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.