"It wouldn't go away. It just kept coming at me."
That's the scene that sticks in the mind of eight-year-old Douglas Johnson Jr. about the moment on a late September morning just before his father, 51-year-old Doug Sr., pulled his deer rifle to his hip and began firing at the mountain lion crouched a mere two feet from his son.
At least two of Johnson's shots struck the 60-pound female lion, leaving it dead on the Trinity County, California mountain trail where the father and son were on their first deer hunting trip together, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
DFG warden Aaron Adkins said his investigation of the scene and the dead lion verified the shooting as an act of self-defense. He said the take of the lion a fully protected, non-hunted species was "justified in light of its reported behavior and close proximity to Johnson and his son."
Johnson Sr., a carpenter who lives east of Weaverville, said he and his son were on a trail in the Hyampom area along the South Fork Trinity River about 9:30 in the morning when the youth noticed the lion immediatley behind him. He said the boy, a third grader at Douglas City Elementary School, slipped and fell as Johnson Sr. whirled and pointed his rifle.
"I yelled a loud roar like you're suppose to, but the cat didn't move," Johnson Sr. said.
"It kind of crouched down and put its ears back, like when you catch your cat on the kitchen table and call it a bad kitty," he said.
"I almost could have stuck the rifle barrel in the cat's mouth," he said.
When the lion didn't give ground, the father, who is left-handed, reached around the lever-action .308 rifle, clicked off the safety on the right side of the firearm and began shooting.
One shot hit the lion in the eye and another in the throat. In his haste, the senior Johnson did what many deer hunters have reported doing at the sight of a legal buck he fired so quickly that he "levered" a live round onto the ground between shots.
"When I heard my son yelling 'Get away' my first thought was that yellow jackets or meat bees were bothering him," Johnson Sr. said.
"My son had been talking and making a lot of noise and I had been telling him to try and be more quiet," the father said, adding, "so I was real surprised that the cat came so close and that it challenged us."
Johnson Sr. said the event seemed to occur "in slow motion, frame by frame."
"I was taking my son along on his first deer hunt and I was more concerned about things like poison oak and other hunters. I realize now that it's easy to become complacent in the woods and that you should stop once in awhile, listen and look around," he said.
He said his son, whom he described as "amazingly resilient," was shaken at first, but has rebounded well and wants to go out deer hunting again. The boy said he was "asked a million questions" by schoolmates when he returned to school.
The boy's recollection of the event is clear. He said he was walking closely behind his father as they started downhill on the trail. He has no idea what made him turn his head to see the lion.
"I yelled, 'Get away, get away,' and then fell backward, but the cat kept walking and my dad shot it in the head," young Johnson said.
"It was very scary. I thought it wanted to eat me," Douglas Jr. said.
His mother, Robyn, a nurse at Trinity Hospital who lives in the Poker Bar area of Trinity County, said she was sorry the lion had to die, but that the life of a lion "is certainly not worth my son."
"I told Doug to stay close to his father and told his father to bring him home safe and he did," she said.
"We live in Trinity County and there are a lot of mountain lions here. I wish the cat had run away, but it didn't," said the mom.
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