As winter conditions bring more large mammals such as deer and elk into populated areas, predatory species such as mountain lions are also moving into Montana’s residential neighborhoods.

So far this year, six mountain lions have been killed in Missoula alone, and now a close encounter between a pair of children and a sickly mountain lion in Dillon has left another lion dead.

“We don’t know if it was a predatory attack or if the kids approached the lion,” Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Warden Capt. Adam Pankratz told KPAX.

Friday afternoon, a six-year-old boy and his friend were playing in the backyard of his home near Dillon went a mountain lion approached the pair, eventually taking a swipe at one of the boys’ legs.

“The lion took a swipe at one of the kids’ legs – didn’t break the skin or anything like that. No bite. The mountain lion didn’t follow up and chase them,” said Pankratz.

Frightened, the boys retreated inside the house where they alerted parents as to what had just transpired, prompting the boys’ father to search the area around his home for signs of the cat.

“The father came out and found the lion hiding in the barn and killed it,” Pankratz said. “It looked like it was starving or sick. (There was) something wrong with it.”

While mountain lions are very common throughout Montana, FWP reminded residents that attacks on humans are extremely rare.  Officials urge residents to act aggressively, stand tall and make a lot of noise in the event of an encounter.