A female mountain lion at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray in 2012. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

For years, the presence of mountain lions here in Maine has been a passionately debated topic. Some are sure they’ve seen the big cats — also known as cougars, pumas and catamounts. Others point to official accounts that claim the last mountain lion in Maine was killed in 1938, and dismiss reports to the contrary as bunk.

One thing’s for certain: There are a lot of Bangor Daily News readers who are convinced that they’ve crossed paths with the elusive beasts.

The results of last week’s poll question.

When Laurie Nichols Kelly shared her story of an encounter with a big cat — she couldn’t see the tail, and wasn’t sure what it was — we asked readers what they thought, and asked them to share their own tales. Many did just that, and told us that they’re sure that mountain lions walk among us in Maine.

Unfortunately, nobody passed along unimpeachable photographic evidence.

Still, the stories are intriguing, and are surefire conversation starters. Here are a few, edited for style and length.

Steve Balzer: My wife and I have settled in Jonesboro. We are both from “away” but have vacationed here for the past decade. I have retired and my wife is a registered nurse at our local hospital. While [my wife] was driving on Route 1 in Jonesboro headed to work [about two years ago], a large animal crossed the road from north to south. When she returned later that evening she told me about [her experience]. I grilled her about this encounter, [and] she said it was dark in color, had a long tail that turned up at the end. She said it was large and sleek and fast moving. She was not quite 30 yards from the animal when it crossed the road in front of her. Her impression was that it was a mountain lion.

Talking to the old timers in and around where we live they told us that “Ayuh, there have been mountain lions seen over the years in Jonesboro.”

Laura Casey: I read your article in BDN via Facebook about mountain lion encounters and I know I saw one in New Sharon.

I have zero doubt. I was heading home from Togus and took a back way home to Kingfield. As I was traveling down a secondary road, one emerged from the right of the road (by a farm) and disappeared to the left, less than 100 yards from my car.

I was so startled, I pulled over to collect myself and then I texted my husband before heading home.

Craziest moment ever — and we are the folks that see around 200 moose a year.

Bill Hauk: Two of my teenage sons saw a mountain lion around 2000 on our farm in Swanville. They described it as a 100-pound cat with a long tail. I found its footprints in the snow, and indeed saw very large cat prints, though I didn’t have a camera to document it. The long tail means it wasn’t merely a large bobcat or lynx.

The late painter Neil Welliver told me that a young guy working for him saw a cougar along the Ducktrap River on his farm in Lincolnville years ago. Again, nothing to corroborate.

Since then I’ve heard of other cougar sightings here and there in Maine. I believe they’re here, just very rare.

Joey Savage: I’ve lived in Maine for 55 years. I have seen a mountain lion in North Jay and also in Turner. They are not extinct. They are very elusive and do not like to be seen.

Kevin Johndro: I have read about the debate on the existence of big cats in Maine for years and have always wanted to comment but to this day I still don’t really believe what I saw on the highway in Knox one morning on my way to work. However, it’s Ms. Kelly’s interesting description of what she saw that prompts this email to you.

Driving East on Route 137 toward Belfast several years ago, a large cat crossed the westbound lane of the road and continued directly in front of my car. As I slowed, I noted the colors which Ms. Kelly described and the colors were the reason I found the entire episode so unreal. The colors went from something like a chestnut brown on the head and upper half of its body to a much darker brown toward the rear and rather long tail. The animal was extremely sleek and in a couple of bounds had leapt up a steep incline heading toward the Frye Mountain area.

However, after the incident I recalled a conversation that I had engaged in with an old sawyer who lived down the road from me. One evening after picking up a load of lumber, he and I heard some coyotes howling down in a back field where he always piled his slab wood. He was clearly used to the noise and as we talked about them, he mentioned to me that there were “big cats” in the area. That was the first I had ever heard on the subject and I never really believed him until the morning that animal crossed the road in front of me. Quite frankly, to this day, I still don’t really believe what I saw.

Bo Yerxa: It was the fall of 1970, just after dawn. I was driving north on Route 191, just inside the Meddybemps line, heading up to bend a few nails on a construction job. My Oregonian cousin was riding shotgun and two other carpenters (both noted poachers) in the back.

As we reached The Flats, where blueberry fields stretched to the east and west, a movement caught my eye coming out of the rising sun towards the road. As it got within 100 yards I realized it was big and moving very fast, and yelled, bringing everyone to attention. “That’s a big bobcat!” came from the back seat.

The partial truth thereof was soon revealed, as the tawny, muscular cat reached the state road just 40 to 50 feet in front of us and fluidly jumped, clearing the asphalt in one bound … trailing a tail nearly as long as it’s 3-plus-foot body. As it streaked westward toward the treeline, my cousin, who had seen cougars in Wyoming and Oregon, expressed with absolutely no doubt that such was the critter we observed that crisp morning. The paw-prints in the roadside gravel were at least four inches across.

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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...