Cougar Hunt January 2007

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday January 16, 2007

I got a call last night from Abe Dougan of Big Boar Outfitters in Kamloops, British Columbia. Abe has an extensive area in southwest British Columbia taking clients on hunts for spot and stalk black bear, mountain goat, mule deer, California bighorn sheep, wild bison, mountain caribou, cougar, lynx, bobcat and wolf. I was on call for a cougar hunt with him. He had postponed my arrival a week earlier because of poor snow conditions and lack of cougar activity in his northern hunting area near Fort St. John BC. I was very antsy waiting for the call to come this time. I had been forced to cancel my previous flight and now I had to hastily check out the options to get to Kamloops by Wednesday evening. The costs were all around $2000 for a flight, possibly flying standby with several connections to make and little time between. It seemed a little problematic to me. I went online and did a quick check on mapquest.com and decided that 1780 miles seems possible to drive in two long days if I really go hard. I confirmed this insanity with my friend Ron and wife Sarah, purposefully not asking my mother what she thought. I was sure she would not like the idea. I was almost packed anyway, so I scrambled to get a work schedule together for my 10 employees and load the truck for the brutal marathon. I grabbed five hours of sleep and left home at 5AM headed west out of Minneapolis on I94. It was very cold, 18 degrees below zero Fahrenheit in Fargo, North Dakota. As the sun came up I was well into North Dakota. The miles fly by at 80mph and there is hardly any snow. I filled up at a small convenience store and left Bismark behind.

I saw large groups of antelope in cut grain fields in western North Dakota, as many as 50 in a group. I see what I estimate to be several hundred before I reached the mountains. I crossed Montana at a pretty good clip, getting a good view of the grasslands, coal mines, and lots of railroad activity. Near Billings I spotted a special train hauling four Boeing 737 fuselages on cradle cars. More specially fixtured cars held wings and tail sections destined for assembly at the huge Seattle plant. I saw the mountains coming up on the horizon as the sun was setting and. As I gained elevation, my speed slowed considerably and the interstate wound upward into the mountains. I saw signs warning that chains are required for travel in this area during snow. The road was in pretty poor condition, covered by slush and quite slippery. The area received a few inches of fresh precipitation in the last few hours. I slowed down, put the truck in four wheel drive and crawled up and down the steep grades hoping that my schedule would not be thrown out the window. I could not see the surrounding peaks, but I imagined they must be immense. I passed through Butte and decided to spend the night in Missoula.

I was exhausted from driving 1210 miles in 17 hours and fell asleep immediately after calling Abe to inform him of my progress. I also called Sarah to tell her I was safe for the night.


Tuesday January 17

In the morning I am a bit sluggish, but with 8 hours of rest I head west once again before dawn. The road is steep and windy as I crossed into Idaho. The sun rose and I was treated to the sight of the spectacularly beautiful mountains all around me. I made it to Couer D’Alene, Idaho where my parents had contemplated moving our business 17 years earlier. I wish they would have as the surrounding beauty of the mountains is unbelievable and the hunting opportunities would have been very good. Oh well! I stopped for an Egg Mc Muffin and then crossed into Washington and hit the suburbs of Spokane. I then headed north for Canada.

Leaving the interstate I drove on a two lane state highway through heavy logging territory in eastern Washington. I stopped again for diesel in a sawmill town and I was amazed by the operation of a massive gantry crane unloading logs from a long line of idling trucks. The crane stacks the logs onto a pile 100 feet high and about a half mile long. It is a lot of wood. I passed dozens of dark colored mule deer feeding on the mountain sides.

Further north I took a turn up a mountain pass along the Columbia River to a sleepy border crossing. The Canadian customs officer greeted me cordially and looked over my papers. He pounded and cursed at his computer and asked me to pull off to the side while he worked on persuading his misbehaving machine to cooperate. Travel must be pretty light through here except locals headed back and forth to work at the mill. Forty five minutes passed before the frazzled fellow emerged and asked to inspect the truck and its contents. I consented and he quickly looked in the back of the truck at my bags. Unfortunately he also somehow lost my keys. After spending an hour or so looking, we finally found them, trampled into the snow under the truck. He was quite embarrassed about the situation. Fortunately not a single other vehicle passed the border post in that hour and a half. After clearing customs it was on to British Columbia. I emerged from the woods and mountains in the town of Trail and followed the winding mountain roads generally west, but wound in all other directions as well heading toward Kamloops. I started to think this may not have been the ideal place to cross the border. The roads were treacherous, covered with six inches of slippery snow. I crawled along at 25 mph for several hours before finally coming to Osooyuz where the highway finally flattened and straightened out. Strangely the valley is covered by grape vines, and produce stands line the roadside. It must have very nice weather in the summer. It started to get dark again so I called Abe to let him know I was getting closer. Three hours later I arrived in Kamloops, BC, exhausted from driving 1780 miles in two days. I met Abe at his home and we quickly transferred my gear to his truck. He is 31 years old, with a thick beard and rugged frame. He looks the part of a mountain trapper from 150 years ago. His Dodge crew cab truck is loaded with a brand new Ski-Doo snowmobile, and a large wooden dog box containing three Plot hounds for running cats. I hunted successfully for spot and stalk black bear in May of last year and was impressed by his operation, dedication and the recommendation of my friend John Schaffer of Schaffer Performance Archery, who has hunted with Abe a number of times and has become a close friend. I climbed in next to Abe and we headed to the home of a friend of Abe’s who broke his leg and tailbone last week hunting cats by falling 20 feet down a cliff , luckily catching a branch before tumbling down another 100 feet to his probable death. We visited for a few minutes and dropped off some gear that Abe brought for him. We drove an hour and a half or so drive further to Lilloett to stay at Tim Stevenson’s home. Tim owns and operates Long Grass Outfitters, taking clients to hunt cougar, mountain goat and many other species. My friends John Schaffer and Ross Lazarov took huge billie goats while hunting with Tim. His house was filled with mounts of sheep, whitetails, mule deer, caribou, goats and a roe buck deer from Germany where Tim’s father in law runs a hunting operation. We are hunting in Tim’s area because Abe’s does not currently have good cat hunting conditions. I was warned that the terrain would be brutal. Chasing after a cat could be extremely difficult and dangerous. Snow was falling and the outlook for the morning was quite good. I was wiped out so I hauled my gear up to a loft bedroom then collapsed into my sleeping bag with dreams of a spectacular hunt over the next few days.

Thursday January 18

I woke up after eight hours of sleep to the smell of bacon frying, so I gathered my gear, then headed downstairs for breakfast. I was allowed to sleep in a bit because the snow was still falling outside making for less than ideal tracking conditions as the new snow would have filled tracks made overnight. The temperature during the three days of hunting varied from 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun at lower elevations down to 10 degrees at higher elevations when the sun went down. There was no wind at all, making the mountains absolutely silent, broken only by the roar of our Ski-Doo. After breakfast we drove to the town of Lilloett, then up the highway and turned off on a logging road. Abe and I rode his snow machine 20-30 miles up this complex of steep hairpin roads to check for fresh cat tracks while Tim inspected another area for sign. The virgin snow on the winding log trails was absolutely breathtaking and the view of the mountains was awesome. All day we checked miles and miles of road and saw little sign of anything. A few tracks left by coyotes, rabbits, and deer piqued our interest. Finally a several day old cougar track appeared. I was excited to see what the spoor of my quarry looked like and was surprised at the large size of the paw print. We checked the cut block complexes of Boulder, Texas Creek, Seton Lake, Enterprise and many others. We had a couple spills in deep powder snow at high elevation and were forced to carefully negotiate over fallen trees, ice boulder slides and avalanches that threatened to block off the road. We forced and lifted the sled around these impediments but found nothing of great interest the first two 10 hour days on the sled checking several hundred miles of trail.

The cougar is an elusive animal, being generally solitary. They also have an incredible range of up to 200 square miles. They must travel a great deal to hunt and satisfy their dietary requirement of up to a deer a week. If one would just cross one of these roads in the night we would have a chase. We returned to camp well after dark and were greeted by Tim who has prepared a delicious hot stew for dinner. The elevation changes of up and down from 3000 to 7500 feet have caused my ears to be filled with fluid that left me in a lot of pain and almost deaf. I quickly ate dinner and headed for bed. Conversation would have been impossible. I could not hear a thing.

Friday January 19

In the morning I felt a bit better and my hearing had improved. We oide all day and burned out the drive belt for Abe’s Ski-Doo. I carried my Globalstar satellite phone in case we blew the spare as well. We encountered a couple smoking hot bobcat tracks that Abe was keen to chase. I said no I was here for a cougar and I have good bobcat hunting back home. He was disappointed for the sake of his dogs, but we rode on. I was dressed in Arc’teryx expedition clothing and Under Armor cold gear with Lacrosse pack boots. I stayed plenty warm except when the wind blew snow in my eyes. We encountered a pair of young adventurers in colorful mountaineering gear and laden down with bundles of ice climbing gear. We saw them again later, ascending an ice covered vertical rock face 3000 feet above level ground. This was pretty neat I thought, but too dangerous for me. We also came upon a pair of middle aged but fit men hiking up a logging road. They were not dressed for a long hike and we decided to talk to them. We discovered that they were with the British Columbia transportation department, checking out avalanche areas and analyzing snow conditions to gauge the risk to the winding highway far below. The main fellow claims the conditions have been good so far this season and there is currently little risk. However, with a weather change and fresh powdery snow falling on top of the harder icy snow, conditions will be ripe for trouble. When the crystal structure of the snow type differs, the slip shear force is greatly reduced and the danger skyrockets. When this is observed by these scouts, the roads are cordoned off and mortar bombs are fired into the unstable areas to cause controlled avalanches which are quickly cleared by waiting heavy equipment. We have spotted a number of ice slides and inform him of their locations. He thanked us for hunting and said he understands the necessity of wildlife management. He has an orchard and loses several hundred pounds of apples annually to marauding black bears and has neighbors who have lost livestock and horses to hungry cougars. We see several California Bighorn sheep crossing a steep rock face over Lilloett and several white mountain goats.

Again I was tired when we returned to the house. My hearing was not too good again, but I wolfed down the spaghetti Tim has ready. We spend the evening swapping stories and watching a video on hunting in Europe. The culture of the hunt seems to be deeply ingrained in these people. While the methods and quarry differ, the excitement and goal are the same. This provided me with some good information which I plan to put to use in the near future.

Saturday January 20, 2007

I woke up with my ears blocked and my sinuses were packed solid. I felt terrible, but I knew I must take every opportunity possible when I have the chance to hunt. We followed the same procedure as the previous two day, checking a large steep complex for a couple hours before returning to meet up with Tim. He reported that he had found a hot cougar track over a mountain ridge, a couple of hours away by snowmobile. We raced into action. I donned my White’s calk boots with dozens of ¾ inch steel spikes studding the sole for traction on icy slopes. We loaded the dog box onto a sled trailer, prepared my bow and numerous other pieces of gear and then rode with Tim over the ridge up to 7500 feet and then back down on the other side to 3000 feet. Abe pulled the trailer. It was slow going as he had to be very careful crossing ice slides and sharp curves with the hounds in tow. We arrive after a long ride and I was amazed to clearly see two and a half inch wide paw prints in the fresh snow from a nice size cougar. We will chase this cat!! The dogs went wild with the hot scent fresh in the air as we unload them and they take to the trail. Abe got them going in the right direction and the barking was wild. It was a cacophony of 4 almost uncontrollably excited dogs racing after the cougar. The sound grew distant with Abe and Tim struggling to listen to what the dogs were telling them. After an hour or so the dogs all seemed to be howling in one position. Abe and I rode as close as possible on a snow machine while Tim took his dog Princess to follow the trail and give her some training. We headed for the treeing dogs. They were not too far off the log trail up a very steep, slippery canyon about 500 yards away. The spiked calk boots are an absolute necessity on the treacherous terrain. While we were lucky and did not have to climb far it could easily have been a long chase over rough dangerous terrain. I moved slowly and carefully to keep my footing and finally got to the site of the action. I could see and hear the lion hissing and growling ferociously at the howling dogs below. He was about 60 feet up safely nestled in the boughs of a fir tree. The angle of the steep slope is about 70 degrees so I could get to a position where I was level with the cat only 12 yards horizontal distance from him. I watched in fascination as the beast studied me. The Plot hounds were unrelenting in their barking and Abe was sure the cat was comfortable and would stay put. He tried to determine the sex of the cat and eventually he saw the telltale black dot under the tail indicating a tom. He was glad of this and I took dozens of pictures while I watched the massive cougar for the next 45 minutes. I also cleared some brush from the way and set up for a good shot. I had had plenty of time to settle down by the time Tim arrived from following up the track with his Cur Princess. It seemed that the cat had been napping in a hunting cabin when the dogs disturbed him. The chase led up and down the mountain several times at high speed before the tom’s lesser stamina gave out and he decided to climb this tree hoping for refuge from the eagerly pursuing dogs. Little did he know that the arrival of these strange clumsy bipedal creatures was a bad turn for his deer hunting career. As Tim gathered the dogs and dragged them back away from the tree, Abe set up his video camera to film the end of the hunt. I requested to take a practice shot at a tree next to the cougar. I hit the tree dead on and the excited mountain men were satisfied. Abe clubbed the tree with his fists to force the cat to stand up. I drew back my bow, a 95 pound Matthews Black Max 2, sighted and let the arrow, a Gold Tip Big Game 100, fly. The cat was facing me head on and growling fiercely as the Rocky Mountain Ironhead 100 cut on impact broad head entered his heart and cut its way out his right hip. The reaction was immediate. The cat made a spasmodic jump, shivered, turned in mid air and tried to scramble further up the tree. I was sure of the shot and in the span of a second or two he lost his grip and tumbled out of the tree falling 80 feet in a heap stone dead. Amazing that he could move so fast and climb 20 feet with the massive damage to his organs, but pure adrenaline could only last so long. I rushed down to examine the huge mountain lion and I was elated at the spectacle. The fangs were over an inch long, the claws huge, but the thickly muscled deer killing machine was mine at last. I have the utmost respect for cats. Although I am terribly allergic to them I love them. They are the ultimate hunters and I feel deeply grateful to have been allowed to witness this elusive creature alive in the wild at such close a range. Dragging the cat down the hill to the waiting snowmobile was easy as can be and then we took pictures, shook hands, exchanged congratulations, loaded up and headed back to the trucks. It was over as quick as that. The mountains were beautiful in the early afternoon sun. Tim and I dumped his sled while crossing an ice slide and I had to painfully tip the machine off my leg. I hurt my hand and back, but not badly. We continued down and loaded the trucks. It was only a short drive to Tim’s to gather my gear but in the meantime my eyes had swelled shut, my face was pure red, and my chest was covered with bumps. I could hardly breathe and was coughing and sneezing nonstop. I tore off my clothes and took a quick shower to wash away the dander, but the damage had been inflicted. I would be miserable for a week. Oh well!! I guess that I would do just about anything in my pursuit of game and adventure. I rode in misery back to Abe’s home and spent the night trying to rest before the long trek home. It was awesome to be successful with such a great animal taken with my bow. I went over the details of the chase again in my mind before finally conking out.

Sunday January 21, 2007

I woke up early feeling better but still not very good. My eyes were itching and bloodshot but I was okay to drive. I hopped in my Ford pickup and stared eastward. I decided to head back through Canada on Highway 1 all the way to Winnipeg. The first seven hours were slow going through the steep, beautiful Rocky Mountains of Banff and Glacier National Parks. The driving conditions were awful with ice and packed snow limiting speeds. Eventually I emerged near Calgary and passed the Canmore area. I hope to return one day to hunt Bighorn sheep in the Canmore Bow Zone. The ride across the flat, treeless prairie was boring, but fast.

Monday January 22, 2007

I spend the night in Regina, Saskatchewan and continued on the next day through Winnipeg crossing the border with no delay at all on the way to Fargo. I passed a huge moose in a farm field in North Dakota, but otherwise the rest of the trip home was totally uneventful. As quick as it came up it is over. For now I have just the memories and pictures until the hide and skull are shipped in a few weeks. Numerous CITES and import permits are needed to get a cougar shipped from Canada into the US. I learned from the taxidermist handling the compulsory inspection in Canada that the cat was 153 pounds and measured 13 7/8 inches on the skull, making the Pope and Young record book easily. Well I am exhausted again, but grateful for the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the world God created for us to live in. Now for some much needed sleep to recover for the next adventure.

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