It all started at about 6:30 in the morning when I was driving along a forest service road on my snowmobile looking for fresh mountain lion tracks. The search had begun at around 4:30 and so far all I had found were day old tracks from a lion that had made its way through a myriad of deer and elk tracks.
My friend John was behind me on another machine and we were cranking along pretty fast when a tan colored blur dove off the bank in front of me and leapt across the road. The blur had a tail and I knew immediately that a mountain lion had just about been introduced to the headlights of my Yamaha.
My hound men friends were waiting for me along the main road and John decided to wait by the tracks just in case the lion was hiding somewhere in the fir trees above. The wolves weren’t far away and we needed a short chase to keep the hounds safe.
In less than an hour Becky and Jerry Doyle, George Bettas and five hounds joined John and I where the tracks crossed the road. The first hound went out, then a second. They seemed confused a bit and walked around trying to figure out where the cat had gone. With leaps of twenty feet or more it was tough but they got it figured out and the barking began as they ran along the bottom of a shallow drainage.
Becky and Jerry Doyle – two really good houndsmen
Now here’s where things got western…
Two hounds were on the track; one named Yoda who barks as she runs a tack and one named huckleberry who runs silent – until she sees the lion. ” Huckleberry doesn’t locate!” Jerry yelled from below me.
“Huh?” I said out loud. “What’s that mean?”
Becky was standing next to me and said that Huckleberry doesn’t bark when she’s on the track.
“Is Huckleberry barking now?” I asked.
My tracking device showed the hounds at 134 yards, not that I needed it because I could still hear them loud and clear. Actually, I could see them. George was standing next to them looking up into the trees and then he yelled “It’s in the culvert!”
We ran to a culvert pipe that was nearly covered in snow with a pine branch laying over it. Steam was rolling from the entrance and a low guttural growl reverberated off the ribbed interior like an idling chainsaw.
“Get those dogs outa there or my hounds are dead!” Jerry yelled.
The Doyle’s gritty hounds won’t back down from anything and they didn’t want to be pulled away from a cat they could see. We had three pups out on leashes and we were tethering leads to trees and feverishly trying to get control over the frothy mouthed hounds hell bent on tangling with their quarry – teeth and fangs be damned.
Finally the hounds were secured although they didn’t like it. Long bawls rolled out in deafening triumph but Becky wasn’t feeling so triumphant. The lion was deep into the dark culvert and she couldn’t see it. Jerry tried to get her to belly crawl to the entrance but Becky refused. “I’m close enough right here, at least if it runs out it has enough room to turn before it runs over me!” Point taken.
Becky moved to the other end of the culvert where she could make out the lion now staring back at her through the scope mounted on a single shot .223. Becky fired one shot and then another, just to be sure and the hunt was over, well sort of.
“Who’s the skinniest one here?” someone asked. I looked around with my stomach pushed out, trying to look like I just ate Thanksgiving dinner.
No luck. My lean frame betrayed me and I realized I was the skinny kid that drew the short straw. The culvert pipe angled downward and was barely big enough for my body to fit, let alone crawl inside and grab onto lion. That just sounds ridiculous.
I wasn’t sure if I could get back out once I was in there so I tied a strap to my feet and asked Jerry to hold onto it incase I needed it. No one had a head lamp and the culvert was dark as hell. I reached out in front of me every few feet to feel for fur and I couldn’t help but thinking “I hope this lion is dead…” A stick jammed into my chest and I used it to poke the cat, and then again. Then I rolled a rock into it. It didn’t move as far as I could tell. I reached out with some trepidation and grabbed onto what I thought was the hind leg and found the tail. Jerry yelled into the pipe and I yelled back; “Pull!”
In a moment I was being yanked out of the hole with a death grip on the tail of a lion. I tried to push with my elbows but it didn’t do much good. Soon I could feel the constriction of the pipe around my feet disappear and then daylight surrounded my head.
The hounds were ballistic at that point and Becky was relieved as she put her hands on her first mountain lion. After many years of turning hounds out for friends and family, she finally shot one of her own. The hunt was over and it wasn’t much past 9:30 in the morning.
The run was more like a game of hide and seek than a chase over rugged terrain. But every hunt is unique and this hunt was awesomely unique – seeing the lion make the tracks, finding it deep in a culvert pipe, listening to the baying of hounds old and young, and being there to participate in all the crazy fun is a memory that will last a lifetime.
Congratulations Becky and thanks for letting me be a part of your hunt – It was awesome.