Before I go too far into this article I want to make it very clear I was a sceptic… I had heard all the stories, about big cats and the beast of Bodmin, and all sorts growing up. I always took the view this was nonsense and people minds etc. Playing tricks on them, after drinking, taking medication, or maybe something else.
I really was a non-believer after spending every waking moment out in Mother Nature and not seeing a single thing to do with big cats, so unless I saw it with my own eyes it was just myth or old wives tails. Or so I thought…
I remember going on, a school camp to Dunsford in North Devon, and all of us going on a night hike up to Dunkery Beacon. We had just been watching, American Werewolf in London, as we left to go on the night hike. There were all sorts of stories about the Exmoor beast and a group of teenagers going out saying hope it not a werewolf out on those ghostly hills.
We got up on top, and after about an hour a thick mist came down, and a dog could be heard howling from a farm house in the distance, then we lost the road/track and that was enough to push us all over the edge. Everyone especially the girls started screaming and making one heck of a noise if it was werewolf, then it would not need to smell them it would hear them from a mile away. Myself and a couple of my muckers, were country boys not like these townie class mates of ours, and had been out on nights like this lamping and dealing with fallen stock etc. With our, Dads. So we composed ourselves and well started searching for a way back in the mist. We wouldn’t lose the group as the noise they made sounded like elephant’s and monkeys having a barney (row) so no real worry about losing them. We found the track again in no time, leading the group to safety, our teachers were not much use, one was night blind and the other could not read a map or use a compass properly. All I say is thank god we had three country boys, who know how to get around, and our Army cadet training came in handy that night, as we had to read the maps and compass and navigate our way back in the fog.
Now as we were making, our decent down from the hill and moors, with me as point man some 100 yards, in front of the main group with each of my army cadet muckers 30 yards behind me, and so forth, like a chain. I saw something big and black disappear off, in front of me and go to my left, away from what looked like in, the fog as a big rock it also made no noise, and how I can only describe it sleeked like a cat in fact it reminded me of the farm cat after rats. I convinced myself it was a calf or some other livestock. As I approached what I thought was a big rock, it turned out not to be so.
What it was in fact was a fully grown sheep, (ewe female) and although still kicking had just had its throat ripped out. Upon inspection it had four puncture wounds quite big and like nothing I had seen before. My Muckers had caught up with me by this point, and we had all agreed none of us had seen anything like it then the rest of the group caught up and well they started screaming again about werewolves.
I put the sheep out of its misery with a large rock I had found nearby, then myself and the lads got the rest of our class back to the school mini bus, for our teacher to drive us back to the youth hostel, a couple of miles away. The teacher reported the sheep to a local farmer who then asked to speak to me and my muckers.
I told him what I saw and what I found, and he knowing we were country boys didn’t question it or what we said as he knew were farm boys. All he said was arrrrrrrrr you got to see the beast then, best go up in the morning and find the fallen ewe then. Now I am not saying it was a big cat and I am not saying it was not. I saw what I saw and I suppose with hind sight that was the Beast of Exmoor, I saw that night who knows.
Now many years later I was out hunting with my Dad and my Uncle Dave, and my boy Ryan, and our usual mixed pack of hounds ranging from a couple of terriers, a springer and a couple of black labs and my old dog Billy. Those that have read my books will know of this tenacious dog, he was golden retriever crossed with a whippet, crossed with a Jack Russell terrier, he looked like a dingo.
Like all male dogs that have their manhood he would fight anything, if he couldn’t not have his wicked way with it that was, he was also one hell of a hunting dog and had a nose on him like no other that I have seen to date, and I fondly say he was one of the best dogs that ever owned me. Now this particular day we had pushed the entire farm around the boundaries, and worked towards a small three acre wood in the centre of the farm, thus pretty much driving all the game, to this central point.
I decided to round the far side on the tractor track that ran along the back of the wood were a six feet high chain link fence ran along it, and the other side of the track the maize stood well over the six feet mark. My Boy and Dave took the inside of the wood with all the dogs and Dad well he took the outside of the wood opposite to me.
All set I blew the whistle to push on, and let the hell hounds loose I don’t know what it was but, I had an eerie feeling come over me and all the hairs stand on end down the back of my neck. I shook it off and pushed on with one of the labs by my heel I think it was Ben a biggish type of lab more like a coffee table with legs and a tail sort of dog.
Then all of a sudden I heard Billy give voice, now knowing that dog like I did as I worked him day and night, I knew just by his song he was onto something big. First I thought he was chasing a deer, but no not quite the right voice, then I though ohhhhh bugger that’s the voice he gives to a badger if ever he came across one.
Now of course I never let him get tangles up with one of those things but dogs will be dogs sometimes and well chase what you’re not supposed to I did my best to call him off that’s when his voice got louder and was coming straight towards me. I froze on the spot as something big and black caught my eye, as Billy caught up with it. The black shape cleared the six feet chain link fence like it was not there and landed on the track right in front of me GULP, it was a black panther or puma whatever you want to call it. I can see it as if it was yesterday. The only time I had heard a noise like the noise it had made was on a Tarzan Film. In the sunlight I could clearly see spot like shapes in its black fur and a tail that was thick and curled up. Well it disappeared into the maize in a flash, and all this happened in around seven to eight seconds from seeing it clear the fence to disappearing in the maize. And before anyone says, “oh you must have been many yards away and mistaken.” This happened not ten yards away from me, the big lab went to run up to it, as it hissed and growled and showed its teeth, and what looked like golden eyes. The dog came back like a lightning bolt, but the size of the cat made this big black lab look like a terrier in comparison so I was not mistaken of what I saw.
All the lads took the micky and said I was still cider’d up from the night before, but no; I know what I saw and I know what it was. After talking to the green keeper, on the golf course next to the farm he confirmed he had seen it too and it had taken a rabbit he shot whilst out lamping just the night before.
I am now a believer in we have big cats here, and have a book called big cat mysteries of Somerset, by a chap called Chris Moiser it really is an interesting read. Also were all the sighting and kills are I have seen the big cat/s in over half the places.
Moving on a couple of years, I was lamping a few miles away on a farm in the valley, were the farm above that I have written about, looks over from the hill side. We were out the usual crew my ole mucker driving my boy lamping and me shooting on a farm we had permission on to keep the rabbit numbers down. In-fact we were having a bumper night, and the bag of rabbits was filling fast in the back of the Land-rover 90. I spotted a pair of rabbits feeding at the bottom of the hill ground, so I tapped on the roof to stop Ryan got them in the lamp and I lined them up with the ole .22 rim-fire and squeezed of the first round, a perfect head shot the rabbit dropped on the spot. The other rabbit froze so I said keep the light on it boy.
The rabbit was completely ignoring its dead mate, and the lamp light too, but was stood up on full alert facing the hedge near its warren. I could tell by its body language it was not us and had seen this when a fox had tried to take a rabbit, I shot, the fox also ended up in the bag on that occasion. Ryan says “are you going to shoot or not so.” I told him to keep the light on the rabbit and a bit on the hedge. Then I saw it for the first time big green eyes on a dark shape as it pounced from the hedge, at the rabbit that had now turned tail and run away.
Now remember I was looking at this through a scope, some fifty yards or so away, Ryan and my mucker who was driving saw it with their own eyes. It was the big black cat. Who had now picked up my shot rabbit. But wait no not one big black cat, but two a slightly smaller one appeared, and well they both climbed an ash tree and started munching my rabbit. Hell they were welcome to it they needed more than us and it was a wondrous sight.
A year later, I took another friend to this farm, and whilst I did the driving he did the lamping and shooting, we pulled into the gate way of a field. I went to get out opening the gate, he told me to get back in the truck and drive away across the fields were we had come from. I thought he had gone nuts what’s the matter with you scared of the English dark, I thought you are a big tough Welsh Rugby boy. He was as white as a sheet.
What’s wrong I asked. He said forty yards out on the field there is a panther eating a lamp. I climbed up and took a look sure enough there she was not a care the world. Now I know it all sounds a bit farfetched or whatever, but I know what I have seen and my Welsh mucker has never come lamping again, he says I am mad and stays his side of the Severn bridge now. I always say leave them alone they will leave you alone, and I must admit when I do get to see them from time it brightens up my life a touch. Now my final encounter thus far, was Dad and I was working the normal pack of hounds through a wood in a Coombe. That’s a wooded valley type place here, and we were having a great time with lots of mixed game in the bag, wild pheasants, rabbits, pigeon and squirrel all there the dogs and us were having a wonderful time.
Then all of a sudden every dog froze, and would not move from our heels, not even if a rabbit got up in front of us… I got that eerie feeling again with the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end…. The local farms had been reporting lost lambs etc. and were blaming dog walkers with their dogs attacking the flock… But no lamb’s bodies were found.
As we pushed on through the big wood, we came across what can only be described as an animal grave yard in a big dip in the woods… There was all sorts in there from deer and sheep skulls to smaller stuff too my belly did a butterfly tumble, and I immediately said let’s get out of here. Still the dogs stayed so close, we were almost tripping over them even the terriers that would normally be running all over. I concluded we had come across the big cats dinner table, and said sod that before we became its main course, or one of our dogs its starter. As we left the wood we saw a lamb carcase, some fifteen feet up an old oak tree jammed in the crook of a branch. We reported it and well it was put down to a bird of prey…. Yeah right I know what that is and what’s doing it, and I say leave them well alone and they will leave you alone.
That’s what I have so far, there are some nice pics of pug marks, (big cat tracks) and well I am sure our paths will cross again one day. Two predators hunting for their dinner giving each other a wide birth, if we do cross there are many caves and old mines here, so my guess is they live in them some were. What do you guys and gals think…. Or do we all walk around with our eyes wide shut….
That’s my stories we would love to hear yours so please drop us a line and share with us your experiences of big cats or is it just myth and fiction and all our minds playing trick up on us. I look forward to receiving your emails but until then keep the letters and emails coming in, they are awesome and we try to answer every one personally If you would like to learn more on tracking click: HERE.
Big Cats and the Ole Hedge Creeper
Aka: Rob Collins