubt about it."
At Sportsman's Headquarters in Graford, owner Greg Dunn said he has a group of hog hunters who have claimed to have seen mountain lions more than once.
"They said they've seen several," Dunn said. "They acted like they've seen them all of the time."
Biologist to examine mountain lion
Mountain lions are a non-game species but are legal to hunt with a Texas hunting license.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, mountain lions are found throughout the Trans-Pecos region in far West Texas. They've also been found in parts of South Texas and the Hill Country.
"Sighting and kill reports indicate that Mountain Lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas," according to the Parks and Wildlife website.
Attacks on humans are rare; only four have been reported in Texas since 1980, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The remains of the mountain lion have been sent to a Parks and Wildlife biologist in Brownwood who will try to determine what the mountain had been eating. Tests will also be conducted to determine if the mountain lion is genetically connected to any of the known mountain lions in Texas.