Grit Blogs > Mosquito Mountain Montana Homestead

Looking Back 6: Homestead Predators - Lions and Wolves and Bears, Oh, My

Mosquito Mountain Montana HomesteadOur situation is unusual when it comes to large predators we have to deal with. The majority of homesteaders don't have grizzly and black bears, mountain lions, wolves, bobcats, lynx, and coyotes for neighbors. In reality, few of them actually give us problems although we still take precautions to protect ourselves and our animals.

The best homestead defense against most large predators is a good dog. You don't necessarily need a large dog, but it must be one of at least moderate size (to keep from being food for mountain lions); it needs to be smart enough to know when rousing the household is better than engaging the "enemy"; and it needs to be able to run loose and yet stay home.

Our current dog is great at all of the above. Those we had that weren't were taken to the animal shelter to be adopted by other owners.

Equally necessary are good fences designed to protect your animals from predators. Our chicken house and run is near the cabin and has wire over the top giving them protection on the sides, ends, and threats from above.

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We've never had many problems with coyotes, bobcats or lynx. I believe that is mainly because of our dog(s), past and present. I know they've been near the cabin because of the tracks and other sign that they leave. The only chicken we've lost to predators was "Houdini Hen." She was a true escape artist and we could never keep her inside the chicken run. Eventually I just quit trying. She had built a nest in the wood shed and laid her eggs there. I noticed though, that she had begun to wander farther from the cabin and figured that it wouldn't be long before she didn't come home. She particularly liked the compost piles at the back of the garden. One day I noticed she was not around and did a quick search. The feathers I found indicated that she'd been nabbed by a coyote or bobcat. She was a good layer and we missed her.

The coyotes and bobcats are hard on our house cats as well. Most of them eventually get wanderitus and never make it back home. Most likely they've fallen prey to a bobcat or mountain lion. Those can climb up the trees after them so they have nowhere to hide. I've been hunting at times and found our cats over a half-mile from our cabin. There's a lot of wilderness that far from our home and for a lot of the predators living there, cat is a delicacy.

Wolves have never caused us problems but that's mostly because our dog stays home. (If wolves are around, the dog stays on our front or back step.) Others in the area have lost dogs to wolves. Either it was due to the dogs defending the livestock or by the wolves enticing dogs away from the home. In both cases the dog has no chance of surviving. Dogs will fare better against a grizzly than a pack of wolves.

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Mountain lions are prevalent in our area. The first year I trapped here, I set some coyote traps out in a marshy, heavily wooded area. We got a light snow that night and the next day when I checked my traps there were mountain lion tracks all over. I pulled my traps that day and moved them elsewhere. A neighbor who grew up here talked about exploring that area one summer day when he stumbled across a family unit of two half-grown cubs and one female. He quietly retreated and spent the rest of the day somewhere else.

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We've never had a critter attacked by a mountain lion, but we did have a horse get excited and jump the corral fence once when one was in the neighborhood. Mountain lions are my main concern when our grandson is outside playing. They've been known to go after small children, women and occasionally men, and they're so stealthy you seldom know when they're around. A dog is good to have around. They have sharper ears and a keen sense of smell and most will go after the big cats. Beware though that small dogs are seen as delicacies to mountain lions. Lions have been known to snatch small dogs off front porches in broad daylight. You'll also notice that stray cats tend to disappear when lions are hanging around.

We also have a good supply of black bears in the neighborhood. Their sign is evident by the scat and shredded stumps they leave when searching for food. Again, they seldom cause problems for locals since they are extremely bashful. The exception is chickens, and they can get used to stealing pet food left outdoors. The last black bear I shot had a load of bird shot in his hindquarters. He'd probably been raiding the neighbor's cat's food. (He has a lot of cats and leaves feed for them outside.) They will also destroy barbecue grills and bird feeders.

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Grizzly bears have caused us more damage than any other large predator. We had one get into our chicken feed one night, and it pretty much ruined the entire bag. We used to keep the chicken feed in a large steel trash can by the chicken house. I never gave it much thought since it was only about 30 feet from our back door and the dog had been a good deterrent so far.

One night the dog was barking her head off back by the chicken house. I loaded up a single barrel 12 gauge shotgun and investigated. I rounded the corner of my shop and came face-to-face with a grizzly. It ran about 10 feet to the path we used to go to the storage building at the back side of our property, then it just stood there looking at me. I had the shotgun pointed at him and we waited. Finally he turned and ambled off down the path. I went back to bed.

The next morning I cleaned up the spilled chicken feed the best I could, then let the chickens out to get what they could. There was still feed left on the ground at the end of the day but short of digging up the sod there wasn't much I could do about it. I set up a game camera expecting him to return. He did and I got some good photos of him.

Last summer another grizzly was causing problems. He'd broken into one chicken house and killed all the chickens. A couple of nights later he hit another neighbor's chicken house and killed most of their turkeys. He was ripping the siding off the chicken houses.

They began putting their chickens and the few remaining turkeys in a steel-sided livestock trailer at night. The bear was trying to tear the sides off of it a few nights later. He finally left for other places. We had just returned from our winter quarters down south (Nevada) and a neighbor warned us about the bear. We'd just bought 84 Cornish Cross chickens to raise for meat so I put electric wire around the chicken house to protect them. It must have worked since he never gave us any problems.

No one told us when we bought the place that the largest concentration of grizzly bears outside of a park lived right across the highway to the east of us. It wouldn't have mattered anyway!

Next will be accounts of the nuisance animals we've had to deal with over the years.

If you've enjoyed what you've read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead (available in the GRIT bookstore). It's filled with homesteading advice you won't find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious. And please view my personal blog, Living Life Off the Grid.