CUSTER | Last week, a young mountain lion wreaked havoc on Lila Streff’s life, killing one of her goats, a duck, a house cat and, judging by the amount of feathers scattered in its deadly wake, a chicken. But thanks to her 14-year-old son, the mountain lion didn’t get away with it.
That Wednesday morning began with a gruesome discovery: a bloodied goat lie dead on the ground behind Streff’s house, 10 miles south of Custer near Pringle. The owner of Black Hills Goat Dairy, single mother of six, and grandmother to nine, soon discovered it was one of the young bucks she keeps pastured behind her home.
For better than a decade, Streff has milked 38 others, as well as eight dairy cows, making deliveries to Custer on Tuesdays and Rapid City on Fridays. But this was the first animal she had lost to a hungry mountain lion.
“We can see the goats right off the back porch, and we saw one lying on the ground back there,” she said on Tuesday. “We went right out and looked, and it was dead. We also saw a trail of destruction from the chicken coop with a dead cat, a dead duck and a bunch of chicken feathers.”
Streff said she feared the mountain lion would return for more.
“It’s unnerving because I really have a smorgasbord of animals here,” she said. “It’s like Golden Corral. If you don’t stop it, you’ll be at the mercy of the lions. I also have grandchildren out back occasionally, and I was worried.”
Streff credits “fearless” Isabella, one of her four Great Pyrenees, with chasing off the mountain lion before it could feast on its victim. While praising her prized 80-pound dog, Streff said she was still saddened at the loss of one of her goats.
“We’ve seen Isabella get in a fight with a lion before,” she said. “She’s fearless, and she’s not afraid of them. But this is the first animal we’ve lost in 10 years.”
Streff reported the incident to the state Game, Fish & Parks Department and said she and her two children whom she home-schools waited around most of the day for a conservation officer to show up. And they kept watch out back lest the mountain lion return for its kill.
After a long, sad day, Streff’s youngest child, 14-year-old Dalton, who fancies himself a hunter, told his mother he was going to go sit in the backyard and await the return of the beast that had killed their young goat. The 5-foot-10, 130-pound, brown-haired teenager, who had previously completed a hunter’s safety course, brought with him his 30.06-caliber Remington rifle he won last year in an NRA raffle.
Lacking a proper blind in which to shelter himself from approaching critters, Dalton opted instead for a Little Tikes playhouse conveniently located in the backyard. There on a chair he sat, scanning the surrounding woodlands for the killer cat.
His mother was skeptical.
“He decided he was going to go sit out there until 7, when he had to do milking chores,” Streff said. “He said he’d go back out again at 5:30 in the morning if it hadn’t returned that night. But even though it was a possibility, none of us expected the cat to come back that evening.”
A half-hour later, as the sun began to set behind the Ponderosa pines, Streff heard a single, staccato gunshot pierce the silence of their remote Black Hills home.
“So I ran outside, and Dalton threw his arms in the air and screamed, 'I got it,'" Streff said.
On Tuesday, the soft-spoken, well-armed kid said he had been intently watching his surroundings from the confines of the plastic playhouse when he noticed one of his family’s house cats wandering about 50 yards away.
“I was just sitting there and all of sudden one of our cats was back there too, and the mountain lion jumped on it,” Dalton recalled. “It looked at me once. When I saw the mountain lion, I grabbed my gun quietly so I didn’t scare it off, quietly loaded one round, looked through the scope and shot it. When I shot it, it jumped about 20 feet and then did a face plant.”
After waiting about three minutes, adrenaline pumping through his body, Dalton walked over to the young, female, 70-pound mountain lion and confirmed his first kill.
“I got it right through the heart,” he said. “I was so excited I jumped up and down. And my friends thought it was really cool.”
His mother was equally amazed, but said she was reticent to get near the downed lion.
“I am very proud of him,” she said of her youngest son. “He’s got a good eye, that’s for sure. It was a very tough shot through trees, and he made a straight shot right in the heart.
“But I had never seen a mountain lion up close like that,” Streff added. “It was unnerving walking back there, not knowing if it was dead. I’m not one to hunt mountain lions, but when it’s coming after your livestock, you either hunt it or suffer the consequences.”