There are more mountain lions in the Midwest now than in the last 150 years. That's the word from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Most of the confirmed sightings have been made possible through the prevalence of technology like trail cameras. Click here to learn more about why officials say more cougars are coming to the Midwest.
"My hair stood on end."
That was the first reaction from Morgan County hunter Mark Cobb when he saw a mountain lion on his trail camera back in 2012. He expected to see a deer or two, but this sight was unheard of at the time. His picture was the first mountain lion ever caught on camera in the state of Illinois.
Perhaps even more unsettling was the fact that it was taken just hours before Cobb and his son were in the same location to hunt that morning.
"There is a lot of tall grass in that spot so you wonder if that would be a good place for a cougar to hide," Cobb said.
Until Cobb's photo was taken only three cougars sightings were actually confirmed with cougar kills between 2002 and 2008. According to IDNR, a male mountain lion was killed by a train in Randolph County in 2002. Another male lion was killed by a bow hunter in Mercer County in 2004. A third male lion was shot and killed in the Roscoe Village neighborhood in Chicago in April 2008.
Not long after Cobb's trail cam picture surfaced, three other sightings were confirmed with trail cam pictures in Pike, Calhoun and JoDaviess counties.
Pike County landowner Brett Charleton was hunting white tail deer on his property between Griggsville and New Salem when his camera captured a bigger trophy than any you could mount on your mantle.
"I looked at it and thought, "that's real!"" Charlton said. "That's when I decided to call the Department of Natural Resources."
Despite the close quarters, IDNR Specialist Mark Alessi says hunters don't necessarily need to be concerned.
Are they dangerous?
"That's a subjective question and it depends who you talk to," Alessi said. "Because of where they live in insolated areas the probability of attack is infinitely small. But they are large animals that can kill other large animals. They can be dangerous in certain circumstances. But those circumstances are very small in reality."
That's a fact not lost on Charleton or Cobb. They say the sightings haven't kept them from their favorite hobby.
"I was out in the same area this past deer season and really didn't think about it," Charlton said.
Experts say it's pretty unlikely you'd come in contact with a mountain lion since they're shy creatures, which mainly only move around at night.
But if you do encounter a mountain lion, remember that it's a predator. Don't hide. You should make yourself as large as possible by opening your arms, look the animal in the eyes and speak in a loud voice.
If it does attack you, fight back.
Mountain lions are not listed as endangered in Illinois or Iowa, so it is legal to kill one if you have a valid Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) and permission from the landowner.
In Missouri, you can't kill one unless it's pursuing humans, livestock or domestic animals. It also then becomes property of the state of Missouri.
Tonight in the KHQA News at Ten ... find out why mountain lions are a hot topic at the Illinois state capital.