In years past, cougar hunters were held in some esteem here in the Cowichan Lake area. There were several men, all good trackers and expert hunters, who were called upon to kill cougars when it was deemed necessary. In that era it was also customary to have pictures taken of the hunter with his prey slung over his shoulder or some other such pose. Charlie Caldwell was no exception. Cougar Charlie, as he was called, loved to tell tales about his exploits and he never held back explaining that with the help of with his hunting dogs, he “bagged 70 cougars” in his day. Although he was prone to exaggerate, he was also recognized as a good tracker and hunter. Charlie lived with his wife on a float house tied near the old Youbou mill. His wife grew vegetables and sold eggs and was known to occasionally accompany her husband on some of his cougar hunting explorations.
Sometimes after a hunt, Caldwell would bring home newly orphaned baby cougars to care for (after he had shot their mother). It was said that he once posted a sign in front of his place, which read “baby cougars for sale.” Unlike today, the hunting of these animals was looked upon as normal behavior by society as a whole. With the five dollars bounty per head it was a sure way for a man to earn a few dollars.
Another of the local cougar hunters was Len Ronnback. A quiet and reserved Swede, Ronnback did not tell tales or spin yarns about his cougar hunting days like some of the others.
His reputation as an expert was such that few men, if any, were able to match his ability to track cougars. Between 1925, when he came to the area, and 1944 he was credited with bagging more than 60 cougars. He was also recognized as “bringing in” the largest cougar with a five dollars bounty per head incentive in a 25 year period.” According to a 1944 issue of the ITM Bulletin, the cougar measured 9 feet, 4 inches from head to tail.
After killing the record-size animal, it was discovered that the big cat had recently killed an elk, which up until then, had been thought impossible.District game warden Frank Weir was one who was not convinced that a cat could kill an elk, until he was shown the partially eaten carcass of the dead elk, which was discovered 300 yards from where Ronnback’s dogs had treed the cougar.
The legendary Cougar Charlie and Len Ronnback were only two of several men who kept the area free of unwanted cougars. It was a time before the term politically correct was coined.