Man who shot mountain lion unapologetic
Cedar Rapids, Ia. - Ray Goebel stubs out his cigarette and hands over a fistful of photographs of the dead mountain lion draped over his shoulders, blood smeared from its mouth.
"They are beautiful animals," he said. "I wish it would have got up and ran away."
Not that he is apologizing for killing the 125-pound male lion last month near Marengo.
"It was going to die anyway."
The killing reignited a debate on how - or if - Iowans and their farm animals can coexist with a large, meat-eating cat that in the last decade has reappeared here.
Today, a crowd is expected at the Marengo Public Library to hear Ron DeArmond of the Pella Wildlife Company say the lion didn't have to die.
Goebel, 48, a construction worker from Cedar Rapids, will not attend. The Long Island, N.Y., native was taken aback by Iowans' passion - and vitriol - after the killing.
He hands over an anonymous letter he received calling him, in less polite language, feminine and criminal. Many newspaper letters and online comments blasted him over the past month.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I can take it as a man," he said.
The last recorded wild mountain lion killed in Iowa was in 1867 near Centerville until three were shot in the past six years.
"If I was to size up the three killings, I would say they are indiscriminate killings," said Ron Andrews, a fur resource specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. "We discourage indiscriminate killing of anything, really. It was up in the tree and not causing any harm."
Goebel said he would have never have shot it if mountain lions belonged in Iowa. "I don't see any mountains," he said.
Goebel pulls the mountain lion's legs from a small freezer in the basement of his northwest Cedar Rapids home. The former restaurant chef will soon invite the hunting party to eat the grilled lion.
"I don't kill just to kill," he said. "I'm eating the meat and having it stuffed."
As a boy he often spirited off to the upstate New York woods to shoot woodchucks and squirrels. By age 15, he had killed his first deer.
The kill was secondary to the joy of being outdoors and male camaraderie, which he missed after giving up hunting when he moved to the Midwest to work as a chef.
Three years ago he took up hunting again and didn't get a deer the first two hunts. He joined a large group to hunt Dec. 14 on Dean Kinzenbaw Jr.'s land five miles southwest of Marengo.
The day was getting late and the party spread out, leaving Goebel to sit on a stump near the truck.
Gazing across the field to a tree 50 feet away, he saw something large move. He looked through the gun's scope.
"Holy crap," he said to himself. "Is it what I think it is?"
A young hunter nearby was getting cold and going to the pickup truck. Goebel asked him to look through the scope.
"Holy crap," the kid said. "They kill people. I'm going to the truck."
Goebel watched the mountain lion, he said, and the lion watched him, sitting on a large branch.
Goebel made a phone call to other hunters, who said the lion was not protected. Iowa law does not list the mountain lion as designated wildlife, therefore it was legal to shoot.
Many other states protect the animal, but attempts in the Iowa Legislature in the past decade to do the same quickly failed.
Goebel hesitated but was told the others were on the way and if he didn't shoot it, they would.
"Damn it," Goebel said, lifting his gun.
The first shot missed. The lion didn't move. The second shot was true and the lion stumbled on the branch. Goebel worried about an attack. His arms shook and the next two shots missed before it fell from the tree and died.
Goebel said a large crowd gathered in the next few hours to see it or take photographs.
"It was a beautiful animal," he said again.
A couple of days later, Goebel started reading in newspapers what a lousy guy he was for shooting the mountain lion. But the land owner thanked him.
"I'll shoot every one I can," said Kinzenbaw, 61. "I didn't buy this farm to raise mountain lions."
He said a mountain lion had prowled his land for three years and attacked a horse on the 250 acres, half in timber and creek. His four grandchildren live and play on the property.
"They are awful mean," he said of mountain lions.
The fear is unfounded, said DeArmond, founder of the nonprofit group Pella Wildlife Company.
In 150 years, 19 people have died from mountain lion attacks in the western United States, the lion's modern-day range. Before settlement, they roamed the entire United States, including Iowa.
"More people die from bee stings in one year than cougar attacks in a century," DeArmond said. "It's important that people have scientific facts versus the stories passed on from generation to generation."
Mountain lions will only attack if surprised or threatened, DeArmond said. "You could take kids out there supervised and not have a problem."
The DNR's Andrews has studied wildlife for 40 years in Iowa and has never seen a mountain lion. But he dearly would love it.
The animal was increasingly protected in recent years in the West so the population increased. Usually young males started to drift east to find their own turf.
They typically flee when humans are around, instead hunting for small mammals or deer. They are often the scapegoat for livestock deaths caused by feral dogs or coyotes, Andrews said.
He has spent a lot of time since the first killing in 2003 debunking reports from citizens claiming they have seen a cougar.
Despite their rarity, he said, it's an uphill battle in an agricultural state to change laws to protect them.
Landowner Kinzenbaw scoffs at the wildlife experts.
"Next time, I'll tranquilize it and string it up in his backyard," he said. "See how he likes it."
Goebel is a bit more low-key. He just knows a very powerful animal was yards from him.
He holds up the mountain lion's skull, manually moving its jaw full of sharp teeth up and down.
"God forbid, if I would have missed," he said, "he could have eaten us."
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org