Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Race

On my last hunt I participated in a race.  The odd part of the situation was that I was not aware of the competition until the morning of the hunt.  I felt the same way as I did on the rare occasion of college when I arrived at class to find an exam waiting for me, the exam that I failed to remember to study for. 

Snow had fallen the previous evening.  It was the type of snowfall that trackers dream of.  There was only about an inch of snow on the ground and the consistency and texture was perfect to reveal all the pad detail one could want to see.   There would be no nasty powdery snow to backfill a track leaving a little detective work to confirm a creature’s identity.  The snow had stopped falling around midnight and any tracks found would only be six or so hours old come daylight.  I knew this would be a great opportunity to find fresh lion tracks. This situation made me so hopeful I even had a little pre-hunt jitters and discovered difficulty in falling asleep the evening before the hunt.  I felt like I had just finally become unconscious when the alarm clock interrupted my slumber.

Breakfast and coffee in hand I fired up the suburban and headed for the mountains.  I decided to spend some time driving a different mountain road than I normally travel.  Although this particular road has more traffic on it the road winds through nearly constant national forest.  There are also several other roads that branch off of it which offer many more miles of good territory for tracks.  As I began checking these roads I noticed there were several sets of tire tracks that always seemed to go where I wanted to go.  I further saw there was evidence that the vehicle would stop and human foot prints could be seen next to where an animal had crossed the road.  I did not want to admit it, I even came up with a few wild explanations, but I knew it was another hunter doing exactly what I was, looking for lion tracks.   My guess at the time was that it was hounds men.  I continued checking roads dreaming that perhaps the other lion hunters had not been this way.  Sadly my dreams were dashed when I turned a corner and found both hound and human tracks leading away from a vehicle and up a rocky slope.  I had lost the race; they had found the lion tracks first. I had left town early, but evidently not early enough. It was hard not to be disappointed or even a little jealous.  I had to remind myself this is the nature of being a lion caller.  I am attempting to hunt lions the most difficult way possible.  If I simply wanted to kill a lion I could have accomplished this a long time and several thousands of dollars ago.   A guided lion hunt with dogs could have been purchased easily with all the time and money I have invested in this undertaking.   However my lion quest is not about a kill.  It is about meeting the lion on his level, hunting the most extreme hunter with only my skills and not the aid of canines or guides. 

Bobcat den
Just prior to finding the hound’s men vehicle, I had located a fresh set of large bobcat prints heading up a steep ridge line towards several miles of national forest.  I backtracked to these prints and decided to trail the cat as the morning was getting late and any hopes of finding lion tracks was diminishing.  Walking up the steep ridgeline proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated.  Several times I nearly fell or slid down the slope, only grabbing the branch of a nearby pine or bush prevented an unplanned descent.  During one such struggle I managed to stick the barrel of my AR15 in to a snow drift. Once I reached the top of the ridgeline I inspected the rifle and found the barrel completely plugged with snow.  The hunt was almost over before it even really began.  I little bit of impromptu rifle cleaning had to occur if I was to continue.  I found a correct sized stick and field stripped the black rifle, literally.  With the bolt in one pocket, charging handle in the other I went to work removing the snow from the bore.  When I was satisfied the gun was once again serviceable I reassembled it and continued on.
Bobcat crossing a stream
The bobcat traveled over the ridge and into another large valley.  Just prior to entering the valley I stopped and made a call stand; hoping to call the cat back to me, no such luck.  I found the cat and discovered where one of his regular dens was.  It was evident from the prints the cat had entered the den and then left at a later time.  I resumed the chase and located where the cat had defecated, it was very fresh and I was hopeful I was closing the distance. When the bobcat meandered up another steep slope and over a ridgeline I again followed.  However at the top of this ridge I was greeted by the opposing force of private land. The chase had to end, the bobcat was not restricted by private property, but I was.  I set up and sat through another 45 minute call stand.  The cat did not come in and I was out of options.

Bobcat scat
As murphy’s laws would have it, the cat had walked directly away from where the truck was and I was faced with a several mile back track to the rig.  I was able to use a road to make the walk a bit easier but it was still a little arduous.  The old suburban might be 22 years old, but it is always a great sight at the end of a long journey in the snow.   The wind and the sun had performed their magic on the meager snowfall all of the tracks had either been melted or blown away.  It was time to return home and reflect on what I had learned and experienced during this outing.  Perhaps next snowfall and a little earlier departure will bring a more successful hunt.
End of the Journey

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