That is one BIG padded paw! About the size of a large canine, but without the tell tale claw marks dogs leave behind (a distinct hole over each pad even in shallow dirt because dog, fox and coyote claws are not retractable.) A track without the claw holes is a feline track, and because these tracks were deep in the mud and there were at least several to look at all without canine claw mark --- I believe these are tracks made by the rarely seen, elusive, almost extinct and hotly debated Native Mountain Lion!
Some other signs that a mountain lion passed through by my cabin are during that week these tracks appeared my cat (a domestic cat named Toots) was terrified to go outside at night (and during the day) - I found more tracks down by my garden, all following along the path of the creek downward on the mountain. Also in this area where the tracks were, the deer tracks that normally were all over there disappeared for a time.
People in the appalachian mountains have argued for quite some time whether the Mountain Lion of the area was completely extinct now or whether a few remained well hidden - I have heard stories from a handful of reliable people who have seen the western north carolina mountain lion ( chasing a wolf in the snow in Brevard, through binolculars during a deer hunt in Hot Springs, gracefully hopping a fence at the top of a ridge in Marshall, sitting outside a chicken farm's large coop in Marshall...) --->
As for myself, aside from seeing these amazing tracks pictured here - 5 years ago in Weaverville, NC far back in the woods off Reems Creek Rd. around 3 a.m. I heard the scream of the mountain lion on top the ridge behind the little house I was staying - exactly as people describe it sounded like a woman screaming a blood curdling scream but was unmistakably an animal. It was chill inducing, and made it so I could not fall back to sleep- I knew exactly what it was when I heard it.
Another interesting twist on these tracks, was this was the same place I found what I thought were bobcat tracks... although those were washed away with the rain, a new set of bobcat sized tracks were only 7-10 feet away from these large feline tracks - possibly it could be a cub of the mountain lion and not a bobcat? That would be awesome. :)
What do you think? The "Painter" as the old timers called it was a feared animal, and between people shooting them on sight out of fear and the wiping out of deer at one point led to this now mysterious status for the native puma...
Do you believe they are still here?
After seeing these tracks behind my cabin, I do.