KAMAS — Cody Hardman had just nocked an arrow to begin his hunt for an elk Saturday morning when he heard a growl.
At first, Hardman said he thought it was a female sage grouse — but he stopped in his tracks when he heard an unmistakable roar.
"It was right there, 10 feet away," Hardman said.
It was a mountain lion — hunkered down and getting ready to pounce, the bow hunter said.
"His eyes were pinned on me, boy," Hardman recalled. "They were looking right into my eyes."
Hardman said he had "just enough time to pull back and let an arrow fly."
But he missed.
The feline lunged at his chest — knocking him to the ground.
But remarkably, "he didn't bite," Hardman said.
Leaving only a few claw marks on his chest and a puncture in his leg, the mountain lion then backed up 15 feet.
But that wasn't the end of it. Hardman said the cat then charged him three or four times before "finally he just took off."
Knowing he had narrowly escaped what could have been a fatal mauling, Hardman quickly scaled a tree in case the mountain lion was still stalking him, and called local authorities for help.
"It was sobering. It really was," he said.
The encounter happened about 6:40 a.m., approximately 3 miles east of Kamas, not far from Mirror Lake Highway, according to the hunter.
Hardman said he had begun his hunt about an hour after his father, who had been in the same area about 5:30 a.m. when it was still dark.
His adrenaline was still running by the time Summit County sheriff's deputies and a team from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources arrived around 10 a.m. to search for the cat, equipped with rifles and dogs.
The bow hunter said he feels lucky to have escaped with his life.
"I mean, that lion was going to tangle if we had to, but he punched a hole in me and went on his way," Hardman said.
Now, he said he'll probably get himself a pistol to carry while he bow hunts. "With that bow, you got one shot," he said. "And I missed."
Afterall, "I got three little kids expecting me to come home," he added.
Later Saturday afternoon, two of Hardman's children gave their father a big hug around the neck.
"It could have went totally different, but it didn't — huh, bud?" Hardman said to his son. "We lived another day."
Phil Douglas with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said Hardman acted correctly by fighting back.
"Make yourself look large, fight back and cover your head and neck," Douglas advised.
The Summit County Sheriff's Office and a team from the Division of Wildlife Resources continued searching for the lion late Saturday. If the cat is found and captured, it will be euthanized, according to Douglas.23 comments on this story
The veteran conservation officer, recommended Utah residents familiarize themselves with Wild Aware Utah, which is an informational program sponsored by the division, Utah's Hogle Zoo and Utah State University.
The program offers tips on staying safe or minimizing risk amid Utah's wildlife population.
"It is not unprecedented to have a mountain lion come down to a residential neighborhood," he said. "It's not common, but it is not rare either."
Contributing: Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Jacob Klopfenstein