Photo courtesy Malvin Jamison
Malvin Jamison knew it was a life or death moment. Fox? Coyote? Cougar. As it leaped toward him he pulled the trigger.
Jamison, 53, is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla. He works for the Tribes as a fisheries technician and describes himself as an avid outdoorsman. He has hunted nearly every game animal Eastern Oregon has to offer — duck, pheasant, chukar, deer, elk and plenty of turkeys.
He has a favorite spot to go for gobblers, a canyon in the foothills of the Blue Mountains on the reservation — that’s as detailed as Jamison will be about the exact location of his encounter.
He went up to that spot to hunt turkey on April 11, waking before dawn and leaving the house before his wife woke up. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going — a big mistake for such a seasoned outdoorsman — but hoped he would be back home with a bird in hand before his wife had gotten out of bed.
He got to his first spot, about a half mile walk from where he left his vehicle, and began to imitate the sounds of female turkeys, a trick used by hunters to draw big males within rifle range. He was dressed head to toe in camouflage and he had set out a fan — a decoy made to resemble splayed-out turkey feathers that can make wary birds more comfortable to approach.
He called for about 30 minutes, then walked another quarter mile to a spot where he has had success in the past. He sat under a group of hawthorn trees and started another series of calls. After 10 or 15 minutes, he heard a quiet response from about 500 yards up the canyon.
So he put a little more volume in his calls, and sure enough there was an answer. This time it was closer. Maybe 300 yards. Soon enough the responder was “gobbling his head off” 200 yards away, still out of sight but easily heard. Then 100 yards.
Jamison’s instincts keyed in. Turkeys can cover that last 100 yards pretty quick if they think an interested female is right over the next ridge.
The excitement rose as he put his hand on his gun, then his finger on the safety, and brought the gun up.
“I was sitting, just waiting. Scanning the brush for any kind of movement,” he said.
The turkey went quiet. The wait only increased the intensity. He described himself as hyper alert.
“Then boom, I see something move,” said Jamison.
Whatever it was, it didn’t have feathers. Jamison’s first thought was that it was a fox. It was too big, though. A coyote? Still too big. Then it clicked: It was a cougar, and it had pounced off the ridge onto his decoy about 25 feet away. The cougar jumped at the fan then turned toward Jamison’s spot in the trees — where those turkey noises had been coming from. Jamison said the whole experience took about 2 seconds. The cat jumped down, turned toward him, charged. Jamison had his rifle at the ready and he estimated the cat was only a foot away from his barrel when he fired into its front left shoulder.
“I was falling backwards as I touched off the shot,” he recalled. “I thought it was going to land on me. I ended with my elbows up ... and then nothing.”
He looked up, saw no cat and no blood. He was so shook he scurried back to the car and drove right to the CTUIR’s natural resources office to talk with program manager Carl Scheeler. Jamison purchased a cougar tag within 72 hours of his kill, which is the rule for tribal hunters on the reservation, and went back to the scene with friends to see if he could find it.
It didn’t take long. Just 25 yards from where Jamison had shot the cat, it lay dead in a pile of brush. It was a female weighing about 110 pounds. It had a puncture and exit wound in its left shoulder, each one burned and almost cauterized, which showed how close the animal had been to the end of the barrel.
Jamison said he doesn’t eat cougar, but friends do and they butchered the animal. Jamison said he will keep the skull and paws and will probably make a necklace out of the claws.
He remains traumatized by the event.
“I just keep seeing that face and paws. Keep seeing it coming at me .... It was a rough couple days. I couldn’t tell the story hardly, because of the intensity of the experience. It was a life and death test. It was no joke. I got put on a different level of life than everybody else that day.”
He said there is no doubt in his mind that if he didn’t pull the trigger and connect, he wouldn’t have survived.
“It was certain,” he said. “There was no guessing about that. It was going to kill me.”