Contributors to this thread:
NM Capitan's Public Land Success
In the fall 2013 I began the dialogue of lion hunting with a buddy of mine that I had met some years ago. Josh is the brother-in-law of one of my best friends from college, and that association is how I first met him. In fact, the first time I met Josh, he took me on a cow elk hunt on his family's property in NE New Mexico just because I was friends with his soon to be brother-in-law. Now Josh is a born and raised cattleman and what I often picture as the protagonist of an archetypal John Wayne movie. He's as genuine of a person you could hope to meet. He's soft spoken, tall, and wears a different paisley scarf everyday. For all of the reasons above, when Josh told me I needed to make time to get up there for a lion hunt, I knew he meant it and that I needed to make it happen. Unfortunately for me, I had an extremely busy winter and spring 2014 and never made the time. Fast forward to Fall 2014, it was time to make a plan and make it happen.
I had the vacation to take a full work week off, but Josh advised that I simply watch the weather and try to get up there on the front end of some fresh snow. While snow hunting isn't his preference, he recommended hunting the snow as it would potentially cut the number of vacation days I'd have to take to be successful, and knowing nothing about lion hunting, I agreed. As an aside, I'm obligated to note that Josh doesn't like hunting the snow. In fact, he turns his nose up to snow hunting in a lot of ways. His ideal lion hunt is on the back of a rough, but trustworthy mule, behind a pack of dogs, and on dry ground. According to Josh, this hunting style cuts the competition, makes the dogs work for it, and gives the cats a chance. To say I was shocked to learn that this "Road Less Traveled" approach was Josh's preference would be an understatement, but it gave me insight as to what a true houndsman is. I was, and still am, impressed by the "fair chase" ethics Josh's cat hunting ideology is based on.
This is going to be good!Can't wait to hear the rest.
I've been waiting on this a week Wes !
I checked the weather for Capitan, NM on a near daily basis from October through the end of 2014. While there were some snows in the mountains, they were always very localized or a low percentage forecast that came to fruition; never something I’d bet on if I wasn’t desperate. Finally, the week after Christmas came and a winter blast hit the majority of West Texas and Eastern NM. On Tuesday, December 30, 2014 my office shut down at 3 p.m. to try and beat the Midland/Odessa traffic on deteriorating road conditions. I passed or witnessed no less than a dozen wrecks on my way home. That night there were 140+ wrecks in Midland alone. Work was cancelled for NYE, New Year’s Day was a vacation day, and work was again cancelled for the January 2. The forecast for snow in the Capitan’s had jumped from 40% to 90%, and I knew there would be no better time to go. With the roads still iced over and most local businesses screeching to a slow crawl in wake of the weather, I had my window to get out of town before the freezing rain started up again, and I took it. I left Midland by noon and eased on toward the mountains. This trip normally takes 4-4.5 hours and I made it in 6.5. I was somewhere between Tatum and Roswell, heading west, when I hit a white out snow storm that slowed traffic to a crawl. Again, there overturned vehicles and wrecks, and I was glad to make it to Roswell in one piece. Luckily the snow slowed and I made it to the north side of the Capitan’s around dark and just in time for a pizza dinner with Josh, his wife, and 3 year old daughter.
Josh immediately opens up the Forest Service maps and begins briefing me on the plan for the morning. He solicits my feedback, which was utterly worthless, but still made me feel like I had a hand in the process. We finish up and he drives me to the kennels to introduce me to the hounds and feed them. By this time the silver dollar snowflakes are coming straight down and the Coors Light in my hand felt more appropriate than ever. We crawl into bed by 8:30, optimistic with the fresh snowfall, but knowing that the 2 a.m. alarm would come all too soon. I didn’t sleep much at all. We awoke to 4 inches of fresh powder on the ground and our tire tracks were the only set we saw until 4:30 that morning.
I’ll cut this next part short: that morning, we saw one set of lion tracks that were either 2 days old in or blown in overnight, or both. We ran across a few fresh bobcat tracks, but we were saving that as a last ditch effort in the event that we didn’t cut any lions by midday Sunday. We were there to hunt lions, not bobs. The wind picked up to 30+/- mph and the snow from the trees blew down and into any fresh tracks that may have been there earlier that morning. By 11 a.m. our hunt was done for the day. While I was disappointed with the lack of success that morning, I was optimistic for Sunday. I’ve read too many stories from Chuck Adams, Bowsite, and other publications where mountain lions become the hunter’s “White Whale.” I remained optimistic, but the very real thought of me going home empty handed lingered somewhere in the back of my mind. Josh was predictably apologetic given our high hopes with fresh powder and early start, but I kept telling him not to worry about it. I was seeing new country, catching up with an old friend, and enjoying the weather. “There’s a lot of worse ways to spend a Saturday morning and it only takes one,” I kept saying. I truly believed it.
The one on the right looks like he is hung over. I've seen that look in the mirror. ( years ago ) Wes, it's raining here like a cow pissin' on a flat rock, my electricity is out, and this is the only entertainment I have. Be kind !
We meandered through town, filled up the gas tank, got some coffee and a couple of gut bombs from the convenient store, and headed home. On the surface, it sounds ridiculous that we were beat after simply driving around for the past 10 hours. As it turns out driving on Forest Service roads that really aren’t much worse that NM roads forces one to engage their core to keep from slamming their head into the window. I would know, because a momentary lapse of morning consciousness planted my head square into the passenger window thereby waking me up.
We made it home by 2 p.m. and watched recorded episodes of “Uncharted” until we both passed out. We awoke with renewed enthusiasm and opted to drive around the property Josh ranches to see if any critters were moving in the wind. We spotted a few mule deer, but nothing special. The remainder of the night was spent smoking Buteras, drinking Coors Light, and debating perspectives on ethics, hound hunting, veganism, and Joe Rogan. I’ll digress to inform you that if you’ve never listened to the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, you don’t have a clue what you’re missing….so I’ll tell you: 3 solid hours of shooting the bull with the likes of Steven Rinella, Remi Warren, Tim Burnett (Solo Hunters), Cam Hanes and most recently Jim Shockey. They’re not only entertaining, but also not surprisingly informative. They honestly force the outdoorsman to take an introspective look at the rules, laws, ethics, ideologies, and moral compasses that govern the decisions we all make. After we had filled the low volume capacity of our minds with enough debate make congress proud, we decided to turn in for the night.
Haven't heard from him since he started the "a new level of archery" thread.
it's going to take longer the write the recap than it did to kill the cat. maybe Wes can only write if it snows. must not be a "dry ground" writer.
I'm like a crack ho over here!!!
Wes u killing us dude lol I'm about to finish the story with the pics u sent me!!
wake me when/if this thing gets fired back up.... =D
maybe we should start writing the story. each one of us taking a day.
Ok then Bou'....here you go.
At first light the next morning we headed back in to look for another track. Within the first hour we came across a decent track.
This for sure wasn't the biggest cat, but at least it was real fresh. Interestingly, the cat appeared to be following a bull elk.
We quickly made the decision to dump the hounds and see what happens.
Bou: "dry ground writer"...very well played.
You guys are out of control. It's been an exceptionally busy week at work and I haven't made the time just yet. I don't want to cut it short as I enjoy the story telling and want to get it right the first go-around.
Glad to hear you all are ad-libbing the remainder for me in the meantime haha; that's a first. I'll make time to finish it up this week.
Quit draggin your tail Wes :)
Y'all wouldn't want me to take a turn. The story would come to an end about 300 yards up the mountain when my flatlander's lungs gave their last gasp !
The next thing I remember is waking up to Josh flipping on the lights, “It’s already 3, damn snooze.” We hurriedly got dressed, loaded the truck, and grabbed coffee to-go. We were working our way up the mountain by 3:45. Most of the easy hunting snow from the day prior had melted, and what little value I was able to add by scanning fresh powder from tracks quickly faded to utter uselessness. The snow leftover was confined to the edges of the roadways and shady areas in the timber. Driving was slow and reading the tracks was even slower. Deer tracks were in elk tracks were in cattle tracks were in tire tracks. Neither of us expected to cut a cat, but the old adage “you can’t win if you don’t play” was the theme for the morning. The first of the Forest Service roads proved disappointingly fruitless and predictably rough. We started up FR road #2 for the morning at 5 a.m. As late as we were, at least relative to the day prior, we were pleased to see that we were the first set of tracks going up the mountain on the second road as well. That’s just part of the game when it comes to public land hunting. For those of you that have seen the newer Italian Job, the phrase “the devil is in the details” come into play here, because this little detail proved to be our success. FR #2 was slow going, but half way up Josh slams on the brakes and jumps out. I follow suit. He didn’t have to say it, but he did: “That’s a big cat, and that track is smoking hot!” This was the metaphorical trail that Stevie Wonder could follow. Fortunately for us, though, we had hounds.
you were hunting metaphoricals?
Naw....metaphorical season doesn't start till spring in most places....on second thought, considering the pace of this story.... =D
It actually almost hurts waiting this long!
Stevie Wonder could type this story faster! Killin us here Wes.
This has gone from an inside joke to a true waste of time.
The only thing i can imagine was the cat was chased from NM to California where it was treed and shot and the hunter can't finish the story due to that fact.
He's chasing it back to NM, where he can finish the story.
Give him time guys, and don't be so impatient ! Tick, tock, tick tock ! :)
He's waiting for the mount to be completed to finish the story
My apologies for the exceptionally tardy and predictably underwhelming end to the story. After a couple of crazy weeks at work, a short vacation, and a lost hard drive, I'm finishing up now. I'm by no means an exceptional writer, but I enjoy all of the stories shared on Bowsite, from great literary technique and rhetoric to simple stories. I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle, so thank you for the critiques (Bou) as there's always room for improvement. More than anything, I hope you enjoy my memory of the hunt and I hope the photos share some of that experience with you.
Sunrise wasn’t until 7:07, which put legal shooting light at 6:37. In New Mexico, you can’t hunt until legal shooting light, so we were forced to wait. Again, the track was pretty hot, but after striking completely out for the previous 15 hours of lion hunting, it would be a terrible thing to lose a cat because he hears hounds in the truck, takes off, and puts too much ground between us and him before we have a reasonable chance to get at him. All of these seeds of doubt crept into my mind despite having the closest thing to a bird in the hand you can get on one of these hunts. After waiting an hour and change, we geared up, got the dogs amped up, and let everyone go. They were hot from the get-go. I tried to keep up with Josh as he tried to keep up with the dogs. All the while we were watching the chase on his Garmin. It was a neat thing to watch Josh stop, listen, and tell you who is in the lead based on the characteristics of the barks. A few of the dogs would bawl and a few would sing, but they all were saying the same thing. Josh would validate his guesses of who is winning the footrace by queuing up the Garmin and showing me where everyone was at. After about a half hour, the dogs were two ridge lines over and we were struggling to stay within ear shot without stopping to listen closely. About this same time, Josh showed me the GPS and told me they had jumped the cat and were no longer trailing. This was evidenced by the unanimous excitement in the dog’s voices and the 90 degree turn down the canyon they were in. The trail went from a meandering tracking job to a straight line hunt. The next 15 minutes were a foot race. There was once or twice where it looked like the cat had treed as all of the dogs piled up. It all happened too quickly to say with any certainty, but if he had treed, it didn’t last long. 45 minutes into the chase, the dogs were treed. It took us 2 ridgelines and another 30 minutes to get there. I had the camera rolling when we came over the final ridge. Josh stopped on a dime and began pointing across the canyon. I hurriedly made it to the edge and looked across. We were 200 yards away from the pine that had the big tom in it. He was more or less eye level at this point, and probably 35 feet up. This is an image that is burned into my mind. It was my first time to see a wild lion and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. We both just stood there for a minute admiring him and listening to the hounds. It was beautiful. I was in awe.
Being as the cat didn’t seem too nervous, we snuck up to the tree to take more photos and videos. The scene can only be described as utter chaos. Dogs were running around baying their heads off. Fights were breaking out here and there. It was incredible to see that monster of an animal in the tree staring back at us. Part of me was disappointed that didn’t snarl or show any teeth, but the look he did give us made the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end. He just bored holes through us, giving each of us an opportunity to feel that chill, before turning back to the dogs who were still running all around the base of his post. His calm demeanor seemed to drown out the hounds, though. It was a strange scene altogether, and one I won’t soon forget. Finally the big guy began testing his pads and treading lightly in place, seemingly preparing for something we on the ground were all unaware of. It was time for me to do the one and only thing required of me. After the year or so of back and forth planning, the let-down of the previous day, and the anticipation of the morning’s chase, there was a strange realization that really, the only thing I had to do was pull the trigger. There was effectively no skill on my part in finding a track; I simply rode along. I didn’t put the cat in the tree; the dogs did. While I was no doubt excited that there was a last chapter in this lion hunting experience, that excitement was juxtaposed with the disappointment that it was about to be over. I was strangely conflicted in the seconds leading up to the shot, but alas I only had one responsibility; I had to make the shot. I remember easing to the only spot that offered me a clear shot from the ground and feeling like I was directly beneath him. I remember how awkward I felt drawing back and leaning, leaning, leaning. I remember telling myself to bend at the waste and to aim low as the horizontal distance wasn’t even 10 yards. I remember exhaling and telling myself to squeeze. As it often does with vivid memories, everything unfolded in slow motion. The comforting sound of an arrow impacting ribs was the final piece of this quiet, slow memory. Immediately, the big tom jumped out of the tree and hit the ground running. He was much quicker than I expected, but that speed was short lived. In two impressive bounds and 20 yards, he melted stone dead. The canyon erupted with dogs singing my praise, each in their own beautiful way.
great job. story worth waiting for, Wes. Well done!
Beautiful lion Wes and a great story! Congrats and thanks for sharing!
Great story Wes & congratulations on a nice cat as well! Nothing quite the same as a lion hunt.
I figured that you were too busy picking out which pose you were going to use on your cat to finish the story!!
Congrats! Great story, you don't read many DIY lion hunts, thanks for sharing this one with us. One of the coolest parts.... you can tell your friend was into his hounds. I love hunting with the team.
I know these write ups are a lot of work. And I know life starts throwing stuff at you at the worst possible times. Thanks again for bringing us along on the hunt.
Even if it was a really really long hunt.... =D
Thanks for getting back to us and congratulations! I really enjoyed your hunt.
Bou said it, worth the wait ! Now, when you do get it mounted, we will want more pics ! Congrats on a great cat !
Great story and hunt. Forrest
Congrats! I'm glad I caught this one at the end.
Congrats! Be sure to eat that meat. Lion is very tasty and similar to pork actually.
Thanks very much for taking the time to share the story with us in words and pictures. I really enjoyed experiencing it through your efforts.
Congrats Wes!! I'm sure some of you remember but some probably don't know but Wes also killed a giant pronghorn this past September . Talk about a great season wes!
-Butcher Boy - I've already had one of the backstraps and it was great. Extremely lean and easy to mess up but that's any wild game.
-CajunArcher- I'd rather be lucky than good! This is the first year I've killed anything worth mounting (exception: a few ducks). Thanks for the kind words.
Nice! Worth the wait for you and us both.
Glad I just not checked the thread...the waiting would have been hard on me.