Most of us would find the idea of sneaking out into the woods to stalk a mountain lion eating its prey just so we could get some close up photographs way more than a little bit over the top.
But for Susanville wildlife photographer Randy Robbins, whose work has appeared in the Lassen County Times and the Lassen County Visitors Guide, such an endeavor fulfills his dreams.
Robbins said he has trail cameras on his property that have captured a few images of the lion over the past couple of years.
“This time, I went down to check one of my trail cameras, and I spooked all these magpies, crows and stuff, and I stumbled on a fresh lion kill,” Robbins said.
He called it “a total, textbook lion kill,” covered with leaves, and he was “pretty sure it was going to come back.”
He said over the last couple of months he’s been thinking of calling one in to get some pictures of it, and then he found the kill.
“For someone trying to get into a little more intense nature photography, this thing sort of fell in my lap,” Robbins said. “It was a pretty awesome experience. I was in the right place at the right time.’
One evening he sat out in camouflage until after dark, but the lion didn’t come. He went out the next morning before dawn for a couple of hours and came away empty handed again.
He went back again that evening, hoping to get “a killer shot of it crossing Gold Run Creek,” but the lion took a different path and it just “appeared. All of a sudden it was just standing there in my field of vision.”
Even though the lion was in deep brush, Robbins went to work.
“So, I started cracking off about a dozen pictures of it,” Robbins said. “It looked for my camera. It could hear it clicking … It looked my way, like, what is that noise? But I don’t think it ever made out what I was. It didn’t figure out I was a person, but it clearly knew where that sound was coming from. It grabbed its deer and took it into deeper cover.”
Robbins estimates he and the cat were 50 or 60 feet apart.
“I felt relatively safe, but I would have gotten nervous if it started coming my way,” Robbins said, “but it never even crossed my mind that I was in immediate danger. I knew it was coming to its kill, and it just heard a weird noise, decided it was a bad time and went on its way.”
Even though Robbins said he felt unafraid, he did acknowledge the excitement he felt during his encounter.
“So, when you see that thing — you’re hoping it’s going to come — but when you actually see that shape coming out of the woods, it’s like nothing else,” Robbins said. “You hear your heart beating in your ears and try to hold the camera steady. It’s a pretty intimidating critter.”
Robbins felt honored to come so close to such a magnificent animal.
“They’re bold,” Robbins said. “As stealthy as they are, and as rare as they are to see, you can look at it and it knows it can take out anything out there. There’s no fear.”
In one of Robbins’ photos on his Facebook page, a mountain lion is walking on small rocks to avoid the leaves in its path so it doesn’t make a sound.
He said he got a number of trail camera photos of the tawny cat near his campfire area, “and it’s stepping on all the rocks in the camp fire area so it doesn’t leave a trace or make noise or rustle the leaves or anything. They’re just ghosts.”
Robbins said he knew he had a chance to encounter the lion when he saw the kill because he’s read they come back to feed on a deer for a week or so before they move on, “but we’re definitely in a part of the territory it’s working on.”
While he can mark the mountain lion encounter off his wildlife photography bucket list, he plans to continue.
“Wildlife photography is a pretty serious hobby,” Robbins said.