|Lion tracks found crossing the road.|
The “perfect” snowfall in my opinion is one that falls early evening and covers tracks from the previous day. The snow then ceases around midnight and any tracks found at first light are at most, seven hours old. Working the nightshift brings an interesting perspective on Mountain Lion hunting. You get to be awake during the prime snowfall window and can actually see what is happening. When the snow started flying on Thursday and ended around 11:00 pm, I quickly decided that yesterday would be my own personal “snow day”.
Once you know what to look for, you can spot a track while driving 40 MPH, it just takes forever to find them; they are the needle in a haystack of tracks. I found myself stating this to my father just a week prior while driving on other snowy roads. I almost missed the needle at 9:30AM on the Friday; oddly enough I was driving about 40 MPH at the time. No other animal walks like a lion in the Colorado mountains, big oval prints in a nearly straight line with a long gait. When I saw this familiar pattern I immediately stopped and bailed out of the truck with high hopes. The Lion had crossed the main paved road while walking down a small creek that fed into a larger drainage. My hopes were crushed when I consulted my map. The land was private, a small sliver of property running for approximately 3 three miles directly beside the course of the road, but only 1/3 of a mile wide. Forest Service land was just beyond that 1/3 mile but I had no way to access it without crossing private land. This is a common problem where I hunt. There are copious amounts of public land, but it is interspersed with private sections, and it can make both navigating and hunting a tedious chore. From the general direction of the lion track, I was fairly certain the lion was on the public land beyond the private. I immediately found the gate to the land owner’s drive. The gate was open but there were a total of three rather large signs proclaiming, “No Trespassing, No Hunting, No Firearms”. On the bottom of another sign was a message that ready, “Do not even think about asking to hunt, Chris. Go away, this means you!,” Ok, so perhaps the last statement was not really there but it might as well have been.
|Bobcat kill, Dusky Grouse|
I headed out back onto the roads to check for another lion, hoping for one to cross either public or more receptive private property. During my travels I crossed all manner of tracks, including several bobcat tracks. One bobcat was very large and I had to spend some time deciphering his tracks to confirm he was not a small lion. He intrigued me and I followed him for a length. I found a kill he had made on a grouse, and his bed and scratching post. The similarity of how these wild cats behave as compared to their domestic cousins is startling. I also met a band of students from a local community college who were learning about radio tracking collared animals. There professor was a very nice fellow who provided me with the location of a lion track they had discovered a week prior. We exchanged contact information for future discussion about Cougars and he said he would call if he found more tracks.
I ended the day hiking onto some public land approximately three miles west of where I had found the lion tracks earlier in the day. I moved as close to the private land as possible, and to where I thought the lion was headed, and set up a call stand. Ninety minutes of calling produced nothing beyond the routine flock of scavenger birds. With day fading fast I trekked back to where my truck was waiting. The woods were silent and still, beyond the crunch of my feet in the powdery snow. I thought about what I had learned, the people I had met, and the plans for my next outing. While the conditions were perfect for lion hunting, and I was close to following a lion, in a way I was happy that I still had a lion tag in my pocket. The season is still young and I do not want this adventure to be over too quickly.