Could not believe my eyes…..
Almost one year ago I had an experience like no other. It was something that to this day, I question if it even happened. Was it a dream? I can assure you it wasn’t. Will I ever see something like this again? The answer to that would be, “doubtful.” In a few days, I will be heading out to the same area that this story takes place in search of black bear and the ever so elusive coues deer with my bow. It is the coming events that struck my memory and brought me back to this special day that you are about to read about.
October 3rd rolled around and my wife and I headed up early in the morning to do some more bear scouting before the opener the next day. It didn’t look like there was a whole lot of bear activity in the area anymore, but I was very optimistic because I saw a nice bear in the area during the previous hunt in Aug./Sept. We got up high and started glassing. Right off the bat we spot a monster bull elk screaming up on top of a ridge. Then we spot another smaller bull not 10 minutes later. Still no bears. The day was ended with an encounter with a cow and calf elk working their way up the hillside that I was hoping to spot a bear on. Even though we didn’t see any bears that day, I couldn’t help but feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. My alarm would be going off in less than 12 hours to wake me from the little sleep I would get and bestow the opener upon me.
Opening day finally arrives and I am teeming with excitement. I head into my spot where I saw the bear earlier in the season and post up for the morning. As I sit and wait for the sun to rise, I find myself constantly visualizing the beautiful bear walking out of the brush the same way it did the season before. At 7:00 a.m. I see some movement through the trees. It was a nice coues whitetail buck feeding on the fallen acorns. This gets me really excited, because I have a deer tag here in 2 weeks. Then another buck walks out. Then another. Then another. Then another! All of these bucks were well respected in the antler department. Observing animals in the wild is something that will never lose a place in my heart. As excited as I get about this, I am still bummed that I have not seen any bears. The deer walked through and moved into their bedding areas for the day. I hunted until about noon in that spot and then had to head home for the night for a prior engagement.
The next morning my alarm goes off at 2:15 a.m. and I head back up to the woods in search of bears. For the next 3 days I will be alone. Something that I have never experienced before hunting. I was slightly nervous, but excited none the less. I got up high and spotted that big bull again with his cows. Then later in the day I was graced with the presence of another coues buck. This one was a smaller fork. Still no bears. When I last saw the bear in the area, it was right before dark, at a tank not too far away. This is where I saw the nice bucks the previous morning. I am pretty pumped to sit that tank for the first time in the evening in hopes of the big bruin coming through the area. At 5:50 p.m. guess what comes into the tank? All of those nice bucks again! They came into that area and stayed there. Funny thing is, they were what was standing between me and getting back to my camp for a nice hot bowl of soup. Walking right through them was my only option of getting back to camp. The white flags flew. An all too familiar sight, if you are a whitetail hunter. Again, excitement and disappointment fill me in unison. Still no bears.
From the previous day(Saturday) until Monday I did not see any bear or bear activity. I did keep on seeing those bucks though, so I make the decision to stay out of the area that the bucks were in, so I could hopefully get a shot at them in 2 weeks for my deer hunt. Now, it is Monday and I have to find a new area to hunt for the day. My plan was to go home that day, after I hunted into the dark evening hours. During the previous season I spoke with a hunter who informed me that he had bears on his trail cam not too far away from where I was. Maybe a mile or so. I thought to myself, if I can get across canyon and look at that area, that would be great.
At about 7:00 a.m. I find a nice spot to glass from and pop a squat for a bit. At this point of my hunt, I am feeling very defeated. I was so optimistic for this bear hunt and the only thing that I was finding was deer and elk. If you have spent any of your time hunting, you probably know this feeling. No matter how much we think we have these critters figured out, they always seem to find a way to stay one step ahead of us. That is why it is called hunting though and not killing. 8:45 a.m. comes and I see movement across the canyon. You can probably guess what it is. Yup, more deer. I get them in my glass and it is a doe with a spike strolling up the hillside. The buck is acting very strange though. Kept looking in all directions quickly. He seemed VERY jittery. The buck then jumps 10 feet or so to his left and stops! How weird was that? He continues his way up the hill. What I saw next was the most wild thing that I have ever seen in the woods.
The deer all of a sudden start booking it down into the canyon that they came from out of nowhere. I look up behind them and I see a long tail flying back and forth through the trees. Is this what I think it is? Am I really going to witness this? The experience was pushed upon me quicker than I could comprehend. Nature in it’s purest form. A raw example of the struggle for life in the mountains. I had never seen a mountain lion in all of my years going into the woods. This lion came charging down the hill after these deer with one thing on it’s mind. It moved more fluidly than anything that I had ever seen. Impressive would be under selling this magnificent creature.
I was aware that there was a mountain lion in the area, so I picked up the tag just in case, before the previous bear season. After experiencing this National Geographic moment, I remembered about that lion tag in my pack! At 200 yards away I set my crosshairs on the beast and squeeze the trigger. The lion does a full on flip! Did I just shoot a mountain lion?! I see the lion starting to buckle and decide that I would try to put it down there, so tracking wouldn’t be that hard. I shoot again. This time I missed. My blood was pumping a mile a minute. I shoot again. The lion flips again and tumbles, then gets up and runs over a small hill. I couldn’t believe what just happened! I just shot my first mountain lion!!
An hour or so went by before I headed in to track down the lion. FINALLY, after a bit of searching, I found some blood. YES!! Followed the blood for a bit and then it stopped. I looked around this area for about 5 minutes and saw nothing. It was then, when I looked up ahead of me through the trees about 50-75 yards away that I saw that all familiar tail fling up in the air. There lay the most deadly predator in the mountains, under a tree licking itself. The lion was facing away from me and seemed to have no idea that I was there. After taking in this breathtaking moment, because I had never seen one of these beautiful animals in the wild, I sent one last bullet through the spine and shoulder blades. She died in probably 30 seconds. I then realized that my scope had been on the lowest power this whole time!! This is probably why I did not deliver a kill shot right off of the bat. It’s funny what you forget about when nerves take over.
It took me about 2 hours to get her out of that rough country and back to my truck. I have not even tagged a deer yet!! The only other big game animal I have taken is a javelina when I was a boy. Plenty of opportunities to shoot small bucks had come my way, but I never took the shot. I wanted those big antlers. Only recently have I started to take hunting very serious. Probably the past 2 years or so. To have something like this happen at this stage in my hunting was truly a magical experience. I never thought that I would see in my life what I saw at 8:45 a.m. on October 7th. I feel extremely blessed to have witnessed this, and to have done this alone without the use of dogs, brings a feeling of extreme luck.
You can recover from a tough hunt, but you can’t recover from quitting.
Looking back on that trip, reminds me of how important it is to never give up. What I didn’t say in that story was that I almost left early, due to how defeated I was feeling. Thankfully, my all encouraging wife talked me into staying out there. I am glad that I did! A slow hunting trip can turn around in the blink of an eye. If you aren’t there to witness it though, you will never know what could have or couldn’t have been. The great Cameron Hanes once said, “You can recover from a tough hunt, but you can’t recover from quitting.”