Welcome to a new six-part series on my quest for a world record Mountain Lion. Each week I will unfold my journey towards that feat. You will see behind the scenes my preparation, hard work, setbacks, disappointments, and my ultimate conclusion. I hope you enjoy my story.
There are many unknown facts about Mountain Lions and I have to admit there were several that I was unaware of prior to beginning my hunt for this majestic animal. Like all other species on earth, Mountain Lions must be closely monitored, regulated and their numbers managed. If not they will soon fall prey to their own demise.
These animals kill one deer per week on the average. With numbers like this, you can see how an overpopulation of these animals could wipe out a deer herd in short order. For example, 10 Lions can kill a minimum of 520 deer per year and they don’t discriminate. They kill fawns, does, and bucks, along with Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn, Desert and Stone’s sheep. The modern hunter, in conjunction with Fish & Game offices and Federal Fish & Wildlife team together, to manage all species while protecting and controlling their populations. It’s a very ugly scene when a species overpopulates and eats itself out of house and home, then starves to death or dies from disease.
Preservation of Animal Species
Each year hunters and other organizations raise and donate money for the preservation and continued growth in numbers of all animal species. During severe winters when food is difficult to find for Elk and Deer, various hunters groups will provide alfalfa for them to eat so starvation doesn’t take place. In turn, this action provides a healthy herd of animals for the Mountain Lion to hunt and feed on. It’s all about balance in the cycle of life. Money from hunting licenses and tags helps to build new habitat, water holes, and food sources to keep this cycle going in a healthy direction.
I have certainly done my part in helping to ensure this wonderful species will continue to survive for future generations to enjoy. Watch for my upcoming articles that will be featured in our weekly Quality Hunts newsletter where I will document six different hunting adventures in my pursuit of a mature Tom Mountain Lion with a bow and arrow across five states and one Canadian Province.
Lion Hunt #1: Nevada
My quest for a Mountain Lion turned out to be a much larger task than I bargained for. In my wildest dreams, I never thought harvesting a Mountain Lion could or would be such a challenge.
When I first thought of hunting a Mountain Lion I thought this would be an easy hunt once I was near the completion of my Super Slam. Let me tell you this was a huge mistake on my part. This is not a hunt to be taken lightly. I thought it would be easy because dogs were used for trailing and treeing the Lion. My brother Bob hunted Lions in Colorado and took one on the first day of his hunt. So I thought, how difficult could this be? Well, let me be the first to tell you a Mountain Lion hunt is everything but easy!
Lions have been present in many places I’ve hunted over the years from Sonora Mexico to British Columbia, Canada but as you already know they are seldom seen in the wild. The use of dogs can be the most effective way to hunt Lions and most of the time it’s the only way. These animals are the most elusive and stealthy of any creature in the mountains. After all, stealth is the key to survival for these animals. Without it, they would literally starve to death. Similar to the Lynx, Mountain Lions can walk on top of the snow with their large paws when most other animal species breakthrough making it very difficult to travel, much less hunt their next meal.
My first hunting adventure for a Mountain Lion began in the State of Nevada. This was a 10-day hunt but I was sure I would only need a day or two before getting my Lion. How hard can this be? I would drive around in a truck looking for tracks, turn the dogs loose, then go to the spot where the Lion was at bay and shoot him. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out quite like I thought they would. My guide and I got up at 5 am each morning with temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees. Plenty cold enough for snow but this was a dry ground hunt in the desert so fortunately, we didn’t have any snow to contend with.
On the first day of my hunt, we didn’t find any tracks so I thought day two would be the day I would get my Lion. Then day three, day four and day five passed. By now my eyes were about to pop out of my head from hanging out of the truck window in well below freezing temperatures while staring at the ground.
Then days six, seven and eight went by. Finally, on day nine we found an old female track in the dirt. I wasn’t after a female but at least we found a track and knew Lions were in the area. Unfortunately, that was the only track located as my hunt finished up the next day and I headed back home to Houston, Texas empty-handed. This definitely wasn’t how I had things planned for this hunt.
Lion Hunt #2: British Columbia
A few years later after the sting wore off from my first unsuccessful Lion hunt I decided to try my luck again, this time in British Columbia. I heard the success was very high and the cats were huge so I was sure this hunt would be a success. After packing my winter hunting gear and making all the necessary arrangements I boarded a flight to the city of Cranbrook in British Columbia, Canada. When I arrived in British Columbia I found that warm weather had blown in and the snow was all but non-existent. As I looked around I thought to myself, this cannot be good but I tried to remain positive. When my outfitter arrived at the airport he said we could look around in the low country on the first day before heading up to higher ground where we “should” have snow. So that’s exactly what we did. After finding no signs of Lions whatsoever on day one we packed our gear and headed for the mountains on day two.
This day began at 4 am since we had a long drive ahead of us and needed to be in the mountains by daylight. As our drive progressed we encountered a little more snow so things were looking up. Finally, we arrived at the hunt area and it was then time to slow down and start looking for Lion tracks. As the overcast skies began to let the sunlight through, we saw the snow was very patchy and the south-facing slopes were bare ground. It was also crusty and hard packed from rain and refreezing, which meant a Lion could walk on top without leaving a track. These conditions made the chances of finding a Lion track next to impossible but we pushed onward and hunted hard for the next several days. At the end of a 10-day hunt, I had nothing to show for my efforts except additional Lion hunting experience which helped me to become a better hunter.
Lion Hunt #3: Nevada
By the time this hunt came, I had 20 days of Lion hunting on the books and still needed to punch my tag. The question was, where should I go on my next Lion hunt? After more research, I decided to book with a different outfitter in British Columbia who supposedly had a 100% kill record. So I paid for my hunt that would take place the next winter. As luck would have it, the temperatures were warm and there wasn’t any snow so I put my trip off for another year.
In the meantime, I found myself in Arizona hunting Desert Mule Deer. My outfitter proceeded to tell me about a friend of his named Bud that outfitted for Lions. Bud is the houndsman that Arizona Fish and Game uses when they have a problem Lion, so he must be good, right? A few weeks later I arrived back in Arizona with my friend and business partner Joshua Treadway chasing cats again. This would be the beginning of my third Mountain Lion hunt. But this time I just knew luck had to be on my side. Snow was forecast for the next day so my timing was perfect.
Just as predicted it began to snow early in the morning. Bud informed me there had been a large Tom in the area for a few weeks now so our chances should be very good. Unfortunately, the snow came down extremely hard causing blizzard conditions so we called it a day and headed back to Bud’s house. We decided to get some sleep, wake up at 10 pm, eat dinner, then head back to the mountains and drive all night looking for Lion tracks. The temperature in Arizona that night got down to -1 degrees Fahrenheit which is something I thought I would never experience. The night went on hour by hour as we plowed our way through the fresh powdered snow. When the morning sun broke the horizon and we still hadn’t cut a track we decided to hunt a different location. After driving for an hour we started hunting again and continued until 3 pm that afternoon. By this time we were totally exhausted from lack of sleep and all agreed to drive back to Bud’s house again so we could crash until the next morning. When Bud first saw the snow he asked me, do you know what we call this in Arizona? I asked, what? His response was, “CHEATING”. I seriously think Bud had to eat his words after that marathon of a night.
For the next few days, we drove south to the desert and hunted Lions in the dirt (dry ground). Finally, I found several tracks in a dry creek bed. Bud let the dogs out to see if they could follow the trail. We had no plans of taking off through the mountains and catclaw cactus on foot after this Lion but several hours later that’s exactly where we ended up. Each of us took our pack and one bottle of water that lasted about 30 minutes in the hot desert. We chased this cat for 11 miles until the dogs lost the scent trail in a burn area. I’m not sure if I have ever been so dehydrated in my life.
The dogs were in such bad shape they had to be lifted into the kennel after returning to the truck. My legs, arms, and hands were bleeding and full of thorns. My Kuiu pants and shirt were shredded to pieces by the different types of cactus. This was day 5 of a 5-day hunt so you know what that meant. Another trip home without a Mountain Lion.
By now I was about to lose my mind so I booked 3 more Lion hunts for the coming winter of 2018/2019. I was determined to get my Tom so my hunts were booked for Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Now I had to wait 9 miserable months before having another opportunity to hunt these elusive Mountain Lions that were causing me so much grief.
Lion Hunt #4: Utah
My plan was to hunt Whitetail Deer in Kansas the second week of November then drive to Utah for my Lion hunt.
After taking a nice Whitetail I headed west with my friend Ken and spent the night at his house near Denver, Colorado. The next morning I was off to Price, Utah. These guys were as good as a Lion outfitter could possibly be. They have an excellent reputation for being one of the best on the planet. We had a couple of inches of snow to work with and hunted an area which had produced for years.
By now the story of my hard luck with Cougar hunting was starting to precede me. As we headed out for the first day of hunting my guide Bowdy told me, don’t worry, we will get you a Lion. Now keep in mind that Bowdy and I weren’t the only ones looking for tracks. Each day we had two other vehicles looking with sometimes as many as 5 or 6 people. On day 5 we finally located where a Lion had made a Deer kill and there were two sets of tracks. Our thinking led us to believe they must be a male and female so we turned the dogs out and hoped for the best. Hours later we finally had a cat in a tree. I was pumped. Grabbing my pack and bow I took off up the mountain almost at a trot. Soon I would have my Lion and be taking pictures to remember this day and to share with my friends.
Well, much to our surprise the Lion in the tree was a female. Just my luck! Shooting a female simply is not something I’m willing to do so we took pictures and video then tied the dogs so she could climb down and be on her way. Day 6 was a bust so I extended my hunt three more days over Thanksgiving. I’ve never in my life spent Thanksgiving day alone, in a hotel room and gone to a restaurant for a turkey dinner. But at this point, I was willing to do almost anything to achieve my goal of harvesting a Mountain Lion! The drive back to Denver and flight home without a Lion were almost unbearable.
Lion Hunt #5: Colorado
The only saving grace was that three weeks later and just before Christmas, I arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado for my 5th Mountain Lion hunt. This would make my 3rd Lion hunt in 2018. My Outfitter invited me to stay with him and his family while hunting. Unfortunately, his two kids and wife were sick with the flu. Yep, you guessed it. Two days later I was sick as a dog but nothing would stop me from chasing my Lion! I got up every morning, ate breakfast, poured my coffee, packed lunch and rode in the truck for two hours before unloading dogs and ATV’s.
The first three days we hunted the same area each day but didn’t turn up any tracks. On day four, we tried a different location. Immediately we struck a track and turned the dogs out. Evidently, this Tom had a big jump on us. Six hours later and getting close to dark the dogs were still trailing so we called them off and returned home. Day five was a repeat of the day before, but at least we had some action. That night after returning from the hunt, I took a shower and went to bed without dinner as the flu, cold weather, and lack of sleep were really taking their toll on me at this point.
The next morning we got up an hour earlier and went to a new area to hunt. It was still dark, and we hadn’t even unloaded before finding a fresh track in the snow. We got the dogs and our backpacks ready then waited until legal time before turning out the dogs. Soon afterward, the hounds were running in circles and headed back at us. This was when we realized there were several Lion tracks crossing the road within 100 yards of us. This had confused the dogs and to make things worse the sunny afternoon temperatures had started melting the snow, which was very sparse, to begin with. Most of the day was spent trying to make something happen, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be, AGAIN! Upon my arrival at home, I promptly went to the doctor and found that I not only had the flu, but I had bronchitis too.
Should I quit?
Should I give up?
Should I take a break?
Or should I hunt another species on my Super Slam list? These were only a few of the many questions my brother and friends were asking me.
My answer was always the same to each of them ---
HELL NO! I will never quit.
Lion Hunt #6: Wyoming
The verbal torture went on for two and a half months before I headed to Casper, Wyoming to try my luck again. This time I would be hunting with an outfitter that came highly recommended by two very good friends Ken and Chuck who live in Colorado. This hunt started off like all the others. Things went great until day one, lol. After arriving at the airport my bags, bow case and guide all made it safely. The first stop was to get my license and tag at the local Wal-Mart then find a fast food joint so I could choke down some food after checking into my room. As we pulled up to the hotel I opened the truck door and the wind almost took it off the hinges. It was blowing 40 mph with gusts of over 50 mph. After checking in and eating I emptied my backpack which I always use as my carry on bag and repacked it with my hunting gear. Now to get my clothes laid out for the morning, take a shower and get some sleep.
The next morning we met in the hotel lobby, loaded my hunting gear in the truck and drove to the mountains where my sixth Mountain Lion hunt would begin. As usual, the wind was much worse in the mountains than in town. We didn’t know for sure but thought the wind was blowing 40-50 mph with gusts to 80mph and temperatures in the low 20’s. There’s nothing quite like the pain of having your face blasted by blowing snow and ice crystals. Luckily the temperatures weren’t excessively cold since the strong wind was blowing out of the south. My outfitter Cody and I were in a side by side with tracks and the assistant guide Adam was riding a snowmobile. The first day produced no Lion tracks and no shortage of wind. As luck would have it one of the snowmobile skis broke and made steering next to impossible. It was quite a struggle getting back to the truck by dark.
On day two we decided to hunt the same area. Immediately we cut an average size Tom track where it had traveled down the road sometime during the night. The wind was blowing so hard we couldn’t determine how fresh it was due to the snow that had been blown into the track. The decision was to pass and keep looking. By late morning no other Lion tracks had been seen so we returned to the track we found earlier and tried to run it. The hounds had trouble from the very beginning as it didn’t take long to realize we should have started this Cat in the early morning. Hindsight is always 20/20. After trying for a few hours the dogs were called off the trail and we called it a day. On the way back to Casper while driving in the dark we had a flat tire on the trailer which carried our 4 wheelers. Just one more obstacle to overcome on this wild journey.
The third times a charm, or is it? After meeting in the hotel lobby we chose to give this mountain one more chance to produce a Lion. We knew this Tom had to still be somewhere in the area. After unloading both track vehicles we took off in separate directions. An hour later after coming to a forest service locked gate my guide Cody and I walked down the road to stretch our legs and check for Lions. With no sign, we returned to the side by side, turned it around and headed down the road. It didn’t take long before smelling what we thought was gasoline. After stopping to assess the situation we found the oil dipstick was half out of the tube allowing oil to splash on the engine. Cody said the last time something like this happened he destroyed his engine so he was very concerned as we decided to call it a day after only hunting for one hour that morning.
To make matters worse, we broke a track while driving back to the truck and trailer. The plan was to try and weld the broken track and call the mechanic to determine the engine trouble. After many discussions, we still didn’t have a diagnosis. Adam would not be joining us the next morning, which meant Cody and I would be doubling up on the small four-wheeler. Our vehicles were rapidly being retired from service.
After three days and nights, the pounding wind finally subsided to a calm 10 mph. The morning temperature on my fourth day was 5 degrees with clear blue skies, and it was amazingly beautiful. Today we planned to meet a friend of Cody’s who would join us for the hunt at a different hunting area called “The Bighorns.” Upon arrival, we unload the dogs and ATV’s right at daylight. Now the challenge would be to get Cody and I, our backpacks and my bow on the small 4-wheeler while loading a few hounds in the small kennel on the other four wheeler. After loading up, we started up a steep hill and into the mountains to find a Lion. We had only traveled a quarter mile before striking a fresh track in the snow. The track was so fresh Cody thought we might have actually jumped the Lion. Once we determined it was a Tom and what direction it was going, we turned out the dogs, and they immediately took off. It didn’t take long before they came running back towards us. To our disbelief, they lost the trail. Then all of a sudden they took off again in the wrong direction and 50 yards up the hill from the first track we found. We didn’t know in the beginning, but two Lions were traveling together. The dogs got turned around and off they went howling and barking.
Two hours later, after following the hounds through the steep snowy mountains, we knew the Lion was caught. Another 10-minute walk and there was my Mountain Lion in a tall pine tree overhanging a deep gorge. After determining it was a Tom and large enough to harvest, I moved around the tree for a good angle. Now I had to do my part by making a perfect shot placement. This would be the first arrow released at an animal from my new Mathews Vertix bow. I had practiced shooting and replayed this scene in my head over and over again. Finally, the arrow was on its way and found its mark, right through the heart. The Lion jumped straight up then came running down the tree and twenty yards past us before coming to a stop. The long pursuit was over; I had my Lion.
Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how many miles I put in traveling the roads in search of a Mountain Lion. When I add up all of the people that helped comb the roads looking for tracks plus the years, days and hours traveled, I figure that it took a minimum of 5,000 miles to harvest my Lion. While sitting at lunch with my assistant guide, Adam laughed and said, now that’s what I call a “World Record Mountain Lion.”
I definitely have to agree!