Polk County panthers: Do you think they exist?

Published 11:24 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

With all the recent sightings of Bigfoot in nearby Rutherford County, I got to thinking about something somewhat as controversial here in good ole Polk County – panthers.

No, not the ones that had their party spoiled by Forrest Gump, I’m talking about the big cats.

Black panthers are a color variant of different cat species such as a leopard, or in the United States a jaguar or possibly a cougar.

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Cougars, or mountain lions, as they are more commonly known, are very reclusive and have been missing from the Eastern half of the country since the early 20th century, except for an isolated population in Florida.

Bobcats or lynx, are quite a bit smaller than a mountain lion with a distinctive short tail. They have a wide range and are rather well populated in our area relatively speaking. They average two times as big as a normal house cat.

I will say as far as strange sightings, the source plays a big role. It wasn’t too many years ago the “swamp creature” in South Carolina was seen crossing a bridge with Elvis, hmmm.

The best I can tell, the NCWRC stands on the view there are no mountain lions in North Carolina or even in the area. And many folks who I consider expert hunters, do not believe there are any panthers in the area or they would have been photographed or killed by someone by now.

This is a good point, but on the other side of the fence, I have hunted a lot since I was very young and had never seen a bob cat until I was about 32. I also have never seen a bear here but they are in the area.

Most of the stories I’ve heard about black panthers had two factors in common. One is the person is always alone, and second is alcohol consumption, hmmm.

But there are two stories that I, as a very skeptical person, lend a lot of weight to.

The first involves a very respected older hunter and his wife who have hunted the Polk and Rutherford mountains all their life. This hunter has probably killed some of the biggest deer in this area by hunting rugged remote areas. On one hunt in particular, he speaks of them seeing a big black cat, with a long tail in some rock cliffs above them, he tried to get a shot but he lost sight of it among some trees. If it were any other hunter, I would probably not think much about this sighting, but given this man’s reputation, its hard to doubt.

The next stories involves a family living in the World’s Edge area. Ricky Searcy and his family are no strangers to the black Panther.

His wife and their son were driving up their driveway during the day and saw two turkeys fly by them and land in a tree, right behind them was a black panther. The panther followed the turkeys to the tree and sat watching them and vehicle that they were in. She saw it for a good five minutes in broad daylight. She said she saw it good enough to see it had what appeared to be darker “leopard-like” spots in its coat.

Ricky said it seems like the panthers pass through the area during certain times of the year.

A short period later, the Searcy family was coming up their driveway and saw a black panther crossing the driveway.

“The tail was as long as its body, and it was almost as long as the driveway is wide!”

The family, and many others in that area, report hearing screams, much like the sound of a woman screaming coming from the mountain, which oddly enough has a peak named Wildcat Spur.

Hard to believe, maybe, but it was so real to the Searcys that staying there was not an option. They moved from that area because of the black panther.

The whole area near the World’s Edge is shrouded with strange occurrences, from the stories of witch Ann, to the crash of two marine helicopters in the mid 70s, to sightings of black panthers, a lot of mystery surrounds the area.

Are mountain lions here? Depends on who you ask. To the ones who say they have seen one, there is no doubt, as Ricky told me “I know they are here.” To others, no way.

It seems to me there are more people who believe there are panthers here than those who do not.

Do I? Well I guess I‘d have to say….

Rob McComas is a licensed North Carolina fishing guide on Lake Lure and Lake Jocassee in S.C. He has been a guide for 11 years and fishing for more than 30. McComas lives with his wife, Amanda, in Sunny View and runs Robs Guide Service. He can be reached at robsguideservice@gmail.com.