Hunter Jason Cook was stalking turkeys in Florida when he was attacked by a very rare predator, a panther. Cook wasn’t hunting by himself, he was with a friend who helped him get to a hospital after the mauling.
Luckily, Cook only suffered slashes across his face and head. Cook and his friend were hunting opposite sides of a leased property.
The panther attacked Cook a few minutes after the friends split up. Cook had been making hen calls but did not hear any toms gobbling.
“About 10 minutes later I decided to make three loud calls,” Cook said, according to Outdoor Life. “I made the first two, and just as I went to make the third, I was blind-sided. It felt like someone had hit me across the face with a baseball bat.”
With blood in his eyes, Cook was barely able to see the panther at all. He immediately called to his friend following the attack.
“I called him after the panther clawed me,” he said. “He was joking and said: ‘I thought you were going to give it another 15 minutes. It’s only been 13.’ But when I got back to the truck, his mouth dropped wide open. He couldn’t believe what had happened to me.”
Shortly after a game warden approached the two.
“A panther attacked me,” said Cook. “He (the warden) turned ghost white, and started scrambling for bandages to get me patched up.”
The two didn’t have any luck with turkeys, either. Local hunters spotted a panther in the area before the attack and some said that’s why the turkeys were laying low.
“If you talk to enough farmers and landowners down here, they are seeing more panthers,” Cook said. “But this was (one of) the first attacks in state history. I am surprised Florida Fish and Wildlife hasn’t said anything about the incident yet, because there has been a lot of discussion about it, especially on social media.”
Wildlife department officials took tissue and hair samples from Cook’s injuries in an attempt to confirm that it was in fact a panther.
There is one other recorded case of a panther attack in Florida, from 2014, although the Florida Wildlife Commission was unable to confirm it. Former chairman of the board for the Florida Sportsmen’s Conservation Association Byron Maharrey reported a panther attack where he suffered bite and claw marks on his arm and side.
“Immediately after learning of the incident, FWC officers visited the individual and took his statement; however, it was not feasible to confirm the details due to the lapse of time from when the event occurred to when the report was made to the FWC,” said the department.
Panthers are typically reclusive and are very rare in Florida. An estimated 240 panthers inhabit the whole state, and they are considered endangered.
Despite the attack Maharrey believes panther should remain protected in Florida, with a caveat.
“I do recognize that they’re endangered, and I absolutely want to see them protected,” he said in 2014. “Unless another one attacks me–then I’m going to eat it for breakfast.”