Twenty-four-year-old Eli Schaefer has been hunting in the Keweenaw Peninsula Forest on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the better part of five years. During that time, he’s encountered numerous signs of wild cats preying on deer, and he even got a trail camera photo of what appears to be a large male mountain lion prowling around near one of his deer stands. But it wasn’t until December 2023 that Schaefer captured definitive evidence of a mountain lion actively preying on a whitetail deer—the first video of its kind ever recorded in Michigan.
The incredible clip, which Schaefer shared with Field & Stream, shows a lion pouncing on a small deer as it latches down on the base of its spine. It only takes a few seconds for the big cat to completely immobilize its prey. Then, in a second video, which Schaefer posted to Facebook on January 7, the cat is seen dragging the prize away before exiting the frame.
“When I got home and played it, I got chills thinking about how easily it could have been me,” Schaefer tells F&S. “I don’t believe this was my first encounter with a lion kill either.”
Back in 2021, Schaefer says, he encountered a scene that looked like it could have been the aftermath of the video he captured on December 30. There were large drag marks with blood in them, and cat tracks in the snow about the size of his palm. He followed the drag marks for about two miles that day, and eventually decided that it was the work of bobcat. In light of his recent footage, though, Schaefer now thinks that the sign he saw in 2021 was left by a mountain lion as well.
Mountain lions are native to Michigan, but they were extirpated from the state by the early 1900s. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), there have been upwards of 100 confirmed cougar sighting since 2008, including two illegal harvests of cougars on the Upper Peninsula. State wildlife officials attribute sightings like Schaefer’s to lone male cats that are dispersing from established breeding populations in the West.
“The chances of getting that [footage], it’s just really remote,” Brian Roell, an MDNR wildlife biologist, recently told MLive.com. “That’s the first time I’ve seen that actually occurring, where you actually captured a deer.”
Schaefer says he returned to the area yesterday with Brett Huntzinger of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for an official site assessment, but heavy snow blocked access to the area where his camera had been set up. He’s also been in touch with Denise Peterson, a native Michigander who now owns and operates a mountain lion conservation group out of Utah.
“She said she’s seen just about everything on camera and video while studying them out there, but the only video she’s never been able to get was a cougar taking down prey,” says Schaefer. “She looked at the pictures I got back in October, and she believes that lion was a male, just based on how large the head is.”
Now that Schaefer knows he’s sharing his hunting grounds with a large male lion, he says he’ll be proceeding with a bit more caution during upcoming deer seasons. “I’m starting to think about all the little sticks that crack or break while I’m out there,” he says. “And how many times has this thing been watching me walk around in the woods? I keep my concealed-carry on me at all times now—that at least gives me a little peace of mind.”