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 married, Chocoholic went hunting with a friend and brought home a dead squirrel. I cooked it 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 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 onto a Farm to Market Road and 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. Most of the men were warming themselves around a big campfire. Some had already begun drinking. One was obviously feeling no pain. My date 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.

Hunting dogs 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 a few miles from the fox hunt campsite. We arrived midmorning on a bright sunshiny Saturday. While we were unloading, a neighbor drove over and warned us that a big cat had been on the property for a couple of days. He didn’t say so, but we assumed livestock had been killed. Jack and I gave up plans for a hike and stayed close to the cabin. He loved our walks in the woods but put up no resistance, and I assumed his nose had already made him aware of the predator. My mother, sister and her husband and other family joined us later that afternoon.

About an hour before sunset, a caravan of pickup trucks carrying horses and dogs rattled across the dam and gunned their engines up the deep sandy road behind our cabin and on into the deep post oak 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. The hunting dogs occasionally bayed and barked excitedly in the distance. Once we heard a short scream, I assume from the big cat. As soon as the sun came up the next morning, the hunters returned the way they had come. We assumed they had killed the cat.

Perhaps eight years ago, I was walking up the road on an overcast morning and turned to look back at the lake. 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 and had 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.