Father and Son Lion Hunt
I was very excited to find out in the middle of December that I had drawn the highly coveted Custer State Park Mt. Lion Tag that allows dogs. Not only had I drawn the tag but I was able to get the opening week as well. Traditionally I have never had good luck when drawing hunting tags so to have one that actually read “congratulations” and “successful” was a new experience for me. I immediately called a few friends to get referrals for a good houndsman and was given Jeremy Wells’ name. I contacted Jeremy and we had a wonderful conversation and I could tell he knew his stuff and was eager to go. Our excitement was furthered by the fact that the forecast showed snow on Christmas night which would make opening day hopefully perfect. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing” which is what we learned early morning opening day when we saw how much snow had fallen. I had spoken with Jeremy Christmas night and we had planned on meeting in the park around 2 am to start to drive roads and look for tracks. My 10 son Dalton was dying to also go along but I wasn’t sure if he would be too young but after talking to Jeremy we felt like he would do fine. As we attempted to leave our house at 2 am we realized that the snow was going to create some problems. After an hour of using our plow and tractor to clear our drive we were finally able to leave our neighborhood. So at 3:30 our adventure began. As we drove, the road conditions seemed to get worse but we were eventually able to get to the park. During this time Jeremy and I made contact and he had had some similar problems so we arrived at the park roughly the same time.
Because of the conditions our access to roads in the park was limited and in addition the wind was blowing so a lot of tracks from that evening were already blown in. We continued to drive roads until around 9:30 am and after a short breakfast decided to start to hike some trails in attempts of cutting tracks. Around 10 a.m. one of the members of our hunting party, Chris, was on his way out of the park to check in at home when he noticed some wind blown impressions in the snow that had the right spacing and stride as a Mt. Lion. As he scraped off the top layer of snow and then “blew” the track out he could see an impression of what appeared to a healthy sized cat. We then congregated at the tracks and Jeremy and company put the dogs on the tracks and the race was on. For the first hillside and down the next part of the next hillside the dogs struggled to be able to follow a consistent scent but once we got into thicker timber the scent must have improved because the dogs became extremely vocal. At that point we released the dogs and tried to keep up. Approximately 20 minutes later the GPS tracker showed the cat was “treed”. The GPS tracker said the cat was approximately 700 yds away but what I quickly learned was that was estimated on “how the crow flies” and not foot distance. We had to climb straight up the mountain and down halfway on the back side before we arrived. On arrival we found a very calm healthy appearing mt. lion up about 30 feet in the tree calmly looking down at the three dogs. I have harvested 2 other lions in the hills over the years and both were mature females (ages 3 and 6) and this cat looked so much bigger and blockier. We all agreed this was a good trophy and proceeded to harvest the animal. I used a 300 wsm to shoot him, not because I needed that much power but because it’s the only gun I own with a carbon barrel which makes it extremely lightweight and I knew weight would become an issue when packing up and down snow covered mountains. After successfully harvesting the cat we were all very excited and got some great pictures with the “Needles” as our back drop. Getting the cat out of there was rough but thanks to Jeremy, Blaine, Trenton and Chris we were able to get him out of there. My 10 year old son Dalton was a champ the entire time and had the time of his life—every time I asked if he was OK he just smiled and said “yep”. Santa Claus had brought him some new hunting clothes which he was able to wear on this hunt and for the rest of the Christmas vacation he wore them because he was so excited about the hunt. Everyone we meet since that experience he has to share our mt lion experience with.
After we got to our trucks we learned that one of the other hunters and dogs had picked up this same track the ridge before and actually ran into our trucks in pursuit of the same cat. I was happy to read Michael Wollman’s story how they picked up another set of tracks later that day and not too far from where they ran into us and were able to harvest a great cat on opening day as well.
When I returned to Rapid City I called the Game and Fish to check in the lion and was able to meet the biologist, Steve, at the outdoor campus. I was quite surprised at the weight of this cat only being 107lbs. As I had stated before this was my third lion shot in the hills and my other two were healthy adult females. This lion looked so much bigger and his head and paws were dramatically larger than the others. I was guessing he would be in the 120-130 range. It was a lesson to me of how much different males and females are in appearance. Regardless of his size I was extremely happy for the experience and opportunity—hunting lions with dogs has been a long standing dream of mine and I can’t thank Jeremy Wells and Co. enough for their dogs and hard work. I was also very happy with my cat and how he is a great representation of a healthy mt. lion. However, the part that made it a life time memory was being able to share it with my son Dalton, even though he is only ten years old he was a champ and I can tell he has been infected with the hunting bug—poor kid—it’s a whole lot easier to sleep in and stay warm instead of getting up in the early morning hours and enduring horrible weather just to experience the thrill of the woods and hunting—unfortunately for some of us its deeply seeded into our DNA to want to pursue such crazy adventures. My wife constantly reminds me of how crazy I am.