Thursday, January 08, 2009

lion hunt

I don’t know whether it’s the economy or just a general lack of interest in things like crime scene Christmas trees and homemade fireworks, but fish without faces has marked a recent flagging trend in the comments department. so I'm forced to respond with a little sensationalism.

over the last several years I’ve met a few guys in town who, um, hunt mountain lions. I guess this can mean a lot of different things. for example if you want to shoot a cougar and all that you can put into a lottery, maybe get a tag, bring your hounds, bring your guns and so on. more people around here are into this than you might guess. a couple of my neighbors have their own dogs and, with or without tags and guns, will go out pretty regularly in the winter to track down and tree cougars and bobcats. there’s also a guy that goes by “Mad Dog” (seriously) who has a flooring store at the north end of town and a reputation of hassling cougars, pulling their tails and stuff.

anyway, so of course I’ve been really curious about all this for a while. I ended up asking a guy named Gary (not Mad Dog) if I could tag along sometime. yesterday morning Gary called to let me know they’d found some tracks in the new snow and I got out there (Pigeon Hollow) as soon as I could. after waiting around a little by the trucks and hounds for some logistics to get sorted, I climbed onto Gary’s snowmobile and rode “bitch” up to where we could begin tracking on foot.

how many hound dogs will fit into a 50 gallon plastic barrel? three, it turns out. that’s Mt. Nebo on the far horizon.

on the left: a cougar track and snow fleas. on the right: some bobcat tracks that Gary and Mark (Gary’s brother) also pointed out to me along the way. the cerberus on the end of Mark's leash are Bonnie and Diego. I should also say that the two photos below were taken on the way back. when the dogs are tracking they're way off the leash and miles ahead of any of us.

Gary and Mark are both turkey farmers, Sanpete natives and really nice guys. they talked with me about growing up tracking mountain lions, their observations on the behavior of cats and dogs, and how they both currently have sons who are on the wrestling team at the local high school. they also showed me the general area where the big herb farm was discovered this past fall.

ok, here's the juniper the dogs led us to.

and here's Mark climbing the tree. he has our attention.

this time around Gary and Mark weren't packing. after we got a good look and I shot some ok photos, the dogs were called off and the lion ran away. once we made it back to the snowmobiles I rode down again behind Gary, holding Diego over the saddle on my lap.

"I startled a mountain lion.
It turned from the road and was gone...

If anyone ever kills it,
he'll have taken more wild beauty than he can ever make.

He'll owe the universe a cougar,
and I hope in my too tame guts he has to pay."
-Rob Carney

"He yave not of the text a pulled hen,
that saith that hunters ben not holy men"


Dave said...

Sounds like a cool expedition, even though I have big problems with predator hunting. They sound like interesting guys - good slice of local culture.

Jess said...

If the hunters in Ephraim were real men, they would track the cougars and then challenge them to a wrastling match. May the best beast win.

Very cool that you saw a cougar in the wild. How does it compare to seeing one in the zoo?

cate said...

This is a pretty cool post but I personally think crime scene Christmas tree was better. My silent comment on that one was only intended to express my awe.

ash said...

Very neat, was there ever a moment of being scared?

eped said...

Dave- after embedding w/ these guys for the day, I think I get the mystique. I can totally appreciate everything (tacking, chasing, gawking…), right up to the point of the bullet that is. that’s where I’m at a loss.

yeah Jess, at first I was wondering what Mark had in mind, going up the tree maybe for a good rassle or something. by then they had the dogs tied up and he was just trying to get the cat to jump down from the tree so the dogs could finally be drug off.

funny you should ask about the zoo cougars because we just saw them on Christmas Eve. I think the difference is this one didn’t look so anxious and demoralized, to me anyway.

see his eyes? as we crept up to the tree, I was sort of expecting to see a terrified lion. but he seemed something between tense, bewildered and sort of interested.

I was surprised not be scared either. probably for all the cowboys and baying hounds.

and Cate, they just replaced the ATM and put the fern back where it was. this is the fascinating drama still unfolding right outside my office…

linny said...

Bullet? No I didn't remember that in the original post. You would think pulling a cougar's tail would be enough for them. I like the way you describe the message conveyed by the cougar's eyes and also your response.

ZLB said...

i am SO jealous.

Desert Survivor said...

I love the photo of the lion in the tree.

T.R. said...

I've met plenty of hunters that enjoy hunting, but have never heard one say that he enjoys actually watching the animal die.

And I have no idea how it could ever make sense to hunt cougars.

eped said...

Mom, I can't say that I got any "sense of his soul" or that I saw the KGB. but whatever it was, I'd never seen it before.

yes, these guys got a little sheepish when they talked about the times when you reach the tree only to find the dogs have already climbed up and gotten the cat "stretched out", mauled it, sometimes killed it.

thanks Desert Survivor. I was pleased w/ that one too. automatic focus gets tricky when you're pointing it through the branches.

Zi, I'm sure they'd take you along some time if you want.

Jess said...

The dogs will climb the tree and kill the cougar sometimes? Wow, that gives new meaning to the Baha Men's "Who let the Dogs Out." That wasn't a crappy party song, it was a song of deep, primal fear.