As hunters we have all been there before: lying in bed the night before a special hunt, unable to slow down our thoughts. For a lot of us, North America’s wild sheep will keep us awake. For others it’s the anticipation of that bugling September bull elk you envision at 30 yards, or the giant mule deer that many of us love to pursue. For me on this December night, it was a British Columbian mountain lion.
It was almost 11:00 p.m. and still snowing. At this point the big white snowflakes were thick as they fell through the near-full-moon night sky. I switched on the light outside on the house’s front deck and could see the snow was moist. It was exactly what we were hoping for; we just needed the clouds to blow over and not hand us anymore snow overnight — that way we’d be able to see a tom’s fresh tracks in the early morning.
My dad has been a houndsman for years, and earlier that same day we planned on rounding up the hounds the following morning and taking them out for a little tour. I called my dad and we decided that if it stopped snowing within the next couple hours, we’d try our luck first thing in the morning to get the dogs out for a run — if the opportunity would present itself in the form of a nice tom’s track that is.
I sat on the couch thinking to myself that I would wait until 12:30 to see if the snow would stop falling, and it did, at 12:20. We were going hunting in the morning! My gear had already been packed, the bow was ready to go, and so was I. The only thing I needed to do was sleep, and luckily at some point I drifted off. I say luckily as we had no idea what we were going to get into the following morning.
Five o’clock rolls around awfully quick, especially when you’ve barely napped. The route we planned out the previous day was about a four-hour trek through some amazing deer country where we had seen numerous cat tracks in recent years, including a few sets of definite Boone and Crockett lions.
As we let the diesel truck warm up in the brisk morning air, we gathered up all the tracking collars for the dogs and made our way up to the hound pens. One after the other, they would pour out of their dog house howling and barking with excitement. They all knew what was going on and they are always just as excited as we are to go out and try to tree some cats. My dad has had numerous dogs over the years; mainly Blueticks, but also Black & Tans and Walkers, among others. We outfitted five dogs with the GPS collars. Each hound has his own specific collar, labeled with his name and synced to the GPS, which then lets the houndsman know exactly what each dog is doing, which direction they are headed, and how far ahead of us the dogs are.
The hounds were all set, and as we opened the gates of their pens, they all raced for the truck, jumping up and laying their paws on the tailgate, impatiently waiting for us to make our way down to load them into the dog box. It was finally go time.
The snow conditions were perfect. Our eyes were glued to the road in front of us, scanning both sides of the road, in the ditches, and open hillsides using the light from the truck. An hour and a half had gone by at this point, and besides the moose, deer, and rabbit tracks, we hadn’t seen much. It was quiet in the truck for a while and I found my head swaying around as the few hours of sleep were starting to show.
Moments later, my dad spotted a huge set of lion tracks! He stepped on the brakes and put the truck in reverse, backed up about 30 feet, and stepped out to have a look. It was without a doubt the biggest cat track I’d ever seen. The dogs must have sniffed out the cougar because they were absolutely losing their minds. They knew exactly what they were about to do, and they couldn’t wait to do it. We stepped back in the truck and warmed up while we organized a couple things. I grabbed my compound bow and pack out of the backseat and I only had one thing on my mind: release the hounds and tree one of North America’s most amazing predators.
My dad grabbed the lead dog Lucky, one of the Blueticks, and let him sniff out the track. After a short period of time, Lucky was off the leash and leading the way for the fired-up hounds. As daylight started to fade in, the hounds were hot on this tom’s tail. We stayed by the truck for about ten minutes, paying attention to the location of the dogs on the GPS. They were all in one group, with Lucky still in the lead, and tearing thru the country in a hurry.
We started to follow the dogs as they were headed down a steep ravine in thick timber. Unfortunately for us they were headed straight towards the lake, which for my dad and I meant we’d be walking a while since we had no roads to cut off the dogs and save ourselves from walking at least a few kilometres. At this point we knew it was going to be a long day.
It took us about two hours to work our way past all the blown down trees and six-foot brush that was as thick as I’d ever seen. Finally we made it to the lake, and at this point the dogs were six kilometres ahead of us. The cat had run right along the shoreline of the lake with the dogs not far behind. The hounds were so far gone there were times we couldn’t even hear them anymore. My dad and I had to do our very best to get to the dogs as quickly as possible.
Not having gained any ground on the hounds as the hours ticked by we were starting to get trail weary. Finally the GPS notified us that the dogs were treeing. We were moving as fast as we could thru the snow, ice, and cold December afternoon. I could not feel my face, fingers, or toes, but at that point I didn’t care. My only worry was that if we didn’t get to the treed tom in time he could jump from the tree and take off again, taking us even further into the cold northern British Columbian hills. I remember my dad and I smiling and laughing when we looked at the GPS and happily staring at numbers that were followed by a ”M” for meters instead of “KM” for kilometres. The last 300 meters didn’t let up on us either. It was a complete grind from the get-go, and by the time we made it to the dogs we were pretty beat, having walked 15 km thru some of the toughest country in our area.
Looking up the tall, old pine tree at this beautiful, amazing, yet deadly predator was something else. The whole setting was perfect and a sight I’ll never forget. We took a bunch of pictures of the hounds doing what they love and of this true 200-pound monster mountain lion. What a hard — and perfect – day.
My dad and I tied up all the hounds and I grabbed my bow and searched for a good shooting lane and angle on the cougar. I had fallen a few times in the snow and my bow felt very rough on the draw as the cams were covered in snow and ice. As I drew my bow back the cams began to squeak, and that’s when the cat leaped off the tree from 20 feet and hit the ground running. I couldn’t believe it.
We let all the dogs go as quickly as possible in the hopes they’d be able to tree the cat again. Fortunately the cougar climbed another tall pine 150 meters from us and this time went about 40 feet up the tree and rested on a thick branch. I quickly got there with my bow and wasn’t about to let very recent history repeat itself. As I walked towards the tree, looking for the best spot to take a clean shot, I broke off the frozen snow and ice from my bow’s cams, really not wanting to mess up again!
I drew my bow, settled in, and picked my mark right behind the massive cat’s shoulder blade. I slowly squeezed the trigger on my release and sent an arrow right where it needed to go. The perfect shot had this mature tom down within minutes.
The hounds did an amazing job of sticking with the cat and treeing it twice. My dad and I couldn’t have been happier. We took a couple of pictures to capture this unforgettable hunt and got to taking care of the cougar. After getting all our gear rounded up and the cat in the pack, we prepared ourselves for what would be a painful, grueling hike back the way we had come. Even the dogs tried to curl up under a tree every few hundred yards, not wanting to carry on. We had ten kilometres left to hike in the pitch black night, with nothing but our headlamps to guide us, but it felt like we had walked at least double that. I will never forget the feeling of joy when I finally saw the truck parked beside the road at 2:00 in the morning. We made it back at last! Just under a 32 km round trip; we were beat.
Looking back on this hunt now brings back incredible memories. For me, the thrill of cat hunting isn’t about the kill shot. Cat hunting is all about watching the dogs work and do their thing. Hearing the hounds in the distance, running hard knowing they may tree a beautiful cat, is what will get me out again soon. The best part of all is being able to do this with my dad. He is a great houndsman, and seeing him light up when his dogs are treeing is tough to top in my eyes. If you ever get the chance to go on a mountain lion hunt, you owe it to yourself to do it. I guarantee you will have an adventure and a half.