Up until two years ago, Valerie Thompson included herself in the sizeable camp of Maine hunters who didn’t believe mountain lions prowled the woods of Maine.

Then, after a chance sighting of a large, long-tailed cat while she was deer hunting, Thompson became a believer.

On Nov. 11, while hunting about 100 yards away from the site in Levant where she first spotted the big cat, Thompson said she had another encounter that has reignited the age-old debate about cougars in Maine.

Thompson was returning to the truck after spending four hours in the woods when she rounded a corner on the tote road and startled a large cat.

“If I had to take a guess, I’d say it had a 3- to 3½-foot-long tail,” the 25-year-old Thompson said. “It either winded me, or it saw me when I came around the corner, because it just beat feet and took off for the woods. The second it got into the mossy area in the woods, I couldn’t even hear it running.”

Thompson said after startling the cat, she took action she hoped would dissuade it from returning.

“I took my gun and fired a shot at the base of a tree nearby, because I didn’t want it to come back,” she said.

Then she started thinking about how the incident had unfolded, and she realized that something wasn’t quite right.

“It kind of hit me that I jumped the cat, and that doesn’t usually happen,” she said. “The cat was downwind of me. That should not have happened. It was there for a reason. So I kind of looked around and all of a sudden, maybe 15 yards away from me, I could see antlers turn, and [a deer] looked at me.”

The deer tried to stand, but fell back down. Thompson said it was obvious that it was severely injured, and had been mauled by another animal. She shot the six-point buck to put it out of its misery.

She searched the surrounding area for tracks of the cat, but couldn’t find any.

Thompson posted her tale to a Facebook page featuring Maine deer stories, but online comments grew hostile, and the post was taken down.

In Maine, many claim to have seen mountain lions, but others remain skeptical, wondering why nobody has stepped forward with trail camera photos that prove their existence. In 2011, a mountain lion was hit by a car in Connecticut, convincing biologists that the large cats can and will wander great distances. That cat was identified by DNA collected in scat samples as having traveled east from South Dakota, with stops in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The existence of a single mountain lion, or a few, is a possibility with which more and more Mainers are becoming comfortable. An actual breeding population of the big cats, however, is still in doubt according to biologists.

And as a biologist explained in a 2014 BDN story, people who say they’ve seen mountain lions in Maine are often mistaken.

But Thompson, who said she has seen both plenty of coyotes and lynx, and an occasional bobcat, is confident that she saw a mountain lion.

“I’m a firm believer that there are probably things in the woods that people haven’t seen,” Thompson said.

Bolstering her argument: When Thompson butchered the deer — only 16 pounds of meat was salvageable because it had been mauled by whatever critter Thompson saw — she found scratches that didn’t look like anything that a canine predator would have made.

“That scratch was up on his neck. He had two of them, and a small scratch mark across his snout,” she said. “And as I was skinning him, I saw that all over his back, up near his tenderloin, he had god-awful blood damage on the inside of his skin [that look like they were caused by puncture wounds].”

Earlier that morning, as she headed into the woods, Thompson had heard some sort of animal making a racket not far from where she eventually shot the deer.

When she made a doe bleat call, hoping to lure in a curious buck, she received a reply that was unlike anything she’d ever heard.

“The second I did [the call] I heard what sounded to me, honestly, like a pissed off bear,” she said. “It was a two-tone noise I’d describe as a bear bark, if that makes any sense. Very raspy, but sharp and harsh.”

Four hours later, as she returned to the area, she jumped what she maintains was a mountain lion. Not that she was all that surprised, you understand.

“I questioned [the presence of mountain lions up until the sighting two years ago],” she said. “At that point, I kind of jumped on the boat and said, ‘Yeah, they’re here.’”

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...