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Mountain lion killing machine
Interview with Andy Peterson
Andy Peterson was attacked by a wild mountain lion while hiking up a mountain trail called Carpenter’s Peak in Colorado and lived to tell his story! Our feature article on the cover of The Christian Sportsman chronicles this fascinating story about adventure, survival, and faith. Andy has now launched a speaking ministry to share his story of a face to face encounter with one of North America’s fierce killing machines. This big game animal is described by many different names including the mountain lion, cougar, puma, and predator cat.
Roxborough State Park, located near Englewood, Colorado, includes a hiking trail with a 3.2-mile climb up to the 7,160-foot summit of Carpenter's Peak. As a park ranger he often hiked mountain trails during his day off for exercise and enjoyment. The day of his attack seemed to be just like other hikes up Carpenter’s Peak. What happened to Andy Peterson that day would be vividly remembered for the rest of his life.
“I am positive this was divine intervention. For the first time since I saw the lion, I felt safe. Or should I say, saved? I felt overwhelming peace. I felt secure as though I got picked up and told, ‘I got you son...I got you. You want a second chance in life? Then start living for me.’,” Andy exclaimed.
Andy has had the honor of sharing his inspirational survival story on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, Animal Planet, A&E Biography, Versus Channel, New Man Magazine, Reader's Digest, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), Outdoor Life Network, Outdoor Life Magazine, and numerous churches.
Thank you, Andy, for your time and allowing the readers of The Christian Sportsman to read and learn more about your fascinating story. Let’s get started with some questions:
1 – Tell us about yourself, your family and background as a park ranger?
I’ve been married for fifteen years to a beautiful Godly woman who keeps me in line. We have two wonderful children (boy and girl in their teens) who love the Lord as we are all plugged into the church (choir, deacon, etc.). My childhood had some turmoil with my parent’s very early divorce, remarriages, and mixed families leading me to being shuffled from parent to parent. Each had their own set of rules to impose on my lifestyle. This caused me to search for something I could learn on my own which carried me on a path of drug and alcohol use early on.
I left home after a couple years of college nearby my home town to “get away” from the fighting and drama, which was mainly caused by my arrogance and big headed attitude. The mountains and love of the ski slopes brought me to Colorado. It was here I eventually got my foot in the door as a Park Ranger for the City of Lakewood.
2 – When did the mountain lion attack occur and what had been your training and past experiences to prepare you for such encounter?
There is no actual training for coming face to face with a mountain lion. And at five foot six inches and one hundred and twenty-five pounds at the time, one can only look so big to such a predator. These animals are ridiculously strong and powerful. Mountain lions can run fifty miles per hour in a chase, jump forty feet on a standstill, jump a ten foot wall with a one-hundred-pound animal in their mouths, and a twenty foot wall without carrying their prey. Males have been known to reach two hundred pounds. and females one hundred and fifty pounds. They love a surprise attack, especially on deer which is their favorite meal, by going for the head and neck area, severing the spine, or busting the vertebra.
April 30, 1998, was the day my life would change forever. It was an attack with a surreal nightmare of fighting for my life with one of the most powerful animals in North America. A captivating battle that, unaware of at the time, would provide me a platform to speak to thousands across the globe sharing the love and hope of my new-found Savior.
3 - Were you familiar with the habits and instincts of predator animals such as the mountain lions of Colorado and what had been your outdoors training?
As a Park Ranger and understanding that mountain lions have been spotted around the area – even in the park I patrolled - we read recommendations of ways to fend off or deter such attacks, look tall or bigger, hold your child (if with you) above your head, wave your arms, and if needed…fight for your life. In the U.S. mountain lions usually protect an area of fifty to one hundred and fifty square miles. Mountain lions here in the U.S. are mostly solo animals. Rarely will you see them hunting in packs. If I ever run into another, I wouldn’t wait for the mountain lion to attack me first. No, I would go after it and go right for the eyes. Of course, a mountain lion encounter is extremely rare.
4 – Briefly describe the encounter when you first realized that you were being stalked. What emotions did you first experience?
My pure excitement quickly became fear. Fear so real and intense my heartbeat felt as though my chest was going to explode. I was able to watch this mountain lion under a small pine tree where I was hiking about three miles up the mountain from the Visitor Center. I heard the snapping sounds of bone that the lion teeth were tearing through apparently from an animal that he was eating. It was a felony offense to carry a firearm into a state or national park so the only weapon I had for defense was a multi-purpose knife. One of the blades slipped out of my fingers and slapped back into the case making a loud click sound echoing over the mountain. In an instant the mountain lion was gone. My eyes desperately searched the trail and brush and suddenly two piercing eyes locked onto mine. The mountain lion now knew I was in its territory…alone.
As I backed up the trail, the brush broke our line of site. In a blink of an eye the mountain lion was within feet of me snarling with four dominate teeth exposed. Before I could react the lion’s razor sharp claws slashed at my chest, connecting then knocking me back. I was able to grab my footing as the mountain lion pounced again only to miss by a hair. Ninety yards down the trail I was now running backwards for my life screaming and waving my hiking pack and shirt between us to keep our distance.
The trail came up on three boulder steps (three-foot drop) as I took two swings, one with my pack and the other with the knife…both missed. It was as though the mountain lion knew my every move long before I did, keeping his advantage. I jumped down the three-foot drop and now looking the mountain lion directly into the eyes – same level. With a strength so remarkable the mountain lion slammed into me knocking me down the side of the mountain snapping three-inch diameter trees right off. A loud thud as the mountain lion’s back smashed into a large bush with its back claws thrashing into my knees and thighs and its front claws popping deep into my neck, pulling me down like a vice.
The mountain lion’s bottom jaw bit down hard on the top of my forehead and the top jaw bit firmly down on the upper back portion of my head as I heard the dreadful sounds of the teeth raking over my head twice. I began to stab the mountain lion’s neck as all I saw was fur flying…the knife was not sharp enough to pierce open the fur. I tried to stab the top of the mountain lion’s head in complete desperation only to realize the blade of the knife folded down into my hand. The mountain lion’s front claws took two very quick swings at my face as one connected ripping a four-inch gash just under my left eye. Immediately, the claws grabbed onto my neck even deeper and stronger with more popping sounds echoing all around me. I was locked in his grip and couldn’t move. All I could do was try to hold my ground while listening to four more bites from the powerful jaws tearing through the top of my head. A waterfall of red blood now dropped over my face.
5 – Describe the elements of the hike up Carpenter’s Peak that day and how you came upon this wild animal?
The day was a beautiful clear blue sky, winds calm, and around eighty-degree temperature. Three miles up the mountain on my decent back down, just twenty feet in front of me, I realized I was not alone when my eyes glanced onto a large brown fur animal under a small pine tree just off the trail.
6 – If you made the same hike up the same mountain what would you do differently knowing now what you do about potential threats?
I would carry a firearm to protect myself and/or anyone in the area (protect what God has blessed me with). If an encounter would take place again, I would be the aggressor going for the eyes and not waiting for the animal to pounce first. You hear and read many precautions, once an animal such as a mountain lion locks on to its prey…he will flee only if he realizes that it does not have the advantage.
7 – Even though the occurrence was very quick what was going through your mind and emotions while in the grips of the lion?
Three things raced through my mind during the attack. First, my family and the things I did to them growing up such as steal and lie and how I, unfortunately, would make my mother cry, or break the trust I had with my dad by deliberately disobeying the house rules. Second, I thought of the party friends I grew up with. The ones I would get drunk and/or high with. Lastly, what is called “The legacy left behind.” How I would be remembered as I realized my life was very quickly slipping away from me.
8 – Did you at any time you think that the attack would be fatal?
Absolutely, as I just mentioned, all of these thoughts, my life flashing before me, as my head was locked in the mountain lion’s mouth, claws dug deep into my neck, and three miles up a mountain with no one around, I knew I was in serious trouble. Where is everyone? I needed help and I needed it now. I screamed out, “God help me!” I screamed as loud as I could, to a God I could’nt care less about.
Sure I grew up in church as many have. I was taught God is up there (pointing to the sky) and I’m down here and that’s that. Never did anyone share with me about how God’s only Son, Jesus, was tortured and gave up His life for me, how He loves me. As soon as I screamed I had a jolt of adrenaline rush through me when I looked up to see the knife blade still in my hand.
I reached over the mountain lion’s head still locked onto mine, opened the blade that was cutting into my hand, reached back and felt two bumps. Realizing the bumps were the eyes of the mountain lion, I took my right thumb and dug as far back into its eye as I could. I gouged through the closed eyelid, around the eyeball, and into the back muscle that was clenched tightly in an effort to stop my thumb from digging further.
With the knife now opened, I swung as hard as I could towards the top of the mountain lion’s head then connected as I heard a loud squeal sound echo across the mountain. The claws loosened up, the jaws loosened up, and that was enough for me to jump back up on the trail. The mountain lion was ten feet down the trail facing off to my right with its side all bloody from me, and his eye was all grey and mushy. I grabbed a large basketball sized rock and hurled it towards the mountain lion thankfully hitting my target square in the side causing it to stumble down a few more feet. At that precise moment, I turned and darted down the trail away from this ferocious animal, understanding full well I’m running for my life as blood splattered my legs and onto the trail.
9 – You use the term “Saved Twice” as a double meaning, that of being attacked twice by the same cougar on two occasions just minutes apart, but also in relation to your Christian faith. Please explain?
Now running down the trail, bloody and hoping with all I had left to give, hoping that the mountain lion wasn’t still chasing me, I kept looking over my shoulder. With a mile left I entered a huge stand of Ponderosa Pine trees. These trees shaded some of the trail and the trail took on a large “L” shape. As I cut around that “L” shape I glanced over my shoulder only to see starring me down on the uphill side of the tree was the mountain lion back for more. I took two more steps and just knew I had to turn around and fight again. I was done, beaten and bloody…I was done!
As I turned around expecting to see the mountain lion launching through the air at me, I didn’t see the mountain lion. Instead, I saw a transparent face of Jesus. Some have asked me, “How do you know it was Jesus?” I can tell you without hesitation how I know without a sliver of doubt that He is a man I have to know. As soon as I saw that sweet awesome face, a peace…yes, a peace unlike any peace I’ve ever experienced before rushed through me. Like a safety net and security beyond any other. As though I was picked up and everything paused as I heard him tell and ask me, “I got you son. I got you. You want another chance in life? Then start living for me.” I turned with that “new chance in life” thought in my head knowing once I get to the bottom just 1-mile away I would have another chance at life. I looked down at my legs as they were flying down that trail. I couldn’t control them as I knew I now had help running down that mountain.
In the hospital, my dad came and visited me. He was what many would call a Jesus freak. You know, those Bible believing, testimony telling, Jesus loving, Born Again believers in Christ. Yes, he walked into my hospital room and said “everyone out, I want to talk to my son.” Great! I was thinking as here comes the God speech. That night, from a man I called dad and whom I didn’t get along with much at all, came a nice conversation about a peace he had with a Savior I now knew. I know that peace he talked about. So that night, my dad dropped his pride and moved out of his comfort zone to shared with me, his best friend, Lord, and Savior Jesus. It was that night I gave one foot to God. I was scared to give the other, not wanting to let go of the life I knew, not wanting to let go of the friends I had, he party lifestyle I was about. But the door to my heart was now open. Open enough for God to be allowed in, halfway.
10 – Obviously, the predator cat could have killed you very easily. Why are you still alive today?
Purely by God’s grace and knowing I wasn’t alone after seeing the face of Jesus when coming down the mountain. With a new outlook on life I was never going to give up that second chance I now had.
11 – Could you tell us about your Christian faith and when you initially received Christ Jesus into your life?
Sadly, I was smoking dope again only one week after being released from the hospital as my old habits haunted me. I learned that the injuries that I sustained set a record in the ER at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, CO with over seventy staples required on top of my head to close the two feet of bite marks from the mountain lion. But I now realize that I had been given a second chance in life. Months later, I visited my family back in Minnesota and promised dad I would go to church. It was there that I agreed to be in a church play. However, on the night of rehearsals I found myself out at a large party with beer flowing freely and a large bonfire out at a lake cabin. With a marijuana joint in one hand and a glass of beer in the other, the night suddenly became very surreal.
Staring into the large fire as it became very hot and very deep I heard a clear and firm voice ask me, “Do you need another lion son? Do you need another lion?” Knowing exactly where that voice came from I tossed my joint and beer into the fire…I was done running. That morning, my dad was in my mom’s driveway to pick me up for church. I was hung over from the previous night of partying. My dad didn’t say a word as I climbed into his car as we headed quietly to church. Once there and sitting in the congregation staring at the seat in front of me, I heard the pastor ask for help for the church play. I had no idea I raised my arm as he called my name thanking me for helping out. “WHAT?” I said to myself.
That evening during the church play I had a crossroads to face. Which path in life was I going to live…God’s or mine? I placed a big “time out” on everything and with all my might I picked up my foot, running on my path, and placed it with the other foot, running on God’s path. BAM! Instantly, I felt the same peace I felt when I saw the face of Jesus running for my life, coming down that mountain trail. “That’s it!” “That’s how I get that peace back…I have to have BOTH feet on God’s path”, I yelled to myself! It was a newfound joy…the One I would run to and share the rest of my days, without any shame.
12 – It has been stated often by soldiers who are in direct combat that there are no atheists in fox holes, how has this experience impacted your commitment to God and passion in telling others about Christ?
Why do atheists take so much of their time and energy battling Jesus? I don’t shove Jesus down anyone’s face. I only pray that someday you will have that joy I now have living for Him. I pray that you will find that joy without having to go through a terrifying experience such as a mountain lion attack. Through my captivating experience, I now live for my best friend, Lord, and Savior Jesus. Everyone has some type of mountain lion they are battling. Whether it be an addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, porn, etc.), illness to them or a loved one, death to someone they were close to, a consuming depression, something…we are all human. We will fail each other, usually not intentionally.
Knowing now there is a Savior that wants to love and provide for me, and all I have to do is trust Him! I have that belief in myself just as He made me and that peace, hope, and love that only comes from Jesus…I now stand firm in my faith in Christ and share my story. A story of never giving up, believing in yourself, and grabbing onto that hope only He can provide with as many people as He opens the door to.
13 – You state that 1 Peter 5:8-9 is a favorite scripture verse from the bible. Why?
I couldn’t wash my hair for three months after my attack and all the staples had to be stapled over my hair. If the doctor would have shaved my head all the roots would have come out and I would be bald today. That is how bad the top of my head was chewed apart. You could see my skull from the eight-inch gash just in my hairline above my forehead. So I knew I had to talk with someone about the whole encounter and vision. My dad said get plugged into church. So I did…reluctantly…I did. I sat in the back of the church with a bandana wrapped around my head.
I recall my dad telling me one of his favorite books in the Bible was Peter. So I turned it to 1 Peter 5:8-9 and read the first verse I ever read out of a Bible. And there I sat in complete disbelief. The words jumped out of the page as though written just for me. Be self-controlled and alert, your enemy the devil roams around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him and STAND FIRM in your faith… I read it over and over and over…
14 – I am sure you have thought of many metaphors around the topic of animal attacks. Could you share a couple with our readers?
I can share some humor as my dad is six foot one inch and he tells people I used to be his height (remember I’m five foot six inches) before God humbled me down a foot. See, we serve a God of restoration, a God of healing, and a God of love. My dad was the best man in my wedding. He had become my closest friend following the lion encounter prompting my newfound faith and a desire to now live for Jesus. My relationship with dad was completely restored. I would go through that attack over and over again to have the peace and joy I have today.
15 – In speaking presentations across the nations to a wide array of audiences what is your most passionate focus in relating your story?
It is truly humbling to be able to share Jesus with so many. To never give up. To believe in yourself. To grab onto the peace, hope, and love of Jesus. Just as we are, God loves us so much, we cannot fully comprehend. What we do know, is if we put our trust FULLY on God’s path, everything else falls into place and we don’t have to control it all. We can be forgiven just as we are to start again, to restore relationships, to lift others up, and to have a peace unlike any other. Sure, we may get bumped and bruised badly in life, but that solid rock foundation of God on which we build our lives and homes cannot be defeated. So we get up, dust ourselves off, and carry on the race set before us sharing the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ.
16 – Which bible characters do you most identify with and why?
Daniel, of course. Daniel in the lion’s den! His faith in God during what should have been an unbearable experience in the den of lions was surrounded in peace as God closed the mouth’s of the lions while Daniel thanked and praised our Lord.
17 – Could you leave our readers with a word of encouragement or challenge that comes from your life story and this specific experience?
We trust so many things in life. The pilot or drivers as we get on a plane, bus, or in a taxi cab. We trust the cooks we rarely see by eating their prepared meals in a restaurant or cafeteria. Yet, we have so much trouble trusting Jesus who wants to love and provide for us. I’m not sure what you would have seen up on that mountain that day. I do know what I saw and I do know that peace I now have. Stop running, stop hurting those dear to you, stop trying to control everything, and stop living for yourself. Place BOTH feet and all you are on God’s path and you will experience the peace, hope, and love only Jesus can provide. Another favorite verse inspires me, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
18 - When I next travel through Colorado and if you are available, would you be up to hiking with me on the same trail up Carpenter’s Peak?
Sure…as long as I can run faster than you!
Andy shares his remarkable story to various groups through churches, conferences, men's events, wild game dinners, schools, universities, youth events, businesses, etc. For almost nineteen years, Andy's story has touched hearts and lives around the world, helping to bring thousands to a better understanding of God’s abounding grace and unconditional love.
Andy left one last word, “Never give up and believe in yourself through the hope, peace, and love of your best friend, Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ! Thank you for allowing me to share my story. God Bless!”
Andy Peterson, Lion King Ministries
Contact Stormy Mitchell, Mitchell Group, to Book Andy for your next Outreach Event and/or Sunday Service!
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