CORINNA, Maine — In hunting camps and at living room tables across the state, debating the existence of mountain lions here in Maine can turn into a lively activity. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the matter.

And after a couple of BDN stories on reported mountain lion sightings, Esther Buck of Corinna rolled out the welcome mat at their cozy hilltop home in order to tell the story that she and her husband, Terry Buck, saw unfold about 30 years ago.

The difference between the Buck story and that of many others: The couple has what they consider proof of the encounter in the form of a plaster cast of the cat’s paw print.

Esther Buck explained that many years ago, she and her husband were potato farmers, and they’d become close friends with another local couple, Shirley Tidd and his wife, Wynne. Shirley was a potato inspector, and after his retirement to the Houlton area, the Bucks remained close to their friends.

“They ended up building a camp on Nickerson Lake [near Houlton] and they lived in it year-round,” Esther Buck said.

At one point, the Bucks headed to Aroostook County to visit. Neither Esther nor Terry Buck is sure exactly how many years ago that visit took place, but they say it was likely 25 or 30 years.

“We had just left Nickerson Lake and we were headed back toward Corinna, which of course was a few miles,” Esther Buck said. “Something ran in front of our vehicle, and it was tawny-colored. We thought it was a deer.”

It wasn’t.

“It ran across the road on my side and it definitely had a long tail,” she said. “It went across this little field, and there was this clump of bushes. It sat down, turned around, and looked at us.”

Her husband has no doubt about what he saw that day: It was a mountain lion.

“I knew what it was. We were that close to it,” Terry Buck said. “You could see all the markings on it and all that. There was no question.”

It wasn’t until after their drive back from The County that they sought proof of their sighting, however.

“Of course, there were no cell phones in the car at that point,” Esther Buck explained. “So we drove home and my husband called Mr. Tidd and told him what we had seen, and asked him if he had any plaster of Paris or anything like that. He said he did, and he went back down there and took a print of this cat’s paw. And we’ve had it for all these years.”

Earlier this week, Terry Buck gingerly unwrapped the casting and showed it off. The paw print is about 4 inches long by 3 inches wide. According to some internet sources, mountain lion paws could be from 3 to 4 inches long and between 3 and 5 inches wide.

Esther Buck said the paw casting was in other hands for several years — she thinks Winslow High School borrowed it for some reason — but it was mailed back to the couple by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife 22 years ago this week. The postmark on the box is from Dec. 6, 1995.

“Once we got it back here [in 1995], it’s been in the safe,” Esther Buck said.

And although the Bucks never saw evidence of a mountain lion before their sighting, and haven’t seen any evidence since, they’re both sure what they saw that day.

“Something like that just sticks in your mind, because you don’t see that every day,” Esther Buck said.

And while Terry Buck’s short-term memory isn’t what it once was, according to his wife, his memory of that day remains vivid.

“I see a brown flash off in the grass coming out through. I thought it was a deer. I started braking, and about that time, he hit the road with that tail behind [him],” Terry Buck said. “I said, ‘Jesus! That ain’t no damn deer!’”

And now, years later, he remains sure of one thing.

“It’s not a house cat,” he said, pointing at the plaster cast of the paw print. “That’s for sure.”

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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...