ANACONDA - It was the big cat's eyes that haunted Eric Boyd.
The 14-year-old from Anaconda was hoping to bag his first elk on opening day last Sunday. Instead, he found himself face-to-face with a large mountain lion.
"It was his eyes that really hit me," he said Friday. "They stared right at me and were glowing yellow-green."
Eric Boyd and his dad, Mike Boyd, were hunting in the Jerry Creek area near Wise River, southwest of Butte. They were tracking a lone elk, so Eric took up a position near an outcropping of rocks while his dad moved farther up the ridge to try and push the elk toward his son.
The young hunter waited for a long time, but never saw the elk.
"I heard a twig crack behind me and I thought my dad was coming back," he recalled.
It wasn't his father.
The Anaconda High School freshman turned and walked a few steps, then saw it: A cougar stepped from behind a tree about 25 yards ahead of him. The animal sat there and the two just stared at each other for what Eric Boyd felt was about 20 seconds.
"I was more shocked than afraid. I was face-to-face with this animal and I had never seen one in the wild before," he said.
The cat then hunched its shoulders and started walking toward him. Eric Boyd raised his 7mm Magnum rifle to his eye and fired. The bullet struck the lion in the shoulder, and the animal leapt and clawed wildly at the air. Eric worried that his father might be coming and could be attacked by the wounded cat.
"I just kept firing at it," he said.
He fired three more times, and all shots hit their mark.
The animal lay motionless on the ground, but the young hunter was too shocked to call to his father. He just started running to the road, and even fired a warning shot into the air to alert his father. He was still stunned by what had just happened.
"When I was running to the road, every time I closed my eyes all I could see were those mountain lion's eyes," he said.
His father heard the shots and was certain his son hit the elk they were tracking. He met his son at the road, but he could tell something was wrong.
"He was visibly shaken," Mike Boyd said.
His complexion pale and tears in his eyes, Eric Boyd told his father he'd shot a mountain lion. The two left the carcass in the woods and drove to Wise River to call authorities. That evening, an official from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks called them at home. They met Butte area game wardens Shane Yaskus and Coy Kline at the site the next day.
After investigating the scene Monday afternoon, they determined the shooting was justified, Yaskus said.
"We found no reason to believe it hasn't a justifiable shooting. The animal came at him and he had every right to defend himself from harm," Yaskus said.
Mountain lions have been known to stalk humans in the wild, though Yaskus said it's not known why. The animals don't always attack, but when they do, they can be deadly.
"Younger, smaller people will get attacked more often than others," Yaskus said.
Authorities said the animal measured about 7 feet long from nose to tail. The carcass was left in the forest where it was shot, as is proper procedure in these situations, Yaskus said.
Eric Boyd said his encounter with the big cat hasn't stopped him from hunting: He was out every day last week. However, he stays in much closer contact with his father.
"I'm not going to hunt by myself for a long while," he said.
Reporter John Grant Emeigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.