The light was already fading when 80-year-old Martha Smith heard her dog Bo barking furiously outside her Fairburn ranch house late last Thursday afternoon
The light was already fading when 80-year-old Martha Smith heard her dog Bo barking furiously outside her Fairburn ranch house late last Thursday afternoon.
She looked outside and saw Bo, a Border collie, facing off with a snarling mountain lion.
So Smith, who was home alone, grabbed her .22-caliber rifle, walked outside and fired a shot at the lion. She missed. "He was a little uphill, and I should have raised the barrel more," Smith said.
She hadn't fired the rifle much in recent years.
Smith went back inside and called 911, but the dispatcher had trouble finding someone from Game, Fish & Parks to come out right away and take care of the lion.
So Smith grabbed the .22 again and went back outside where Bo was keeping the lion at bay.
She admits she was a little nervous because she couldn't see well enough to tell whether the lion was big or small. "All I could see was three feet of tail switching, and it was snarling and spitting at me," she said.
"I knew I'd have to kill him. You can't have a mountain lion in your yard," she said.
She walked to within about 20 or 25 feet of the lion and fired. "I got as close as I could," Smith said. "I figured he'd run. I waited until he lifted his leg to run, and I got him right in the chest where his heart would be."
Smith, a retired nurse anesthetist who has also doctored dogs and cats on the ranch, said she had a good idea where the lion's heart was located.
She hit him with one shot. The lion jumped up, ran a short distance and dropped to the ground.
Smith went outside her yard gate and found the cat dead.
A GF&P staffer showed up a few hours later, measured the cat and brought it to Rapid City.
GF&P regional wildlife manager John Kanta estimated that the 6-month-old lion weighed 30 to 40 pounds.
Smith said initially she was worried the young lion's mother was around.
But the young cat had been fitted with a collar, so GF&P was able to determine that its mother had been shot by a hunter last fall.
"Thank God he was little, because I don't think my .22 would have killed a big one," Smith said.
Kanta agreed that a .22-caliber rifle probably wouldn't have killed a full-grown lion. GF&P staffers use high-powered rifles when they have to kill a problem lion.
Smith said she would like to get the cat mounted and display it at Fairburn's new museum. Kanta said GF&P does not return mountain lion carcasses to private individuals but does allow lion carcasses to be mounted and loaned to public places, such as museums, where they can be exhibited for educational purposes. The state retains ownership, he said.
Kanta said Smith was justified in shooting the lion because she was protecting her property and her animals.
Smith lives on the family ranch where she was raised and learned to shoot. "My sister and I were taught to shoot when we were young. We were put on a horse with our lunch and a gun, and we were sent to the pasture to herd sheep," she said. "So you learn to shoot -- you know, rattlesnakes and rabbits and coyotes."
Smith said she isn't a hunter and doesn't do a lot of shooting. "But a person never forgets how to shoot," she said.
Smith also has a bigger rifle, a .30-30, but it kicks too hard, so she isn't keeping it loaded until a neighbor finishes making lighter-load rounds for her.
But Smith said she always keeps her .22 rifle loaded. She said, "What good's a gun if it's not loaded?"
Contact Steve Miller at 394-8417 or email@example.com