A guy just doesn’t assume the name “Cougar Bob.” In Bob Campbell’s case, it’s been 33 years in the making.
That’s 33 years of stalking, trapping, sometimes snaring and eventually shooting a sizable number of the region’s cougars and coyotes.
These days, however, ol’ Bob is somewhat out of commission, suffering from arthritis in both legs, shoulders and his back.
But given even half a chance, Campbell, 67, of Post Falls, still loves to talk the hunt.
“Can’t do much real huntin’ anymore,” he said. “Can’t keep up with the dogs. But, hey, I can still shoot a mean rifle,” he said, making a circle the size of a four-bit piece with his finger and thumb.
“Can fill it with six rounds at 200 yards. Not bad, huh?”
Cougar Bob’s cougar hunting opened in earnest in 1963 when federal officials hired him and another marksman to control an alarming cougar population in Boundary County.
“Thin ‘em out,” he said were his orders. “It was about this time of the year. Hunters couldn’t find any deer. All they were finding were cougar leavings, tracks, that sort of thing.”
Campbell said he took down 15 cougars that first year. In the next two years, 35 more.
A male cougar - a tom - weighs between 150 and 190 pounds and measures 7-1/2 to 8-1/2 feet long, Bob said. A female - a leta - weighs between 110 and 130 pounds and measures up to 7 feet long.
“Cougars, same as mountain lions, pumas, just depends on where you’re from,” he said.
Baby cougars “are kittens, not cubs. Just hate hearing so-called hunters call little cougars cubs,” he said.
Over the years, Campbell continued his hobby, bringing down more than 100 cougars in all.
Retiring from the state highway department in 1978, he assumed a role of consultant, working on call when he might be needed to stalk the wild cats or skittish coyotes.
Campbell speaks of a Rathdrum-area rancher who reported losing 12 to 14 calves a spring to coyotes. His neighbor, Campbell said, might lose 50 sheep in a single night to a pair of coyotes.
“Yeah, boys will call me when they have an animal problem,” he said. “Most of the time, it’s coyotes getting into a cattle or sheep ranch. Sometimes domestic dogs - but not that often.
“Farmers, ranchers, they just don’t have the expertise in dealing with an animal problem,” he said. “They call the state game officer, who’ll go in and set a bunch of snares or traps. That’s as far as they go. You’re supposed to check your traps every 72 hours.”
“Nobody would check their traps,” he said, noting a trapped or snared animal often died a painful death.
“I check my traps every 24 hours - without fail,” he said. “I don’t want any animal I trapped to suffer any more than it has to.”
Bob carefully explained his actions should he find an animal in one of his traps.
“One shot just below the ear. Quick and easy,” he said. “You know, to trap a cougar is not that easy. They’re smart, very smart. Fact, there are really no dumb animals.”
But animals, Cougar Bob said, make mistakes, “Just like anyone else.”
“Just gotta laugh at some of our so-called hunters. How they shot an elk or whatever. The animal simply made a mistake. It may have been running from one group of hunters into the range of another group. Mistake.”
“No great hunting expertise,” he laughed.
Cougar Bob told of setting three coyote traps in a trouble spot near Athol in June.
“Went back later and two traps had coyotes in them. The third was gone,” he said, leaving him to follow its attached chain.
“Chain led into some bushes,” he explained, adding that when he bent over for a look, “a cougar charged right at me.”
The animal tore from the trap, leaving two toes behind.
“I jumped aside, startled. It whizzed past me. Man, I was shakin’.”
With his cougar and coyote hunting days slowing down, Campbell said, he’s thinking of moving south, perhaps to Arizona.
A huge smile lights his rugged face. “They have cattle ranches down there, and I’m sure, cougars and coyotes.”