Old Scar Face

Early on the morning of Jan.4th, Brady located a mountain lion track that I never would have noticed. The steep snow covered slopes were riddled with deer and elk tracks that continually crisscrossed. For me this particular set of cat tracks would have been lost in the noise within the patchwork of trails leading to who knows where. Brady said, “This track looks good and looks to be from a nice tom, do you want to go for it?” Instantly the thought swirling within my head was a resounding ‘yes’. But looking back it’s possible that my response was slightly delayed because I was caught up carefully examining the track. Hopefully the pause was imperceptible since I absolutely had no hesitancy from my perspective, but the snow had fallen back in upon itself, partially obscuring the track to the point where my inexperienced eye could only tell the track came from a cat. Then came my response, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

Six years ago I met Brady Loveless of Lone Tree Outfitters here in Utah when he guided my son on a thrilling first-time mountain lion hunt. Brady’s finely honed hunting skill, his best of breed tracking dogs and his topnotch outfit is exactly why there was nobody else that I would rather have had by my side guiding this hunt! Now six years later it was my turn and we’d be hot on the trail soon!

For the first few minutes, I sat back as the baying dogs were collared and the GPS was programmed specifically to track each dog individually. The anticipation of the chase was heightened by the eagerness of the howling pack of dogs as they lurched forward against the restraint of their leashes. At last everything was set, it was go time! The dogs were led to the cat track and turned loose!

 mountain lion howling hound dogs  excited cougar hound dogs

                   When they all got howling, it was intense                          Excited hounds wrapping around legs

As I watched the dogs instinctively follow their noses along the lion’s track, I stood awestruck at their sheer determination and ability to plow through the snow, up and across the steep mountainside as they followed the cat’s scent. At times the hounds had to exert even more energy as they circled an area attempting to regain the scent trail, no easy feat for sure.

 hound dogs on trail of cougar 

                                       Some of the dogs hot on the cougar's trail      

The echoes of the baying dogs could be heard echoing across the valley from somewhere above. For us, this part of the hunt was easier than that of the dogs. We were able to stay in relatively close proximity by skirting the hillside while staying at an almost constant elevation. We did find ourselves zigzagging back and forth, from north to south and back again, as the dogs serpentined their way across the mountain, hot on the cougar’s trail.

 lever action .300 savage rifle 

              Perfect chance to use my Dad’s old lever action .300 Savage     

After some time, hours maybe, we found ourselves quite a distance around the mountainside. Patiently we listened and glassed the surrounding slopes trying to catch a glimpse of the dogs. Then at last, it happened; the distinct howl, albeit faint, of the dogs alerting to the fact that the cat was treed! Now it was our turn to ascend the mountain. Luckily we had the technological advantage of the GPS which showed us exactly where we needed to go. Compared to that of the dogs our hike was easy, although that didn’t mean it would be simple. Did I sweat profusely? Slip and slide my way up the mountain? You better believe I did. I was completely exhausted when I eventually spied the cedar tree where the pack of dogs aggressively clawed and awkwardly tried to climb up to the nestled lion.

 hound dogs howling at treed cougar  locating treed cougar

                    Got the dogs back on their leashes                                      Trying to locate cougar without slipping

Once I was within 35 yards of the treed cat, I strained to pick out the feline with my naked eye; it was impossible. Somehow the cougar lay camouflaged within the cedar branches. I could barely grasp the notion that it would take looking through binoculars to spy the animal.

 snarling mountain lion  mountain lion pow and claw

          After some prodding, got the cat in the open               Able to inflict some serious damage on deer & elk

However, thinking back on discussions surrounding the topic of mountain lion sightings, I’ve repeatedly heard people question themselves about how often they may have unknowingly had a close encounter with this elusive predator. So I guess it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that I struggled to spot a cougar that was practically in my lap, these animals are indeed stealthy. But now I’m even more convinced that close encounters happen more often than we realize. Because hadn’t it been for the dogs, I never would have seen this cat -- let alone bagged myself a giant tom!

 giant tom mountain lion  cougar had scar on face from fighting

           Quite a struggle to heft this giant tom                                  This old tom had a curious fighting scar