We all have em…those unbelievable hunting stories….and here is a pretty WILD one from Minnesota via smokechaser on reddit. Something similar actually happened in the Bitterroot
In 2004, I was 15 years old living in central Minnesota. I had hunted on my grandparents property east of Sandstone since I was 12 and had been fairly successful each year. That season was the same as most – going hunting with my dad and older brother for opening weekend and then trying to get out hunting whenever I could after that. I think it was around the 2nd weekend when I had one of the scariest hunting experiences of my life.
On this particular day, after an unsuccessful morning hunt, my brother and I were walking back to the main house through the woods and decided to walk out to the road instead of trudging through a snowy field. Parked on our property about 40 yards off the road was a white pickup truck that we didn’t recognize. We approached cautiously, but the truck was abandoned and there were tracks leading off in the woods in several directions. In the front on the dash was a pile of mail addressed to someone with the last name of Gamble (a name not associated with any of my family or nearby neighbors).
My brother and I decided to just head back home and let our dad know about it since there was little else we could do / knew what to do. When we said the name we had seen in the window on the mail, my grandma immediately recognized the name. “Oh, that’s a lady who lives a few miles away from here.” My dad jumped on the four wheeler to go see if the truck was stuck or broken down and offer help, but when he got down there (a mere 20 minutes after my brother and I initially saw the truck) it was gone. Without any cause for alarm, we all basically forgot about it as we had a warm lunch and swapped hunting lies stories from the morning. After a post-lunch nap, we all mapped out our afternoon hunting strategies and headed out to hit the stands until dark.
This is when the story gets good. I was sitting in my stand, lost in thought but constantly gazing around and trying to spot movement or flashes of brown and white. I was deep in thick brush on the edge of a swamp that borders a hardwood stand of trees. It was a favorite spot for afternoon hunts to get the deer as they migrate towards the fields as it gets dark. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of brown to my right. I strained to identify exactly where I had seen it before I saw it again as it slipped behind a pile of brush once again. I figured it to be about 50 yards away and moving my way.
I lifted my 30-30 Westernfield lever action to my waist as I stood in the stand and silently slipped the safety to the off position. For several long minutes, I saw and heard nothing. I began to question if I had seen anything at all or if my imagination was finally taking over after being fooled by squirrels for several hours when suddenly I heard a low noise from the thick brush. It sounded like a low growling sound, and my first thought was that a wounded deer was going through its dying moments from the neighbor’s property to the east. Suddenly the low growl turned into a distinct growl and snarl. My mind immediately went from looking for a wounded deer to looking for a bear. It wasn’t uncommon to see bears in the area but the thought of one being that close was both exciting and nerve wracking to 15 year old me.
The growls grew louder, and I saw the brush move slightly as the unseen bear moved closer to my stand. I placed the safety back on my weapon but kept it at my waist. The growling stopped. And then it turned into a snarl and screaming sound that caused my heart to immediately drop in my chest in pure fear. I had never heard a bear make that sound and I suddenly knew it was a wildcat of some sort.
The brush moved and I finally saw the animal for the first time, about 35 yards away. I had gone from expecting a deer to a bear to a wildcat of some kind, and while I wasn’t wrong, I did not expect in the least what I saw in front of me. 35 yards away, in the woods in Minnesota on a November day, was a Bengal tiger that had to be 8 feet long, orange with black stripes.
A Bengal tiger.
I had seen them in books and at the zoo, but I had no frame of reference for what I was witnessing. I immediately had the gun to my shoulder, safety off, and hammer cocked. My hands shook and I thought I was going to throw up. While it was likely less than 30 seconds, I felt like I stared in shock at the tiger for at least an hour before it snarled / screamed once more and then bounded into the woods to the north.
I stood in my stand for several minutes, until my leg shaking became paralyzing as the adrenaline wore off and the reality of what had just happened came over. I asked myself over and over if what I had just seen was real. In my frozen fear, I had contemplated shooting the apparition in front of me since I had it in my sights the entire time, but I didn’t because I wasn’t convinced that what I was seeing was reality.
I didn’t have a cell phone, so contacting my brother or dad was impossible to do, but I knew one thing: I did not want to be in the woods in the dark with that thing nearby. I was also less than eager to immediately get down and walk to the house with him nearby so I sat in my stand for 20 minutes in the ready position looking for any sight of the tiger. When I didn’t see anything, I got out of my stand and started the longest walk back into the house possible. I walked the entire ¼ mile through the woods with the gun up in the ready position. Every twig breaking made me feel like a tiger was leaping towards me in the growing darkness.
Needless to say, my family was skeptical when I rushed in to tell the story of the evenings hunt. They believed I had seen something, but the tiger part was hard to swallow. They figured it was likely a wildcat or a mountain lion at most, but I insisted that I had seen what I had seen. Regardless, we began to get ready for Wednesday night church and the conversation continued until we got inside the church. The small country church is composed of mostly extended family members and so we had several relatives visiting for hunting that were mingling and talking about their hunts thus far. Immediately upon walking up to my cousin Scott who owned and hunted the land adjacent to my grandparents, my dad makes a joke that they had to hear this ridiculous story that I had made up about my evening. I was barely into the story when my cousin exclaimed “oh you saw the tiger too?!?” My dad was floored, and I was vindicated. Slowly, the story began unfolding with answers. The white truck belonging to the Gambles was the connection piece. Cynthia Gamble lived several miles from our property and owned a large wild cat sanctuary. While the cats were all in cages and tagged with GPS monitors, apparently one had escaped and several neighbors reported seeing her truck wandering around our area in search of the lost cat. Scott had been walking on his property the evening before and had heard unearthly screaming coming from the woods. Like my dad, he had assumed a catamount was the responsible party until he had been alerted to the presence of the Gambles truck in the area the following day.
By the following day, we had heard from those who knew the Gambles that the cat had been returned, but there was never any official word that it had gotten loose. Being that far out in the country, with little population and even lighter traffic, sightings of the cat by others than our family had been limited if they happened at all. Everything went back to normal and I had a killer story to share that no one believed.
A year later, however, my grandma shared with us the news that Cynthia Gamble had been killed by the very tiger that had escaped. She was alone in the cage with it and it jumped her and mauled her to death. The links below are provided to share the validity of this aspect of the story.
I don’t have any photos of my experience, there were no game cameras in the area, and while I was tempted to shoot the tiger, I didn’t, so I don’t have a kickass rug hanging on the wall of my apartment now to prove this wild story about seeing a Bengal tiger in the forests of Minnesota.
So that’s my hunting story that I doubt (hope) will never be topped in my hunting experiences. What’s your craziest story about hunting?
TL;DR When I was was 15 I saw an escaped Bengal tiger in the woods in Minnesota while deer hunting. I lived to tell about it.