Timing's everything when it comes to spotting wildlife, and it's amazing to think how little random decisions and distractions set up that lucky timetable of right place, right time.

A puma taking down a mule deer in British Columbia. Image: Ryan Headlee

Right place, right time certainly describes Ryan Headlee's fortunes on November 4, when, after a "bitter cold" day of cruising backroads on south-central British Columbia's Thompson Plateau near the city of Kamloops, he came across a band of mule-deer does.

In a post to Facebook (h/t Wide Open Spaces), Headlee explains he "was just checking [the deer] out when, all of a sudden, this mountain lion jumps out of the bush next to me with a loud snarl, and takes down a doe, throwing her to the road!"

Headlee managed to take some pictures of the attack on the frosty road: the puma applying a trademark throat-bite to the doe as it manoeuvred her to the shoulder.

The puma applying its trademark throat-bite. Image: Ryan Headlee

"I watched the deer expire and I locked eyes with the cougar for a few minutes until a passing car scared him off," Headlee wrote. "What a feeling to witness such a rare event! The explosive power of this cougar really surprised me!"

Across their vast North American range, pumas (aka cougars or mountain lions) stalk a wide variety of animals, but ungulates are overall their most important prey – that's not the case in Central and South America, by the way, where small and medium-sized mammals make up more of the cats' diet – and in many areas deer specifically serve as their signature quarry.

Headlee isn't the first person to watch a puma/deer contest play out in the middle of the road. A similar attack was filmed in central Colorado in 2008:

And, rarely, this kind of predation is a trailside spectacle: a few years back, a jogger in Northern California witnessed a drawn-out struggle between a puma and a blacktail buck.

Feather-footed stealth, explosive short-range speed and gymnastic leaping ability, combined with major muscle and a throttling bite: a solo puma is well equipped to take down deer as big (or bigger) than itself. But brand-new research suggests the solitary hunters aren't always so solitary when it comes to eating: Panthera's Teton Cougar Project has uncovered evidence that pumas may share their kills with others, perhaps in a quid pro quo sort of social arrangement.

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Header image: Garret Voight/Flickr