Leo the Lion
My story begins on Wednesday January 25th at 4:30 am. Like any normal beginning to a lion hunting day, the snooze button gets hit once, maybe twice, and then it’s up and ready to go. When we looked at the forecast the previous night it looked as though there was a glimpse of hope for us lion hunters, a 90% chance of that beautiful SNOW. So I hopped out of bed, and jogged to the door, and when I turned on the light I saw a good 4 inches of snow already piled on the top of the truck. Seeing as how this was the first bit of snow we had gotten in a good two weeks or so, I got all geared up, and headed upstairs to find my dad (Dave) awaiting with a cup of coffee in hand, and eagerly waiting for me so we could get our day started. As we both finished our last cup, and talked about the plan for the day, we decided to go to our "Secret Spot", we jumped in the truck and headed out.
So we arrive at the "Secret Spot", and started searching for a fresh track, which with the weather, shouldn't be too hard. After driving around for about a half hour or so, we came around the corner to find a track that was so fresh, we were both surprised not see the cat in them. The first thing I had noticed about the track was that it looked relatively small. Other tracks we had seen earlier in the season were a good 4 1/2" wide, and some even bigger than that. It looked like a small male with a track only measuring about 3 1/2" wide. I turned to my dad and said "Dang he's a little one!” dad replied jokingly "I didn't say his track was big, I said it was fresh." Which was good enough for the both of us, especially after being cooped up in the house for a few days. So I jumped on his track and went to tracking.
I had only been on his track for about 100 yards when I noticed he went to sneaking, he then ran for a good 200 yards back down this wide open side hill, and as I followed it down I found his kill sight where pine needles, grass, dirt, and rocks were flung all over, with a drag trail headed back straight up the hill. As I followed this drag trail, I became even more impressed with this animal as I noticed this cat was running directly up the hill with the deer he had just taken down, dragging to the right of him. Almost all of his tracks were visible on the left side of the drag trail, he ran up the hill for another 150 yards to a little group of trees. In the group of trees I had found where he had gutted it, eaten the heart and only the heart, then covered it all back up. I got back onto his track leaving the "kill zone", and began following it again. I continued on the track for a little while, and met up with my dad. We decided at this point that it would be a good time to try and call him back up to us.
After about 30 minutes with no luck, dad and I decided it would be good to jump back on the track. As I followed him for another mile and a half or so, I noticed where he was marking his territory, and trying desperately to keep my glasses from fogging up, unfortunately I did not win this battle so I put my glasses in my pocket. I ended up at a small meadow with a few whitetails roaming through, so I decided I must be a little further behind this cat which I began calling Leo "for no real apparent reason" then I had earlier figured. The whitetail flagged and trotted off and I continued along the track for another 400-500 yards and came to a split, a smaller cat that I must not have noticed had jumped onto the trail headed West, and the bigger of the two tracks heading East toward a set of cap-rocks, and so, I turned and headed East to follow the bigger of the two tracks. Another 50 yards or so, and I am almost to the edge of the cap-rocks where he was headed. The tracks turned back South and seemed to walk around the rocks, so I continued to follow a little further, rounding them completely, when I noticed a really thick spruce tree to my left maybe about 5 yards away from where I was. I examined it briefly then got back to following but only visually this time. The cat had hopped off the first set of rocks, and then two more after that, walking around a spruce tree, and then, much to my surprise, had seemed to walk straight into the thick spruce tree that I didn't really pay much attention to. When I looked at the tree for the second time I noticed in the sea of dark green spruce, and white fresh snow that a small 4" hole right off the ground seemed to be reddish orange in color. When I pulled up my rifle to look through the scope, all I saw were hair fibers. My first thought was its probably just one of those whitetails I had seen a few minutes earlier, but decided I better just check and make sure, before I went barging into a cat's den uninvited, and as I took a step to my right, scoped back in, all I saw was the face of a lion asleep under this tree.
As quickly, but calmly and quietly as possible, took one more step to my right, I centered the cross hairs of my .260 right behind his front shoulder, and pulled the trigger. The cat jumped out of his bed, spun around, and took off! I racked another shell into the chamber and waited for him to run out of the tree heading away from me, and when he did, I got him in my crosshairs, and I fired another shot. He disappeared over a bench of cap-rocks I took only a few steps to where I had shot at him under the tree about 7 yards away from me to find there was no trace of blood. I began thinking, maybe the bullet went in and didn't exit, or even worse, maybe I had nicked a branch, shooting through that hole in the tree, and missed so I immediately hopped on his tracks and followed him hoping and praying for the best. I followed him for another 100 yards but with hardly any sign of blood at all.
In my head my worst nightmare was coming true, I had finally found one of these incredibly illusive animals and missed! After all how many of these opportunities can you get in one season!? Finally as I got a little further I found a bed, the size of the cat, and in it a fresh pool of blood. I waited about 10 minutes, thinking to myself let him lay down, and then hopefully you will get the opportunity to sneak up on him again. After I waited, I continued another 50 yards and found the same thing, a bed with a pool of blood in it, and it was at this point I noticed it seemed to be coming out of both sides of the cat. I followed him for another 100 yards up a hill, and as I peeked over the hill, there he was, walking straight away from me not even 20 yards from me. I remember when I actually noticed him all I could think was, "My God he's a monster!" I shouldered my rifle, fired, and as I did he spun around broad side to me and stared right at me, I racked one more shell into the chamber, aiming right behind his front shoulder, and fired one last time, dropping him to the ground. I stood there in awe, and scoped in on him for the next 15 minutes, or at least until I mustered the courage to go and inspect my lion that I had grown to call Leo. As I walked up to him I remembered that one thing I heard was with lions you'll get a lot of ground shrinkage, however to me, it seemed as if he had grown from my last shot to when I got to see him up close. I am very lucky and extremely thankful to be given this opportunity and to have capitalized on that opportunity.
These lions are amazing impressive animals, how unbelievably elusive, smart, and powerful they are, to take one is a true challenge and quite an honor for any hunter. I have to give all the credit to my dad, Dave Hall, ever since I was little he instilled the passion for the outdoors, hunting, and the animals that we hunt. His enthusiasm and his love for the sport is why I have come to have the same respect and love for it. I can tell you one thing for sure, I definitely wouldn't have built up the courage to hunt mountain lions in the Black Hills if it wasn't for him!
Thanks again Dad!!