East River Kid’s Lion
In December 2016 I received an e-mail from SDGFP alerting me that I was successful in a Custer State Park Access Pass draw for mountain lion hunting with hounds. Being very excited, I called one of my best friends, Brett, to ask for help with a game plan. In addition, I was lucky enough to get a hold of one of the best cat guys in the state, Kris Weinberger (a shirt tail relative). As my season ran from February 20 to March 5, I immediately prayed for snow during that time frame. And as luck would have it, snow came on Wednesday, February 23rd.
We started our hunt on Thursday at 4:00 am by looking for tracks, but nothing came of it as it snowed all day. On Friday we started again at 4:00 am; Kris and his friend Gary took the north side whereas Brett and I took the south. With no cats sighted we headed in for breakfast about 11:00 am. After a much-needed break, we headed back out. Kris had subsequently called and found some fresh tracks were we had just been hours before. So we all met there and prepared to let the dogs loose. Brit, Rip and Roused (the dogs) treed the male cat about an hour and 2 miles later, but unfortunately it was out of the park boundaries by 150yds! After many smiles and pictures we had to walk away, but it was still a very exciting experience!
We got back to it on Saturday at 4:00 am and worked all day with no tracks. Once again Sunday (Day 4) we started 4:00 am and headed down Lower French Creek road and next went south all morning with no luck. I got a call from Kris and Gary saying they found a 2 day old track by Fish Flats. I once again met up with Brett and we went to meet Kris. In the meantime another great cat guy, Jack, headed up towards French Creek from the south whereas we went around and came in from the north. .We began this phase around 8:30 am so by noon we were starting to wonder if we were ever going to catch up to that cat. The crafty cat kept trying to give the dogs the slip by running back in its old tracks and crossing back and forth through the rugged, steep, French Creek. We must have put on 4-5 miles and the dogs put on 3 times that through that rough terrain.
Thankfully, the determination and endless drive of those dogs prevailed and finally by 4:30 pm we treed that cat. 7-8 straight hours those dogs worked in that rugged creek. Their drive, endurance, and courage is truly unmatched.
It was such an honor and privilege to have been able to hunt in Custer State Park with the use of hounds! I want to extend special thanks to everyone involved: Kris, Brett, Jack, Gary, Sawyer, Cody and all the dogs for making this a once in a life time hunt come true for this ‘East River Kid’.
* Justin's lion was the 27 taken in the 2017 season.