Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Mountain Lion

I hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving. We sure did. Everybody was around and we ate a lot of good food and enjoyed each other's company. I've included my brother-in-law, Kelly, in a lot of my hunting stories. Kelly has been a very good friend, and I'm thrilled that my sister married such a great guy. Anyway, Kelly's parents were in town from Minnesota for Thanksgiving. Kelly's Dad, Pat, usually real quiet and reserved, came by to visit us at the store. He was as happy and chatty as I've ever seen him. Pat recently bought a Flying Eagle longbow which he really loves. Pat was looking forward to building his own arrows this winter, and really wanted to try splicing his own feathers. It was exciting to see a 71 year old man's man so excited about traditional archery.

Friday afternoon I got a call from Mark Turner, owner of Rocky Mountain Big Game Adventures - Turner Guide Service. Mark told me that he found a fresh lion kill, and it looked like a nice Tom. I went mountain lion hunting with Mark 3 times last year. We never treed a cat, but those were some of the most brutal days I have ever spent in the woods. Mark told me to be ready in the morning.

Of course my wife had to work the next morning, since we have two young boys at home I called my Mom to see if I could drop the off boys bright and early the next morning. With that taken care of I prepared my gear, and my mind, for the next morning.

4:30am rolled around quick. I got the boys loaded in the car and pulled into my parents driveway...but my Mom's car was gone. Weird, but whatever.

I brought the boys up into my parent's dark bedroom and saw Dad sitting up watching TV. "Where's Mom?" I asked. My Dad said in a low voice, "Set the boys down buddy, I need to tell you something." What in the world is going on?

My Dad told me that Pat had a massive heart attack and died early that morning. My Mom was bringing Kelly, his twin brother, and their older brother to the airport.

"He's dead?" I asked.


I must have asked five more times. I just saw Pat. He was happy as a lark. Pat was the most indestructible man I knew. At 71 he could outwork any man of any age. Pat built his house himself, he worked in hard physical labor his whole life, and still was for that matter. He didn't feel pain, didn't complain, loved his wife, and served the Lord with all of his heart. Pat produced some fine, hard working kids too. His son's have served in the military in some elite levels, earned Division I All-American status as a wrestler, and he had three boys compete in DI college wrestling in the Big Ten. To put it mildly, he raised the toughest set of boys I've ever met, and he was tougher than them all. Throughout the 12 years that I knew Pat, his sons went on and on that they still couldn't keep up with the old man. There's no way he's dead.

What is Kelly going through? Their mom? All of Pat's kids?

I didn't want to go lion hunting anymore. After asking a few questions and standing still in quiet disbelief I set the boys in bed with their Poppa and started to walk out of the room. I almost turned the car around when I was just a few houses away, but I went hunting.

I got to Mark's at 6:30am. My car thermometer said -3 degrees. Mark was waiting for me and ready to go. Mark's friendliness and good nature cheered me up, and as we drove to the lion's kill I almost forgot for a second what my brother-in-law and his family were going through.

We got to the kill. We looked around for the freshest set of tracks. There were too many and they all looked the same to my untrained eye. "We'll let the dogs figure it out", Mark said, and he turned them loose. We started following the dogs straight up the mountain.

When we got up the mountain we heard the dogs...and they were down at the bottom. We sat on the side of the mountain just watching the dogs for the next five minutes. It was a treat to watch those dogs work. Back and forth they worked the mountain side over. One dog started making fairly small circles. The other dogs were soon with him. Then a bunch of snow fell from one of the trees they were circling.

There's the lion!

From where we were.
A little closer...
A little closer yet...

We set off down the mountain with a whole new kind of excitement. In no time we were underneath the lion.

I have seen one mountain lion in my life. I was elk hunting with a buddy from Wisconsin, I told my buddy not to move a muscle because a mountain lion was walking right towards us. Of course he whipped around and the lion trotted off. It was a small lion, no big deal, a neat experience but nothing more.

The lion in the tree now...this, I wasn't prepared for. I always thought that lion hunting would be a bit of a let down. The dogs tree the cat, you walk up, shoot the cat, go home. That is NOT the case.

It took four brutal days to get to this point. I probably fell down 500 hundred times to get here. I bet I slid 2 miles on my butt. I damaged two bows, bruised my muscles, cut my face, froze my fingers, burned my lungs, lost an expensive wool jacket, and all around beat myself up. Now I'm finally there, a treed mountain lion is sitting in front of me.

Mark and his nephew Tony got the dogs chained up while I got in the best position I could find to shoot.

I took out my first arrow. The shot angle wasn't ideal, but I was 100% certain I could sneak my arrow right where it needed to be. I got to full draw and loosed the first shot. Right over his back. Geeez...what is wrong with me? I haven't had this kind of rush in years and years. Not what I was expecting.

I get the second arrow out and come to full draw. This time the shot is right where I was looking. The cat jumps around the other side of the tree. I shoot again through thick cover. That arrow missed its mark, I don't know where it went after it blew through the branches.. Now the cat is coming down the tree, I pull another arrow out and hit him again, right in the shoulder. That's two good arrows in him. He hits the ground running.

I look at Mark fully confident that I have two good arrows in the cat. Mark smiles and shakes my hand. I cannot contain myself and confess what a rush that was, I feel like such a rookie bowhunter admitting it. Mark is smiling and tells me good shooting.

Mark and I take one dog and follow the trail. The blood trail is pretty weak and we're about 200 yards from the tree. It didn't take long before Mark turns around and tells me that this is not a fatally hit cat. I was already thinking the same thing. Mark turns his dog loose and tells Tony to turn the rest loose as well. They did not want to do this. If the dogs catch a wounded cat on the ground it will not turn out well for the dogs.

Mark and I follow the tracks as fast as we can through the deep snow. My thighs are absolutely burning, I haven't been in the hills for a few months. It didn't take long before we heard all sorts of yelps, growls, barking, and total chaos going on ahead of us. "Get up there, Tommy!" Mark tells me. I'm starting to feel like a real idiot now, who knows what is going on up there, what dogs are getting hurt, all due to my poor shooting. But how? I thought my first hit was perfect, let alone the last one.

Mark and I finally reach the dogs, they have the cat treed again. He's not that high and I walk right underneath him. He's showing me his giant teeth. His intimidation tactic works.

I thought the first time was a rush, it was nothing compared to being this close. I have two arrows left in my quiver. I take my time as I aim with the first one. Bam! Perfect shot. I rip my last arrow out of my quiver. Again! Perfect shot. I take a step back knowing full well that the cat is going to fall at any moment.

Mark is digging in his pack. I see what is going on. The dogs are not chained up. The lion has two arrows in him with sharp broadheads on one end. Even if that big cat doesn't have strength to keep himself in the tree, when he falls he's going to get his licks in on the dogs. Hell, there might be a dead dog on the mountain for all I know, it sure sounded like it.

Mark hands me a pistol. Damn it. I don't want to shoot this cat with a pistol. I know he's dead. If we wait another minute he's going to fall out of that tree. I ask Mark if he thinks that the dogs are going to get injured. He does. Mark tells me that it is my choice, that I do not have to shoot the lion with the pistol.

I'm thinking about what is going on.Mark is awesome, his dogs are absolutely incredible. He is doing me a huge favor on this hunt. I look up at the lion, his armpits are both full of blood. Blood is running down one of the arrows and dripping on the dogs just ten feet below.

What would I feel like if this lion falls out of the tree and severely injures one or more of the dogs? Am I going to risk Mark's dogs for, for what? Why would I do that? Why would I risk the dog's safety?

I feel so selfish for even hesitating.

I raise the pistol and put the sights on his shoulder. Boom. The lion lets out a low growl and bails out of the tree. The dogs are in hot pursuit. Mark and I throw our packs on and slide on our butts just a short ways down the hill. The cat is dead.

Holy cow! That was wild!

We look the dogs over. Pretty much each dog hand a cut on his face somewhere, but they were all there and  they were all fine. One dog had a split in his ear, another a cut over his eye. They will all heal up in no time.

The trip down the mountain was pretty easy. Mark, the cat, and I slid the whole way.

After I got the cat checked in and brought him home I got to inspect what happened with my arrows. My first two good shots, or so I thought, were both high. One in the shoulder blade and one in the spine. The shots from the second tree were both fatal. One entered the right armpit and exited behind the left front leg. The other entered the left armpit but did not exit.
My arrows would have killed that cat in a short amount of time. How they didn't sooner is a shock to me, especially after seeing the damage. I don't care, I feel good about the decision I made with what I saw at the time.

Black Canyon 55# 2-piece longbow. Arrow entrance and exit holes are visible.

Mark Turner is the real deal. He was simply fantastic. I enjoyed his company and his professionalism immensely. I have never entertained the thought of using a guide for any kind of hunting. But after spending some time with Mark, seeing him work, hearing him talk, and learning about him as a hunter and a man, I am blown away. Mark is incredible.

Here is Mark Turner's information. If anybody reading this would like to spend some time with a truly first class guide, Mark Turner is your man. Mark knows his stuff, he has guided hunters to two Colorado State Records including a mountain lion, and also a shiras moose.

I texted a few pictures to my closest friends on my way down the mountain, but I didn't send one to Kelly. I didn't know how to act or what to say. My best friend lost his Dad that very day, and here I am hunting. Kelly got word anyway and sent me a text saying he still wanted to see a picture of the cat. I sent him one. Kelly told me some nice things about his Dad. He told me how lucky he was to have spent 31 years of his life with a man like that. Kelly is right, he is lucky. Pat Flaherty was what a father and husband should be, he was a good and Godly man.

Pat Flaherty: Oct 20, 1942 - Dec 07, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Tommy! That is one big tom! I'm sorry to hear your loss, my family will keep you guys in our prayers.