Monthly Archives: January 2010

My Lion… It all comes together!!!

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“A lion’s work hours are only when he’s hungry; once he’s satisfied, the predator and prey live peacefully together.”

This lion hunt started with a coyote hunt in 2008.  I had setup in a  brush pile and I started calling to see if I could get a dog to come in.  I had been calling for about 3o minutes and was starting to think that the stand was a bust.  I was about to give up when I noticed something moving in a little bush about 10 yards in front of me.  At first I thought it was a bird but after I looked at it a little more I was able to figure out that it was the black spot on the tip on the tail of a Mountain Lion.  To this day I have NO IDEA how he got so close without me spotting him.  How did that animal get so close without me seeing him?  The more I thought about it the more it freaked me out.  If that cat wanted me there is no doubt that he could have been on me in one jump.  I was amazed and impressed by this animals stealthiness.  When I got home that night I knew that I needed to learn more about lions and I knew that I needed to match wits with one.

Setting the Ground Work!

So I started searching the web and calling around to see what the big cats were all about. After talking to a ton of people it became obvious that lions are either killed by people that just happen to see one while hunting something else or they are hunted with dogs.  At first I wasn’t real sure about hunt hunting behind dogs it is just something that I was familiar with or had done. Everyone I had talked to said that while the shot itself would be easy, staying with the dogs was the tough part.  Unlike deer hunting where you can hunt at your pace, I would need to hunt at the dogs pace because if the lion trees and decides to fight, he can easily kill several dogs.  Okay, so lets be honest, I will forever be fighting genetics.  I am not a runner and I never will be.  My body style is more like that of a Hobbit than a Track Athlete.  So if I was going to try and keep up the the dogs and the dog handlers I was going to need to put in a lot of miles at the gym and in the mountains.  My plan was to drop some weight and work myself up to running/walking 5 miles + in an hour, 3-5 times a week.  For many of you that might not be anything special but for me it was a realistic goal.  Also, I needed to be smart during the actual chase.  One of the tough parts of chasing cats is some chases last a quarter of a mile and some last 10 miles, I needed to get to the cat at my pace and not burn myself out too soon.  For me the bottom line was that I couldn’t put the dogs in jeopardy.

So now I had a plan, all I needed now was to see if I could find someone with dogs that would be willing to work with me.  Luckily, in Silver City the hunting community is pretty close.  I made a few calls and I was able to connect and make a deal with Wayne Billing and Brandon Jones of WB Guide Service.  Wayne is one of those guys that just loves to hunt lions with dogs.  Even though he is young he is very knowledgeable and most importantly he is a solid outdoorsman.    Brandon is just one of those guys that loves to hunt and is one heck of a dog handler.  Typically, the guys hunt over dry ground and are very successful but if we had snow we were doing to take advantage of it.  So it looks like I had a pack of dogs to follow and I had someone to show me the ropes to make sure I did things the right way.

Hunting as a Team!!!

Working as a team, the plan was to cover as much country as possible.  Brandon, Wayne and I would all be in different areas looking for tracks in the snow.  Once a track was “cut” we would try to contact each other, come up with a plan, release the dogs,chase the dogs that are chasing the cat, find the cat that is in the tree, figure out if it is a shooter, shoot the cat, drag it to the truck, skin it and then eat it.  Pretty easy, right?

I must admit I have never prayed for snow so hard in my life.  In mid-December we got a decent little snow storm and Wayne called to see if I could go out.  I said, “Sure”.  So I was asked to cover a little section close to town.  Well, I went out looking for tracks and I quickly realized I had NO CLUE what I was doing.  So I just drove around looking for tracks.  Well, I didn’t see anything but I learned that just because it is snowing you don’t necessarily have good tracking conditions.  The problem was that the snow came early in the morning and it was still falling.  It was covering the tracks before I could figure out what they were….

Below is a picture of the first day out….

It was a pretty day but I might as well be sight seeing.

Around 10 am Wayne texted me and said that the conditions weren’t quite right and that we were probably wasting our time.  So my first day of lion hunting was over.  I guess I had never really paid real close attention to tracks in the snow.  For me tracks were either deer tracks or something else.  I just never took the time to figure it all out.  When I got home I needed to do some research on what I was really looking for.  I remembered that I was once told that the CO Dept of Game and Fish had a pretty good PDF on identifying lion tracks and determining sexes, so I downloaded the file and tried to soak everything in.  You can CLICK HERE to go to that PDF.  If you have time it is a pretty interesting read.

After reading up on Lion identification I felt like I was ready to roll, the only problem was that the snow had melted.   I would need to wait until the conditions got better… or in this case worse.

A few more weeks went by and we had another snow storm.  Wayne decided that we should just go together on this hunt.  That was fine by me so we met at local grocery story and I jumped in his rig.  Off we went to see if we could cut some tracks.  That morning we covered about 50 miles and we didn’t see anything.  It looked like the snow storm that had hit town had completely missed the section of the Gila that we were hunting.   This lion hunting was turning out to be real hit and miss.  As a side note, Chuck Adams needed several trips to fill his lion tag to complete his Grand Slam.  In order, for lion hunting to work all the stars need to be aligned, there is no room for error.

Day 4 was pretty event-less… More windshield time, more trackless roads.

After the 4th day of trying to get on one of these guys it was starting to look pretty dim.  Thank god we had the deer archery season to break-up the time.  Well, deer season came and went.

Then about a week after deer season send we got POUNDED by a great snow storm.  Off to the mountains we went, we went in different directions and would keep in contact via phone or texts.  The morning looked promising, we had nice fresh deep snow BUT we had to content with the winds.  It was almost impossible to figure out the age of any track.  The wind was filling everything in.  After about 4 hours of playing in the snow I texted Wayne to see if he was having any better luck.  He wasn’t, he was also having a hard time fighting the wind.  We called it a day.  On my way back to town I stopped at the Fort Bayard National Cemetery to visit my dads grave and brush the snow off of his headstone.

My dad never really liked the cold but I bet he would have loved the view, I also know that he would be cheering for me on this hunt and the way things were going I needed all the help that I could find.

The next day was Sunday, so I wasn’t able to go out because I wanted to go to church and because I wanted to watch the football games.

It all comes together!

Monday would be our next opportunity to get out.  Wayne called and we decided to split up again, this time Brandon was also going to be looking for tracks.  My morning was pretty slow as far as tacks go but I was deer mule deer all over the place.  About 7 am Wayne texted me saying that I needed to meet him at some corrals because Brandon had cut a track of a Tom.  I think my Diesel also got the text because I just pointed that think north and it got me off the mountain and on my way to the corrals in no time flat.  The race to the track was on.  Wayne and I got to the corrals about the same time.  We quickly loaded my gear into his Polaris Ranger and we went to find Brandon and the dogs.   If you have ever hunted the Gila you know that it is big country and there are places that no whiteman has ever walked.  It was going to be tough to find Brandon and his dogs(loaded in his dog box), luckily we new the frequency of the dog collars.

Wayne quickly dialed in the numbers and at least we would have a general location of were to start looking for Brandon.

The cool thing about this picture is that we eventuallly treed the lion about 3/4 of the way up that mountain that Wayne is point towards with his antenna.

So we started working our way towards where we thought Brandon and his dogs were.  It took us probably about an hour before we were able to get to the general area.  The only problem is that we found two sets of tracks.  On one set you could clearly see that Brandon got out and looked that them and on the second set it looked like Brandon just drove right past them.  It also looked like two different lions.  The only thing we could do it try to locate Brandon and the dogs with the tracking device.  So Wayne and I crawled up a little hill to see if we could get a better signals from a highpoint.  The antenna still pointed to the peak.  So we needed to cut the distance somehow.  The plan was to head back to the Ranger load up and see if Brandon had found a fresher track.   So down the little ridge we went, as we got closer to the rig we heard another Ranger coming down the road.  Fortunately, it was Brandon and his dogs.  Brandon had gone up the road to see if the he could cut a fresher track but he didn’t have any luck.  That only meant that the lion had was pretty much located in a 5 square mile area.

After talking to Brandon it looked like the freshest track was the one going straight up the mountain.  So we got the dogs out of the boxes and put them on the track.  Once they got a hold of the scent they were off… I mean OFF OFF… These dogs were bred for situations just like this.    Right behind the dogs were Brandon and Wayne… and then a little further back I was tracking Brandon and Wayne in the snow that were tracking the dogs.  Of course being the geek I am I made a waypoint on my GPS just for grins.  If we got on this cat it would be interesting to see how far we hiked and how fast we hiked.

This was the part of the hunt that I was most concerned about, I just didn’t know what I was getting into.  At this point the only thing you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other as fast as you can and hope that the dogs get to the cat quickly and that you can get there before any damage happens.  About 3/4 of  a mile from the truck and after about 500 vertical feet I caught my first glimpse of the younger dogs running on a ridge.  They seemed to be going back and forth on trying to workout the scent.  This was a good sign because that meant that the scent was heavy in the air and that the cat was close.  I have been trying to figure out how to express the sound of the dogs on the chase but you just really need to experience it to understand it.  These dogs were bred for one thing and that is to chase lions, nothing less and nothing more.

So I finally made it to the tree were the dogs were barking.  I will be honest in saying that even that cat was in the tree it was still hard to see.  Those animals just have an amazing ability to hide. Below is a picture of the cat in the tree.  I really wish I spent more time getting better pictures but there was just so much going on.

Below is a picture of some of the dogs. As you can see there was quite a bit of snow…

This is a picture of Rocky.  This dog acutally climbed the tree and was face to face with the cat.  We were really lucky that we were able to get Rocky out of the tree before it got too ugly.

How about a picture of the Cat…

And another one!!!

As I was getting ready for the shot the cat bailed from the tree.  The crazy part is that when cats bail from a tree they usually take off like a rocket.  This guy turned faced the dogs and was ready to rumble.  Fortunately, Rocky called his bluff and the cat took off down the mountain.  SOOOOO…. We were off again, me chasing Brandon and Wayne who were chasing the dogs, who were chasing the cat.  This time it was straight down the mountain.  The cat treed again and bailed again before we could get to him.  Again he was heading downhill and towards the road.

Fortunately, he treed a third time.  Below is a picture of him all balled up in and old oak.  As you can see hunting lions isn’t about the shot.  He was only 15 yards from us, it is about the dogs, the chase, the challenge of getting to the cat and just the adventure.

This is me with the cat.

Here is a picture of  Wayne and Brandon with the Tom.

All I can say is that hunting lions is like hunting no other in North America, in order to be consistently successful you need to have good dogs.  Wayne has some great dogs and he really knows the country.  If you are looking for a Mountain Lion hunt get a hold of Wayne and visit his website

Days 5 and 6… and so it ends!!!

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For me a successful hunt is if I could have killed something with a rifle. J-

Day 5

This morning I snuck into a little pinch point so I could check a camera and hunt a new spot.  This spot is/was about .5 miles from the road and has a nice little spring in the area.  This area is great for rattling because any deer that come in are funneled thru a bottle neck and then it opens up to a little meadow. Once they hit the meadow it would be easy to get a shot.

I got to the spot in the dark, pulled the SD from the camera and this is what I found…

and then these two jokers on New Years Eve….

And then this… I need to reserve judgment because if you look real hard you can see an OLD road thru the area… But he spun my camera around so I didn’t get to many more pictures…  I just wish people would leave stuff alone but that is all part of hunting public land..

After looking at the pictures and waiting for the sun to come up I took a quick little walk around the area… There was NO deer sign but it was obvious that that cow had been in the area for the entire week and there was a mountain lion in the area.  I should have taken a picture of the track but I just forgot.  The thing about pinch points is that everything is funneled thru them… Just not deer.

So I stuck it out until 9:00 am then I decided to do a little still hunting and use this opportunity to do a little scouting… The plan was to cover .25 miles then sit, let the area settle just a little and then do some calling to see if I could get anything to come in.  Did it work?  Well I stayed warm and I found out that most of the rutting activity (i.e. scraping) was along a very particular ridge.  There must be a buck running in that area.  I setup a trail cam over a scrape line so hopefully I will get a picture of the deer that is king of that ridge.

Day 6

The last day of the season…  I decided that I needed to give the scrape line that I sat the first day one last try.  I got there at sun-up and I started the wait. As I walked into to my little spot it was obvious that there was still a buck working the area.  Most of the scrapes had been freshened in the last few days and nobody had been in the area.  I had high hopes that I would be able to finally get a chance at a buck that I wanted to take.  Well, needless to say it was a slow morning.  I did have two does come by but that was it.  I think that this little knob really has some potential, but I just need to learn how the deer move in the area.

Sooo with that my season end….  Where does that leave me?  Well, more determined that ever…. I need some time to gather my thoughts… But I promise I will give them to you…. After I check my cameras…

J

Days 3 and 4 – DEER EVERYWHERE!!!

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It has been said that the love of the chase is an inherent delight in man-a relic of an instinctive passion. – Charles Darwin

Wow what a great quote…  I pulled it from my Runners World.  Hunters love the Chase.

Day 3

WOW… Great Day, I must admit that I have always hunted hard but I haven’t always put myself in the best position to succeed because I haven’t been aggressive enough or I didn’t have confidence in a spot.  This year I am in a new unit and I have nothing to lose.  SOOOO  What happened?  Well, I hope I don’t regret it but I passed on a 75ish buck this afternoon.  I think that there are some real monsters in this little area and I just need to be patient.  I am hunting a scrape line that was an old wagon trail.  You can still see the ruts from the wheels. It is a pretty neat area.  What I have found is that the deer in this area use these old roads as travel corridors and really make alot of scrapes along them.

The morning started out COLD and slow….  20 degrees and nothing was moving.  If you have ever hunted Coues deer you probably know that these deer just don’t get moving until the sun gets up and the weather gets a little warmer.  So I was praying for a calm sunny day and that is just what happened.  About 10:00 am I had a group of does walk up the scrape line so things were looking good.  My only concern is that they were not dragging a buck behind them.  That usually means that the rut hasn’t really kicked off or the bucks are on LOCK-DOWN.   So I decided just to stick it out.  Sooner a later a buck was either going to use this trail to scent check does or to check his scrape.

SOO the wait was on.  Sometimes I hate, hunting from the ground and today was one of those days.  For some reason I was just not liking the setup but around 1:00pm I heard a buck raking a bush so I got ready.  If the buck came up the trail it would be a easy 35 yard shot. Very doable.  Before I knew it the buck was crossing my shooting lanes, I saw that he was maybe pushing 75 inches so I decided that it wasn’t his day to take a dirt nap.  As he crossed my shooting lanes I grunt at him and drew on him for practice.  It could have been over but this buck at this time wasn’t right.  If I get the chance later in the week will I let an arrow fly at a similar or smaller buck?  I don’t know, but today this buck walked.

Day 4

Same spot as the day before, I have a good feeling about this little area.  It just seems to funnel deer. Before sunrise I packed and setup a ground blind.  Hopefully, it would be able to stay a little warmer and be a lot more comfortable.  Again it was cold as hell…. 16 degrees. brrrr… Oh well…  You are only cold until you go numb.

Again the wait was on.  Around 8:30 I started a calling sequence of buck grunts and doe bleats.   A  little buck came running in like a love sick puppy dog.  I love to watch these little young guys during there first rut, they don’t really know what to do or how to act.  This guys acted like little dogs chasing a ball.  He came in jumping around looking for a hot doe but all he found was a lot of nothing.

How about a view from the blind???

So the good thing is that I am seeing deer, the bad thing is that I am not seeing the deer I want.  That is okay, as far as I am concerned it has been a successful hunt,  I know that I could have killed the 75 incher.

So what are my plans?  Well, I really need to go and check a trail camera and I want to take spend some time in another funnel.  I just don’t know if I am going to make it in there before the season ends.

We will see….

J

PS… I have only been hunting the mornings because I need check in at home, but mom is doing a lot better.. Thanks for everybody’s support..

Days 1 and 2… Rough Start!!!

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Perspective –

  • The ability to perceive things in their actual interrelations or comparative importance: tried to keep my perspective throughout the crisis.

If you guys have been tracking some of the events that have been going on in my life over on Facebook you will have noticed that I haven’t really had a chance to hunt like I would like to, but in the in grand scheme of life it is no big deal.  I am just glad my mom is doing better and that she is going in the right direction.

Before my mom got sick, I was able to get out twice.  The plan was to sit a nice scrape line that I had found in some really thick cover.   This spot was tight and the shots were going to be close and quick.   Below is a picture from my ground blind.  The blind itself isn’t anything special just a bunch of juniper and mountain mahogany branches cut and placed in a semi-circle.   Some people like to build small fortresses when they make blinds but I like to let my camo work.  These deer really pick-up on when there habitat has been altered. When you hunt country like this you just need to really be on your game and alert… These little deer just show up… No warning,   If you are lucky you will catch the flicker of the ear or maybe a tip of an antler.

You can’t really see it in the picture but there are three scrapes under that little alligator spruces in the center of the picture.

So how did it go? Pretty well, I had 4 deer come thru, 2 bucks and 2 does.  The bucks were little forky’s, could I have killed them?  Yeah probably, but it just wasn’t there day to take a ride in the back of my truck.

Overall, it was a good hunt.  This is a little spot that I will return to.

DAY 2

I usually don’t like to hunt the same place two days in a row so I decided to sit a water tank that I had a nice deer coming into.   A few days before the season I went in there to pull the card from my camera and I found that the tank was iced over… Brrrr… Poor animals couldn’t really get a good drink of water.  So I opened up the ice, DANG it was cold.

This spot isn’t too far off the road but it is really tricky to find.  So I like to get there just at sun-up so I don’t make too much noise.  Below is a neat little picture that my trail camera picked up of me breaking the ice.

I look like Harry Potter with a wand…

This is what my spot looked like once I got settled in.

So how did it go?  Well, I got a nice tan.. NOTHING came in.  Pretty rough but I am not ready to give up on this spot, bucks are going to need to water and this is a great little spot.  So, I might visit it later but it just wasn’t meant to be on this trip.

What are my plans now?  Well, I am going to be pressed for time but there is a another ridge line that I might hunt.  I just need to put in my time and get lucky.  The good thing is that I am not seeing a ton of mule deer and I think that the rut is a little late in my area.  I just need to put myself in the position to succeed… That means putting in my time.

STAY TUNED…

J

And so it begins…

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If you guys have been tracking my blog will have probably noticed that for me the best part of Coues deer hunting isn’t the killing of the deer but the  process of trying to get close to North America’s toughest animal to kill with a bow.  This year I spent over 60 days running around the mountains and my GPS tells me that I have covered over 300 miles on foot.  If you want to be a successful Coues deer hunter those miles are all part of the process.  I have often said that bow hunting has saved my life, it has given me a reason to be able to get off the couch, on my feet and out the door.

So where am I hunting this year?  I know and old man that we call, “The White Rat”, that has probably killed more Elk in Northern New Mexico than anybody else.  I once asked him how he was always able to find animals, he would always laugh and say “They are where they are”.  As a young guide I never really knew what he meant but as I get older it all starts to make since.  What he was trying to say is that we can scour maps, spend hours climbing mountains and try to find the best habitat but when it comes right down to it animals don’t really care about that stuff.  As along as their needs are met they have no need to move.  If you want to be a successful hunter you need to figure out where the animals are during the season.  Last year I made  mistake of scouting like a mad man during the summer and the fall but once the “whitetail lull” and the rut kicked in I lost all of the big deer that I was tracking.  It was a real eye-opener, I was two steps behind the deer.  The last day of the hunt I picked up, headed into the high-country and I found deer.  I passed on 3 smaller deer.

This year I spent a lot of time learning new country but I knew that it was just fun and games because the real scouting would start a week before the hunt.   So what happened?  Well, I found a spot early in the summer that I was really looking forward to hunting but there is way too much snow back there, to get in there safely.  I might take the 4 wheeler in one of these days during the hunt just to see what is going on.  Who knows it just might be worth it.  To get to the area it is about a 45 min drive from the house, then a 45 4 wheeler drive and then a 30 min hike.  It is a lot of work to get in there but I am sure that there are a pocket of deer in there that die of old age.  So before the season a good buddy suggested that I look at a spot that he had seen deer before and that he felt might have a good pocket of deer.  Given the chance to learn a new spot I was all over it…  Like usual, I downloaded every map I could find and I started downloading waypoints to my GPS. The race was on.

I like to start by looking for water sources then I look for likely travel routes from the water sources to bedding areas.  So I hung a few cameras to see what I would pick up.  If you scroll down thru some of my previous posts you will see some of the deer, but this is the buck that I would really like to kill.

He probably goes low-90’s.

What you can’t see in this picture is that he is with a doe.

If I don’t’ get a chance at that buck I might see if I can stick this buck that is coming to water.  I cropped the picture alot because this spot has some real potential and I don’t want a million hunters in the area.

The above buck is a little busted on the right side but that is okay…. I like his frame…

Sooo… What am I going to do the first morning?  Well, I am going to hit that spot that has a ton of scrapes… I just want to see what is happening in that area…

So cross your fingers and stay tuned…

J