I grew up in a small town in a state full of hunters, but no one in my family hunted. Chocoholic grew up in the big city hunting duck, geese. squirrel and birds with his father. Go figure. His family ate what they killed. Shortly after we were first married, Chocoholic went hunting with a friend and brought home a dead squirrel. I cooked it, unbeknownst to me, with the shotgun pellets still in it. We had to throw it away. Who knew?

With the exception of a single goose hunt near Katy, Texas with some co-workers, he never went hunting again. Worked for me!

I have been present at only one hunt. When I was a junior in high school, my boyfriend took me to a fox hunt late one Friday night after a football game. I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted the young man. He was a good guy.

He drove out of town on a State Highway, turned off onto a Farm to Market Road and subsequently turned off onto two winding white sand ruts leading into dense post oak woods. The only light came from headlights raking the trail and trees. After about a mile, we came to the campsite. There were at least a dozen men there. Most were young with perhaps three older men. I recognized a couple of recent high school graduates, one of whom was my boyfriend’s best friend. I think there was only one other female present, the wife of one of the men. It appeared to me that she was there to hunt, as she was getting her gear ready. She was not there to cook for the men. It was quite dark and chilly, and most of the men were warming themselves around a big campfire in a small clearing. Some of the guys had already begun drinking. One was feeling no pain. The young man I was with turned down a proffered bottle of bourbon but promised to return after he took me home. They planned to make a night of it. Hard liquor and guns sounded like a dangerous combination to me, but I held my tongue.

Someone had brought hunting dogs, hounds. They were excited and loud, eager to get going. I don’t remember horses being present. We left after a few minutes as I had curfew.

Years later Chocoholic, our Black Lab Jack and I spent a weekend at the lake cabin, located perhaps two miles or so from the fox hunt campsite. We arrived midmorning on a bright sunshiny Saturday. While we were still unloading, a neighbor made it a point to drive over and warn us that a big cat had been on the property for a couple of days. While he didn’t say so, we assumed that livestock had been killed. My dog and I gave up plans for a hike and stayed close to the cabin. Jack loved our walks in the woods, but he put up no resistance, and I assumed his nose had made him aware of the predator as soon as we had crossed the cattle guard. My mother, sister and her husband and perhaps a cousin from a nearby town joined us later that afternoon.

About an hour before sunset, a caravan of pickup trucks carrying horses and dogs arrived. They rattled across the dam and gunned their engines up the deep sandy road behind our cabin and on into the deep woods. All of the pickups carried at least one passenger, and all sported long guns secured in racks behind bench seats. Most of the men wore snap shirts and western cowboy straw hats or gimme caps. We watched the parade go by with big eyes, assuming they had come to kill the predator. It was oddly exciting.

We returned to the porch after dark to enjoy the night sounds on the lake. We turned the exterior lights off and talked in the dark. We occasionally heard the hunting dogs barking and baying excitedly and an occasional shout from one of the hunters. We heard a single short scream, I assume from the big cat. As soon as the sun came up the next morning, the caravan of hunters returned the way they had come. We never learned for sure that they had killed the cat, but we assumed so.

Perhaps eight years ago, I was walking up the road on an overcast morning and turned to look back at the lake. At that moment, maybe thirty yards behind me, I saw a strange cat calmly cross the road, a short trip of thirty yards from wooded section to wooded section. The cat was bigger than a house cat but not as big as a bobcat (which I have also seen on the property.) Its tail was long with maybe a bit of curl at the end. It was a dark mottled nondescript brownish grey with small widely spaced somewhat rounded ears. The word “jaguarundi” popped into my head, and when I finished my walk, I googled it and concluded that the animal was indeed a jaguarundi, a rarity this far north.

Perhaps three years ago, I heard that one of my neighbors reported seeing a black panther from across the lake. Black panthers look a great deal like jaguarundis but weigh at least three times as much. Of course, I think she saw a jaguarundi, and if she knew about my sighting, she would probably think that I saw a panther. I’m not afraid of a jaguarundi, but I am afraid of a panther. I have learned to be more careful on my walks.