Panther Puzzle Solved!
Never fails. Once a year. Every year. We run a cover photo of a panther/cougar/puma/somebody’s overfed house cat, and I get the same question lemmemtytwo times for the next month: “Ever seen a panther?”
And they ask it with a challenge in their eyes, you know? As in, “We’ve had suspicions of you being a lunatic for years, but an affirmative answer would be certifiable evidence needed to put you permanently away.”
Or, “We ain’t gonna believe you if you say yes, and if it’s no, then you don’t spend enough time in the woods after all.”
It’s the same brain-lock, face-freezing gaze I get while trying to explain bear hunting for the last 32 years. In Georgia.
So here goes. We’re gonna settle this thing once and for all, and even if you ask me again when we put the GON Ocelot Edition out in 2039, the answer will be the same: YES!
That’s the short version. Also happens to be the truth, and I could not possibly care less should any say nay. As usual, and I’m sure your suspicions were already rising, a caveat or three will certainly rear its ugly head.
There was a time when beverages of the fermented variety worked their way into my diet on a fairly regular basis. Especially on weekends.
Old boy I used to run with during the second and third decades of our lives—won’t name him because his wife would probably kill him—had but one ambition in life: his own personal Budweiser brewery.
To the best of my knowledge, he’s well and truly vested by now, although sole ownership is doubtful. I moved on to the hard stuff—sweet tea—30 years ago, and we kind of drifted apart. What does that have to do with seeing a panther, you ask?
He was driving.
If you want to go to the country, drive from Rhine to Hawkinsville. Around midnight.
For quite a bit of the trip, the Ocmulgee River ripples along just through the trees outside the driver-side window. It’s quiet as only midnight in the country can be. We’re musing… and then something flashes from the ditch and all the way across the gravel road 20 feet in front of four headlights on a 1966 Ford Galaxie (390, the robust FE block in case you’re keeping score, but it was merely purring at the time).
It was half a mile before I could even blurt, “You see that?”
(My brainbox was like the old Lost In Space robot: “That does not compute, that does not compute…”)
“What did you see?”
Which told me he saw the same thing I did: One. Large. Long tailed. Black. Cat.
BLACK! Not tan, not brown, not mottled. Not a bobcat, not a housecat. A panther. And if you think that’s screwy, take a look at the following definition: Panther: a leopard, especially a black one; North America: a large American wild cat with a plain tawny to grayish coat, found from Canada to Patagonia.
I didn’t see no leopard that night 5 miles up the road from Rhine! Nor did the both of us see a wildcat with a tawny to grayish coat. But we WERE in North America.
Further, while I have no clue where Patagonia, Georgia is located, I did get a really good, long look at an aptly described tawny-coated wild cat in Ontario.
Canada, not Georgia. And it didn’t make the GON cover, so it don’t count. It MIGHT have made the Hall of Shame had I given in to temptation and placed a large-caliber hole through it. (Yep, bear hunting, .30-ought in hand, and it slipped leisurely by at 25 steps…)
Only two things stopped me: no license, and the thought of spending the rest of my days in a frigid Canadian prison…
Speaking of which…
I could take you to the spot where a young man—a high school senior at the time—took two shots from a climbing stand as three deer ran right under his feet.
He was not, however, shooting at the deer; rather, at what was chasing them.
You guessed it…
Tawny. Not in no Patagonia, neither. Laurens County. Hunting nearby, I heard the shots. Saw his face during the telling. I’m as sure of what he saw as I am of what my partner and I saw.
And don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same thing in the same spot, because I shore ain’t telling you I wouldn’t have as an 18-year-old. In the split second it took, I’d’ve been thinking that thing could come up a tree faster’n a fox squirrel, so we gonna shoot first and sort out the rest later on…
Fortunately, he missed both times, and I can tell you from experience that while these wild cats may be ‘nonexistent,’ slow, they ain’t!
Especially while running down ‘imaginary’ deer.
I can sympathize with the DNR powers that be in reasoning that we don’t need to be shooting no Georgia panthers. However, since there are none—right?—there’s no cause for concern.
It would make me feel a mite better, however, if one of the ornery fictional felines would slide by my camera lens sometime. I promise not to plug him.
But now and again I can’t help but wonder…
What if upon that midnight excursion so long ago we had been exercising the good ol’ FE at its usual Friday night output, say, 5,000 or so rpm? Them cats is quick—not to mention hypothetical—but they ain’t no match for a Galaxie!