Adventure! Part of why I love hunting out West has to do with my trips out there being surrounded with a sense of adventure. A quote I really love is “To experience amazing things, you have to go to amazing places”, and every time I’m in the Rocky Mountains I feel like I’ve situated myself nicely to experience an amazing adventure.
My buddy Jake’s brother-in-law, Ryan, is a houndsman and he invited us out to Western Montana to join him in chasing mountain lion over half-a-decade ago. Ryan has shot several cats and helped many, many people shoot mountain lions. One thing he really loves is helping newbies like us get their first cat. After five years of applying I was able to pull a tag for a unit near Ryan. I tried to educate myself by reading all I could online about cat hunting and tried to prepare with my usual workouts and shooting. Both my son and I tried to prepare (even though I was not bringing him on this trip) for the uphill shots that often accompany mountain lion hunts, and in the Red River Valley of MN we had to get a little creative on ways to practice.
Unlike any hunt I’ve ever been on we couldn’t plan when we were going to do this trip. We sat on “standby” for this hunt—we checked the weather report daily and simply waited for Ryan to call to say “Snow is comin’, get out here!” On Tuesday, Dec. 8th at 9:30 PM Ryan told Jake “Get out here!” I had to see my kids off to school in the morning (my wife had an early morning meeting at work) and get kid pick up and kid watching covered for the following day after school, but once those were accomplished, Jake and I were on the road. Thanks very much to my friends and mother-in-law who helped me with this! We had a long, but pretty uneventful trip out and pulled in at about midnight. The plan was to meet Ryan at 5:00 AM to go find a cat track. So we quickly unpacked and did our best to “sleep fast”.
The ground was bare when we arrived at midnight, but the snow was supposed to start during the middle of the night. We woke up at 4:45 AM and we were disappointed to see nothing but brown around- not a single flake flew while we slept. We talked with Ryan and his plan was to take care of some odds and ends and wait for the snow. We did our best to be patient and help out. After visiting Jake’s in-laws, eating a great breakfast, and doing some small tasks, we went and helped Ryan grind chicken feed. As we pulled in to the area we were going to accomplish this, a few little flakes were coming down. Before long we were excited to see the flakes were coming faster and getting bigger.
We looked up to see great big flakes coming down in mass quantity!
We finished up our jobs and got dressed. By noon we were on the road hoping to cut a track in time to get a cat in a tree before dark. To say we were treated to some amazing country would be an understatement. This is pretty country no matter where you’re from, but when you call the western edge of MN your home you really appreciate the views we were treated with.
I'm heading out with my son to try once again to help him get a ND buck. I'll post tomorrow.
P.S. Good luck to Ryan tonight!
Wish I had a shop with a door big enough to get the target up high enough to shoot at!!!
Good luck, Robb
Before we got up to these great looking spots we drove through the low ground. We saw lots of game down low, as you can see below.
It was clear we were in cat country and that we weren’t the only people looking for a kitty. Here’s a reasonably common sight at a local gas station.
We drove from noon to 5:00 PM and cut a lot of tracks. Here are a few of the tracks we saw.
Here are a couple pics of us goofing off that will give you an idea of the kind of terrain we were in. Most of the time we spent looking for cat tracks was in heavily treed areas that had very steep mountainsides. It was tough country to get around in for a couple flatlanders.
With all the snow, and the icy spots under the snow, we had to chain up Ryan’s front wheels.
At about 2:30 we pulled around a corner and saw a truck stuck in the middle of the small trail we were on. Ryan recognized the vehicle as one of the local guy’s rigs. We pulled up to him and offered to help him and his passenger dig out. He was in a small truck, in snow much too deep for his rig, and with no chains. He shouldn’t have been up there in the first place, but we helped get him out and pointed in the right direction. After half-an-hour we were all moving again. We saw him a couple times ahead of us, but mostly he was going faster than us. However, when we started to turn the corner on a switchback I saw the tracks of his vehicle skidding towards the side of the road on the sharp corner. I thought “Whoa, I bet that scared them!”, thinking they had lost control a little, but made the corner. Unfortunately, as we creeped around the corner we spotted this about 20 or 30 yards down the side of the mountain.
The driver’s girlfiend was just getting out of the door as I jumped out and tried to help. The driver was still inside, but he was alright. We helped them out, helped gather their stuff, and gave them a ride to town.
Maybe SHE was telling him how to drive!
I could never imagine a woman doing that though;>)
Glad they were OK.
Unfortunately, none of the tracks we cut that afternoon were from a mountain lion. At 5:00 we headed back to Jake’s in-laws for some grub. We ate a great meal and soon headed for bed. We got to sleep at about 8:30 PM and got up just three hours later and were out looking for tracks again at midnight. At 2:00 AM we found what we were looking for…
This was a pretty small track, but we noted it and kept on looking for a bigger guy. Conditions were perfect- not only was the snow slightly wet and as fresh as snow can be, but many of the roads we drove had not been driven by anyone else. This made finding a fresh track much easier and made us very likely to spot a track if there was one to find.
One significant delay was caused by the big winds that preceded our arrival. We often had to get out and cut our way down the trail. Ryan was the “chainsaw guy” and we were the grunts who moved the cut up trees. It slowed us down considerably, but we made reasonably short work of each of them.
At about 4:00 we found a second track. This track was much bigger than the first and one Ryan believed was worth running.
Ryan also got two calls from buddies during the night and each of them had found tracks for us to consider as well. It turned out one of them was in the wrong unit, but after talking through the three options we decided to go back to the second track we had found. We called Ryan’s buddies and they all met us there. Ryan’s buddies had a mix of very to somewhat experienced dogs as well as a couple pups that were getting their first exposure to mountain lion hunting. Obviously we would benefit from the work of these dogs, but the dogs would have an opportunity to “do what they do” and learn to do it better due to fact that a tag holder was around to provide the opportunity.
We got to the tracks and soon two other trucks showed up. Five serious and hard-core mountain lion hunters filled those other two trucks! We got out and met them and thanked them for their key help in trying to help me get a cat. From 5:00 – 7:30 AM we waited, told stories, and “hung out with the guys”. It was great listening to these guys! When it came to lion hunting, there was a nice mix of experience levels, but all of them clearly knew a lot (and importantly a lot more than me) and were fun to hang out with. Here are a couple pics of the dog boxes that the pooches rode around in.
Once we reached our legal starting time for the day they had the dogs “lined up” and they were off. After less than 100 yards the dogs seemed a bit confused and lost the track. One of the houndsmen kept saying “They’ll figure it out”, and he was right. Soon their barking and baying faded down the canyon. Ryan said “get in” and we headed down the road. After a few stops we heard the dogs again, about ½ mile downhill from our starting point and essentially straight up the steep mountainside from us. After a few minutes one of the houndsmen pulled up to us in his truck. He was looking at the GPS unit that allowed him to see the location of his dogs (GPS collars on each of them). He looked at the GPS unit, then looked at me and said “Your cat is 260 yards up there”, pointing up the steep incline. He also said “My pup is 890 yards that way”, pointing almost the opposite direction. I wasn’t the only one in the mix who had a lot of learning to do about mountain lion hunting! Jake asked if the cat was treed and the houndsman simply replied “Yep”. We grabbed our packs, my hunters orange vest, and my bow and off we went.
Is it the NORM to cut tracks at night?
Medicinemann, I got here a little while ago, but got jumped the minute I walked in. I can finally post now!
Even though it was only 260 yards to the dogs, it was just about as far uphill! That country was steep! It didn’t take long though and I could soon see the dogs moving around at the base of a large ponderosa pine tree. Ryan asked if I could see the cat, and with a little help, I spotted it. As we got closer I started to take a few pictures.
Within a minute I was above the base of the tree and nearly eye level with the cat. I ranged him and I was a mere 15 yards away. He was sprawled out in plain view.
I took pictures and started to ready my bow a little bit. I took off my jacket since I had time and I was overheated from the hike up. As I was doing this the houndsmen were getting the dogs tied off so I could take a shot.
Suddenly the cat went from comfortable and seemingly planning on going nowhere to up and moving. He walked down the branch he had laid on, turned around, then nearly fell when he got back near the base of the tree. He soon leapt out to a different branch and found a new perch.
He looks very calm and still in this picture, however, his lack of movement was short-lived.
He quickly relocated to a different spot.
I nearly had a shot while he was getting resituated, but I didn’t think the dogs were all tied off and certainly didn’t want to do anything that resulted in a dog or a person getting hurt. Not shooting when I could have would be a far smaller mistake than shooting when everyone and everything wasn’t ready.
One common theme that I hear talked about often in mountain lion stories is the chaos that inevitably accompanies a treed lion. I have to admit, I always wondered “Just how chaotic can this really be?” In my opinion if you’ve never done it before this question seems understandable. After being involved in one treed cat, however, I no longer wonder this. It was really unbelievable! Between the barking and baying and jumping and running around the dogs do, the tying up of the dogs, the houndsmen trying to be heard over all the racket the dogs are making, the cat doing everything it’s doing, and the adrenaline of the whole situation, it’s truly chaotic! It’s a really unique and incredible experience, but most notably loud and chaotic.
Ryan called me over near him for a shot, but it was quartering to me much more than I liked. A houndsman at the base of the tree called me down to him. I had a nice clear shot at the cat from there, but it was almost completely straight up. I said “I don’t like this shot.” Ryan soon encouraged me to take the shot, since it was clear and the cat had already gotten antsy once. Another houndsman hollered at me to take the shot as soon as I was ready. It was clear they wanted me to shoot. I said “Are you sure you want me to take this shot? I’m not in love with this angle at all.” They both looked at me and said “Shoot!” I drew my bow and aimed up, up, up! It was instantly clear that my very vertical shooting at home wasn’t nearly vertical enough for a shot like this. The cat was about 45 or 50 feet up in the tree and I was well under ten feet from the base of the tree.
Here’s a pic of the shot I had- the mountain lion was dang near straight up the pine tree and in one of the branches just a little to the right. The picture makes it seem like the shot was even less vertical than it actually was.
If you’ve never tried a shot like this, which I hadn’t, give it a try sometime! To get my pin on the cat I had to drop my back leg down and bend my knee a long ways, then I had to arch my back and bend back at the waist as far as I could. As uncomfortable as I was, I checked all my shot checkpoints and everything felt good. I found my anchor point, I had clearance with my arm, my grip felt good, so I leveled my bubble, found my 20 yard pin and centered it on my aiming point. I was confident I could make the shot, in spite of the extreme angle. I let the arrow go and hit exactly where I aimed.
The cat sprung straight up in the air from the branch and began to spin in my direction. I was fully aware of the fact that I was standing on the only flat spot anywhere near the tree and I had wondered if this might be an inviting location for the cat to land. As the cat rocketed up and spun it looked down directly at me and made eye contact with me for a split second. I immediately thought the cat was going to land right on top of me. I, of course, did what any real man would do- I ran like a little school girl behind a tree I had previously identified just behind me. The cat kept spinning, however, and went another 180 degrees before he passed below the branch he had been sitting on. He hit the ground and the houndsmen were immediately after him. I followed right away, going down the steep hill as fast as I could. Even I could follow the blood trail, in spite of being color blind- it was impressive!
Due to a miscommunication a couple of the guys let some of the dogs go from up by the tree. Ryan and I managed to intercept two of them and Ryan grabbed their collars. A third dog ran around us and headed downhill. I followed and 20 yards later I saw one of the more experienced houndsmen standing his ground, pointing a 44 Mag pistol into the brush right in front of him. He yelled at me to get over there and get another arrow in the cat. I ran over and to my amazement, I saw that the mountain lion was bedded and staring right at us, not more than 10 feet away from him. I had to move past the houndsman to have a clear shot, so he lowered his pistol for a brief second to let me slide by him. As I passed by the cat let out a hiss, clearly indicating he didn’t like me or the current situation. I wanted to put more space between the cat and me, but from the cat’s bed the hillside dropped sharply for about eight feet, but then plummeted almost straight down after that. I walked into the opening about eight feet from the cat. While I stood in the last available inches, before the mountainside dropped almost straight down, I tried to knock an arrow quickly. The small ridge suddenly gave way and I fell backwards down the steep drop-off. I somehow managed to catch myself after one terribly ungraceful “flop” and without looking up, knocked an arrow. I had only fallen about six or eight feet, but I could no longer see the cat. I scurried up the hillside and found a solid foothold so I could take a final shot. Just as I was about to draw my bow the cougar let out a low, throaty growl that made the moment seem even more like a scene from a movie. It was absolutely surreal.
I came to full draw, centered my pin, and let it go. The arrow blew through the cats vitals from the mere eight feet I was away from it. After exiting the cat it hit a rock and sent sparks flying up several feet high! However, I didn’t have a chance to admire these sparks because upon impact the cat pounced out of its bed straight at me. His front paws hit the ground and his back legs loaded under his hind quarters- he was like a loaded spring about to unload on me. He was about to make a final surge that I could have done nothing to prevent or even defend myself against. The houndsman stepped in and leaned forward as the cat shot out at me. However, he didn’t need to fire a shot- the cat didn’t have the strength to finish his attack and tipped over dead. He was less than five feet from me when he died.
The pic below shows where I stood for the final shot and I’m pointing with my trekking pole to the final bed of the cougar. You can see the blood from his final bed just off the tip of the pole.
I had been told about the next thing that happened, but I was still caught off guard by it. The dogs were released once the lion was dead and I couldn’t believe how they went after the dead cat. This is the point at which the dogs are given their big reward for all of their work. All of them aggressively went in after the cat- they bit, pawed, and mouthed the cat from nearly head to toe.
The dead lion quickly got pushed off the steep hillside it died above. All of the dogs immediately went after it. Occasionally it would get caught up on a tree, but soon they were chasing it down the sharp dropping mountainside again. They easily pushed, pulled, and wrestled the dead cat down the mountain at least 100 yards. The most experienced houndsman told me that this step is really reinforcing for the dogs and helps positively reinforce all of the behaviors they do to get a cat in the tree. Treeing a cat is great for the dogs, but getting a dead cat on the ground after the cat is treed is like providing a cookie to them for their hard work. As a researcher and person who thinks a lot about behavior and reinforcement in my work, this made good sense to me. It was really fascinating to see this play out with the teaching of the dogs and I was glad I could help get that big reinforcement to the ground for them to enjoy.
…we went to work on some hero shots.
The obligatory lion hug shot…
We took lots of hero shots and Ryan was obviously experienced at getting the cat to look nice in the picture. Not all of the pictures turned out, they never do, but we got some that I really consider keepers. Without him giving us direction, we would have gotten very few good pictures of us with the cat.
While we did this the houndsmen and their dogs hung out for a while. My one regret on the trip was not going over and shaking each one of their hands and patting each dog on the head before we started our little photoshoot. These guys were some serious, hard-core mountain lion hunters and I can’t tell you how tough they are. I wanted to thank each of them individually, but soon they said they were heading for the truck. I asked if they’d still be there in a bit and they said they’d stick around. However, when we got to the truck they had already taken off, in search of another mountain lion or a bobcat to chase with the dogs. I wish I could have thanked them better and I wanted to take them out and buy them some thank you/celebratory beers. However, when we contacted them a couple more times later that day and the next they were too busy looking for cats to come in to town for the free beer! I made sure they were taken care of in the beer department, but I wish I could have given a better thank you verbally.
The dogs had done a lot of the work getting the cat over 100 yards down the hill, but the rest was up to us. At first I said I wanted to get the cat down the hill by myself, but it quickly became apparent I needed some help to do it carefully (didn’t want to crack any teeth on a rock on the way down—either mine or the cat’s!)
Once we got home we skinned the cat.
He was a nice tom for the area- not an absolutely monster cat, but a very nice tom. Ryan said that this cat would be bigger than about 80% or more of the cats taken in the area. Obviously, I was happy as could be with this. The tom measured 7’4” and was fully equipped to wreak havoc on any deer or someone who might be foolish enough to shoot it from a distance of eight feet!
We also set up a meeting with the local game warden to get the hide tag and have a tooth pulled from the skull. This went well and we arranged it for Sunday morning.
Awesome story and awesome adventure. Really appreciate the extra trophy photos. Not sure why the "obligatory cougar hug shot" has become the standard - we don't do it for any other animals, but except for showing size compared to a human I find it a tad goofy LOL. The other trophy photos you have are so much more impressive IMO.
I tried to get one with bow several years ago and ended up having to use pistol. It's on my list to go back after one again with bow and your story certainly whetted my appetite!
Thanks so much for sharing and taking us along on your adventure!
Smarba- I remember your hunt and it was a cool adventure. If I remember right you had a close encounter that must have produced a high pucker factor for you too!
Destroyer- we didn't get a good weight on it. Best guess is somewhere around 120.
A couple more posts with some scenery and animal pics coming still...
Congrats Scoot you are more of a man than me!!
Here are a few quotes from this trip that Jake and I still laugh about. Most of them make absolutely no sense out of context, which is why I’ll include them and let you use your imagination! All of them were innocent and fun, but sound questionable (at best) out of context. LOL
Dude, there’s a toad on your couch!
Would you like the full experience?
I’m just gonna mount the trap!
The bag of guts.
So, how are you about following the rules?
Wall of weasel. He’s in the million pound club.
I stopped that car with an anchor.
I miss my wife.
How many tattoos does your brother have?
You have fisher?!?
He doesn’t even know his own name.
Sunday we met the game warden and took care of the cat, tag, and tooth. It went smoothly and was pretty fast. The warden seemed like a very nice guy. Ryan took us for a drive through some great country. Here are some pics of some of the beautiful scenery that we were blessed to see and be in that day.
A flyfisherman we saw when we were driving by a stream.
Taking the time to get good pictures is hard in the midst of all the excitement,so well done.
"Congrats Scoot you are more of a man than me!!"
I've heard you say a lot of BS statements (and I mean a LOT!), but that one takes the cake.
We cut one lion track on Sunday- it was a HUGE one! Ryan figured it was the track of a cat in the 170ish lb range, which is a dang big lion no matter where you are. I just found out last night that a hunter finally shot this cat yesterday—it was in the mid-150’s lbs, so not quite as big as his track suggested, but a dang big tom for this area none-the-less.
We also saw some bighorn sheep that day too. It was great watching them! I’ve seen a few sheep, but not many. There was a mix of all different size sheep in the group of about a dozen and here are a few pics I took of them.
I was happy to catch the pic below. Check out how close this guy came to catching a very sensitive spot on the barbed wire fence!
When we go back we cut down some tree limbs from a Ponderosa pine at Jake’s in-laws with the idea that we could use some natural habitat for a potential mount of the cat. I’m not dead set on a full body mount yet- it’s dang expensive! However, I’m hoping I can figure that out because a cat mount would be really great!
Jake and I reminisced about the trip the whole way home. I also wrote most of this story on the drive back. This was really a unique adventure and we enjoyed it immensely. I’m hoping to start to pay Ryan back next Fall if he comes and visits me in MN. He and the whole family were so great to us! This is the first hunting trip I’ve ever gone on and gained weight! We ate like kings and were pampered and spoiled from the minute we got there. I’m extremely grateful for the wonderful treatment, trip, and opportunity for another great adventure.
I usually end my stories with a sunset picture, but this hunt was unique enough for a different kind of picture to end things. Given the nature of this type of hunting, we were better able to get pictures of our quarry than I’m used to. I was pretty happy with some of the pictures we got, and here is one of my favorites. Thanks for following along—I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and hope the new year is great to you!
Not sure how to dedicate wall space or $, so I share your dilemma LOL.
For a short time I simply hung the tanned hide like one would do with a cased coyote or fox hide and actually liked that quite a bit, but my taxidermist was afraid that it would dry out too much and be prone to cracking if we decided to proceed with lifesize, so it's out of sight hydrated in the freezer. Not sure that's serving any real purpose at the moment...
Best of luck with your final decision!
Congrats on a great cat.
Lions and wolves are almost universally given greater in the field weights than they actually have.
Unless a cat was weighed on accurate scales at the time a weight is stated, you can figure a houndman's estimate to be 20-30 lbs. heavy. Thus a 140 is a 120 and a 120 is 100. :)
Most cats that are killed even mature ones weigh in the 85-120 lb. range. Bigger ones definitely do exist and in some locales are more common, but a 150 lb lion is like a 265 lb. buck. A 170 lb. cat is like a true 300lb whitetail.
I'm not saying any of this to diminish your trophy in any way. It's a beautiful mature cat and you should be proud of him! Just trying to add to the pool of knowledge that can be found on Bowsite.
This cat had all of us guessing his weight in the 130-140lb range before he came out of the tree. An accurate scale dampened our estimates when it pegged at 110 lbs. It had the biggest track we had run in years and we were expecting him to be a monster. However he just had big feet for his body size.
You are a master story teller and the subject matter on a cold winter day is even better. Thanks for taking us on the ride!
Gerald, I hear ya! There's a mounted mountain lion in my kids' school that the hunter and local lore claims is 240 lbs. Funny thing is that it is, at the very most, a tiny bit bigger than the cat I shot.
We actually weighed it on a bathroom scale and got about 120. We all thought this seemed too light, but after everything I've heard, seen, and read I imagine it was correct. I didn't mention the scale because I was so unsure of the weight, but in hindsight I think 120 must have been right. It was a tom and was 7'4" and given its build, I think that seems plausible.
When I did the "hug picture" I was just sure that thing weighed a lot more than that! I've carried 150 lbs and I was just sure it had to be all of that! However, this was "dead weight" (quite literally) and clumsy at that, so I suppose that's why.
Don't worry about diminishing this with your information- as far as I can tell everything you said is spot on. In fact I appreciate the info and honestly, nothing will take away from this adventure for me! As far as I can tell lion hunters are worse than fisherman when it comes to accurately reporting weights! I honestly didn't try to give an exaggerated weight, however! Plus, Ryan really knows cats and he knows big cats! He shot an officially weight 186 lber (scale measured and he's not a BSer) and he has been in on several other truly huge cats being shot.
Related to that, he told me something interesting that piggy-backs on one other point you made-- the 186 lb cat he shot had very average size tracks. They almost didn't run that cat because the tracks looked pretty good, but not really big. I know what big feet are supposed to tell a person about the size of, but apparently they tell you very little about the size of the pussycat.
Good luck this weekend:)
Thanks so much for sharing!
Your description of the contortions needed to make your first shot sure brought back some memories! A lion hunt is an incredible experience from all aspects for sure!
Also, the lion pic you stated was one of your favorites is awesome! It looks like a painting to me.
Congrats & thanks again for sharing it with us!
t-roy, I looked back at the hero shots and as far as I can tell I'm smiling in every one of them! I don't care for the "I'm too bad ass to smile after I shot this trophy look" in hero shots, so I try to genuinely show how happy I am. I may not be as cute as my kid (or even close), but dang it all I was a smilin'!!! LOL
Straight Shooter it definitely wasn't guided, but you're right- I had it better than a lot of guided guys have it. Ryan is really well connected and very well liked, so he had all kinds of people out scouring the countryside for us. He's been a houndsman and trapper since he was knee high to a grasshopper, so he knows all the guys who do the same stuff. He's also a really likable, pleasant guy who is easy going and easy to get along with, so that helped our cause too. He's liked by so many people that everyone seemed more than happy to help him out, which obviously meant helping me out too.
I can't tell you how lucky I was on this hunt with regard to the help, the spoiling we received at Jake's in-laws, my buddy Jake, the weather, and on and on... I'm used to pounding and pounding on my hunting trips until I finally have things work out (or not sometimes) and to have things unfold so quickly and seamlessly on this trip was a really pleasant surprise.
Thanks for sharing and Congrats on your Mnt. Lion.
Good luck, Robb
I wonder how many arrows you'd waste practicing shooting straight up? And where the heck they'd go?
What kind of mount you doing?! :)