Editor’s Note: 31-year old Jason Cook lives in Lebanon, Kansas, 9 miles west of Kansas City. He’s been hunting turkeys since he was 6-years old and started guiding hunters to deer when he was 16. He’s the owner of Land of Giants (https://huntlandofgiants.com/about/) and leases 30,000+ acres of prime deer-hunting land with some 200” bucks. He also guides duck hunters in Kansas and Canada. “My goal always has been not to be a typical outfitter,” Cook explains. “I want to run my guiding business completely different from how all other guides do.”
On March 18th, 2019, at 8:59 am, Cook’s love for Florida turkey hunting was interrupted by an unexpected disaster. He was attacked by a panther. “My host was taking pictures of a Florida panther on his trail cameras in the area where I wanted to hunt,” Cook reports. “When my host picked me up to take me to camp, a panther ran in front of his truck. I’d never seen a big cat like that in my entire life! After seeing the panther, I began to wish I could see a panther in the woods. But the region I’d picked to hunt was about 1,000 yards away from where my host had gotten trail camera pictures of the big cat.”
Cook was hunting with the head guide and his best turkey hunting buddy, Gatlin Jones. “Gatlin and I went to one side of a big hummock, and our host, Byron Hill, went to the other side. Since we didn’t know exactly where the birds would be, we listened from three different directions in an effort to pinpoint the gobblers and hunt them better the next morning. But we were wrong. Those birds were as timid as public-land turkeys that were accustomed to being hunted. Byron told us he thought the turkeys weren’t gobbling well because he’d seen the panther in that general region so many times.”
Fifteen minutes before the attack, Cook called Jones to ask him if he’d heard any turkeys gobbling. He responded with, “No, man. Byron and I are in the truck right now.” Since neither man had heard any gobbling turkeys, Cook decided that he only would call about every 15 minutes, hoping that a longbeard would come looking for what he thought was a hen. Cook was leaning up against the tree while wearing his Mossy Oak Bottomland camouflage (https://www.mossyoak.com), which blended in so well with the Florida landscape. Just before daylight, he’d given some soft clucks and purrs. Once the sun started to come up about 45-minutes later, he gave some very-soft clucks and barely-audible purrs and scratched the leaves like a hen turkey trying to find something to eat.
“After many years of hunting, I’ve learned that turkeys will make sounds that are barely audible, but often will cluck and purr very softly, yelp very lightly and scratch the leaves,” Cook explains. “These sounds are ones you won’t be able to hear 70-yards away. So, I started making the sounds that I’d heard real hens make because I knew turkeys were in the region we were hunting.”
Cook also put a hen decoy standing upright, about 25-yards from his stand. While talking to Gatlin who was in the truck, coming in to get ready to hunt, he said, “In about 15 minutes, drive back to where you’ve let me off, and I’ll meet you there.” As soon as Cook hung-up the phone, he heard a turkey gobble on the Wildlife Management Area (WMA) property just across from where he was hunting. He could tell that the bird was between 250-300 yards away from him. Since that was the first bird he’d heard gobble all morning long, Cook decided to yelp three times – not loudly, but somewhat louder than the light calling he’d been doing before sunrise. The tom gobbled back to Cook’s calling. Cook waited about 10 minutes for a response. He heard nothing. He then decided to call back to the gobbler using the same three yelps that caused the turkey to respond the first time. Cook made the first yelp and the second yelp and began to make the third yelp when his world suddenly exploded.
Cook was looking away from his stand, in the direction that he’d heard the bird gobbling. “I was so focused on looking for that gobbler out in front of me that I never heard or saw the panther before he attacked,” Cook recalls. “As soon as the big cat grabbed my face with his powerful claws, I believe it was just as scared as I was. I felt as though someone just had hit me in the face with a baseball bat.” As quickly as the attack occurred, Cook bounced back up, felt blood running down his face and watched the Florida panther walking back into the swamp. “I don’t really think the cat bit me,” Cook remembers. “I think he just gashed my face with his claws.”
A 20-yard opening was to the right side of the stand where Cook was sitting against a tree. Cook reasoned that when the panther reached the opening, it decided to charge, run as hard as it could and slap Cook with his paw, thinking that Cook, who was giving turkey calls, was a big turkey that he could kill and eat.
When the panther hit Cook, it knocked the shotgun out of his hands. “If I would’ve had my gun in my hand, I probably would’ve instinctively shot the panther,” Cook mentions. “However, in retrospect, I’m glad that I didn’t have that opportunity. I truly don’t think that cat was trying to kill me and didn’t know that I was a hunter. If he wanted to kill me, he could have easily, but when he hit me, he knew instantly that this was no giant turkey that he just had swatted, and he decided to go back into the swamp.”
The cat cut Cook’s eyebrow about 3/8-inch above his left eye and made another cut about 3/4-inch below his eye, all the way down to his chin. Another cut extended from the center of Cook’s nose down to the bottom of his nose. There was also a cut starting at the side of his nose that spanned his entire top lip.
After watching the cat vanish, Cook said to himself, “I’m bleeding like a stuck hog.” He immediately got his cell phone out of his pocket and opened the camera to see his face. But when he looked at the phone screen, all he could see was blood. “I wiped the screen off and noticed that I still had both eyes. I called Gatlin and said, ‘Hey man, I thought you were going to be here in 15 minutes.’” Gatlin replied, “It’s only been 13 minutes since you called me.” Cook responded with, “So much has happened in the last 13 minutes. I need you to come get me right now.
“When I spotted the truck coming, I just had walked up to where I was supposed to meet it. I took my turkey decoy out of the vest and put it in the back of the truck. When I turned around and faced Gatlin, his mouth dropped wide open. He asked me, ‘What in the hell happened to you?’ That’s when I told him and Byron that I was attacked by a panther.”
When they saw how bad Cook was bleeding, they immediately got some wipes to clean the blood off his face to learn how deep the wounds were. “I was looking in the mirror on the side of the truck as my friends were cleaning the blood off my face,” Cook says. “I saw another truck with a light bar on its roof and realized it was a game warden. As he came toward us, he asked me, ‘What’s your story?’ When I told the game warden my story, the warden didn’t know how to react. He immediately went to the truck, got his first-aid kit to put antibiotics on my wounds and treated me as best as he could. He then asked me to walk him to where the attack happened. With a look of disbelief, I said, ‘I don’t have time for that right now. I need to ride to a hospital and get my wounds treated.’”
Cook called his wife and tried to make a decision about where he should go for treatment – driving back to Kansas or being treated at the Florida hospital near where he was. Byron Hill guided the game warden down to the area where Cook was attacked, since he was the leaseholder of the property. Then the three men and the game warden left the woods. Cook changed clothes and went to the hospital in Lake Placid, Florida. The physician decided he needed to give Cook some numbing medicine to stitch-up Cook’s wounds. However, 7 years earlier, Cook had had a four-wheeler accident and had to have his nose stitched-up. When the doctor started administering the numbing medicine for the panther’s paw swipe, it created, “The most-excruciating pain,” Cook said he’d ever felt in his life. Since the wounds were so deep, they had to give Cook an excessive amount of numbing medicine before they started to stitch him up. Finally, Cook said, “I’m not getting stitched-up because I can’t stand the pain of the numbing medicine. If I have to, I’ll get up and leave this hospital.”
Three doctors consulted on how to best close Cook’s wounds and finally decided to use strips of tape. These strips weren’t the best way to close the wounds because there was a chance that they couldn’t sufficiently prevent serious scarring and infection. After the tape strips were used to pull Cook’s skin back together, the wounds leaked fluids for about three days. “I realized that I really needed stitches, but I just couldn’t stand the pain of the numbing medicine they’d have to use to stitch me up,” Cook emphasizes.
Two weeks later, Cook was almost completely healed. After spending only four days at home to give his wounds a chance to heal, he went right back to hunting turkeys. But, unfortunately he also had to take rabies shots. There never had been a report of a Florida panther having rabies, but the doctors explained that the cat could have killed and eaten an animal that did have rabies.
To learn more about turkey hunting, check out John E. Phillips’s book, “Turkey Hunting
Tactics,” at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007PK9B2G/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p2_i9
that’s available in Kindle, print and Audible versions. You may have to cut and paste this link into your browser. (When you click on this book, notice on the left where Amazon says you can read 10% of this book for free and hear 10% for free). To learn more about other turkey books by John E. Phillips, go to www.amazon.com/author/johnephillips.
Tomorrow: Jason Cook Tells What He Learned After a Florida Panther Attack While Hunting Turkeys