Third Time’s a Charm
Living in the Black Hills of South Dakota is great. It has provided me with ample opportunity to enjoy most of amazing activities the Black Hills offers.This includes one of my favorite pastimes, hunting. Chasing mountain lions to be specific.
A couple years ago I had made a decision to try to harvest a cougar with my muzzleloader. I have already been fortunate to take many cats with several other weapons and decided to try something new. I love pursuing these creatures and really enjoy sneaking up on them in their bedrooms. Not much more exciting then being able to find a lion while it is basking in the sun or lying under a rock and watching it for a while before deciding to harvest it or not.
Spring of 2015 was long and the number of days, with decent fresh snow, were few. I had cut a few tracks but nothing that really tripped my trigger. I had been mixing up my artillery this season hunting with several different things, bow, 30-30, Glock, muzzleloader. I had called in a beautiful cat that year but due to an equipment malfunction I couldn’t make things happen. This is when I decided to focus specifically on my muzzleloader.
The 2016 Season's lack of snow was tough. I spent nearly every day with snow driving roads looking for tracks. Tracks have been tough to cut these last few years. On days that were less than ideal I spent sneaking into areas I like to call cats. Finally late in March the hills received a perfect blanket of snow. I was up early and took the time to get a long way away from civilization and started scouring the roads. Late in the morning as the snow was starting to show signs of melting off I finally cut a track. I knew I was pressed for time because the sun was getting warm. After isolating the track to a certain ridge I finally jumped on it and started working it out, still-hunting and watching intently in front of me. The sun was quickly melting the snow on the south facing slopes and I was about to turn back when I caught the color of tan that looked a little out of place. Looking through my binoculars I quickly realized at about 40 yards there was a cat lying in the sun looking at me. Slowly I pulled my muzzleloader from my pack, took aim and squeezed the trigger. As the smoke cleared I saw the cat running up over the ridge. I followed the track for a while back towards my pickup and quickly realized I had missed. Soon after this, the season came to the end.
The 2017 season started out slow for me. The excess of snow made it hard to access most of the areas I like to look. Tracks were hard to find and I think the cats weren’t travelling too far due to the depth of the snow. Occasionally I would use my snowmobile to look for tracks at times but I prefer to just go out for a rip when there is enough snow.
Just as I was starting to think the 2017 season was going to be a bust, we got a big warming spell and melted most of the snowpack in the hills. I knew this was going to be a game changer when we got some new snow. I started watching the weather and made plans to take time off for a forecasted snowstorm that was supposed to hit the southern hills.
I made sure to be out early and covered a lot of ground. While driving around I received a phone call by a landowner asking me to come look at a track in their yard. While driving to their house I cut a nice fresh track. I had always hoped to chase a cat in this area, so I took off after that cat. I circled around on the track a ways because I wanted to make up some time, because it looked to be a few hours old. This cat took me through some thick, nasty, and steep terrain before it came up to an area I thought it may bed up.
This is where I looped ahead and tried to re-cut the track on the other side of the cliffs. When I realized the cat hadn’t gone that far I started sneaking my way back along the cliffs trying to figure out where the cat had worked it’s way through the rocks. Soon I found its tracks walking under a big rock. With no tracks leaving I assumed it was lying under the rock and tried to look for it without giving up my location.
I never saw it and decided to try and call it out. I pulled my muzzleloader out of my pack and readied for a shot. Steady and ready for a shot at sixty yards I tried to call the cat out with a short series of whistles, I waited, nothing, couple more whistles, I waited, nothing.
Too quick to assume the cat must have left I started to put my muzzleloader away and out walks the cat in plain view and stopped broadside right where I would have expected it to reveal itself. As the cat started to move again I quickly I pulled the smoke-pole back out, took a knee and waited for a shot. The cat stepped behind a rock, stopped and looked back at me. With it’s body hidden behind the rock and its head fully exposed I steadied, took aim between its eyes and squeezed the trigger. As the smoke cleared I watched the cat run through the thick timber and up the other hillside. I thought to myself “damn another miss.”
Once again I watched another one of these beautiful creatures run out of my life. For a brief moment I was disappointed but as I walked back to the pickup I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I’ve been to get so close and have had so many opportunities to see these creatures in the wild.
The same evening after having missed this second cat I had a friend tell me about a cat that they saw that day and told me where it was located. 5am couldn’t come soon enough and I jumped out of bed, loaded up my pickup and off I went. Knowing that the track was more than 12hrs old, I wanted to see if I could figure out where this cat was headed before it was too late in the morning.
I arrived just at daybreak threw on my pack, found the track and started to figure out where it was headed. Unfortunately it went back to the road where I was parked and crossed to the west less than two hundred yards from where I was parked. Frustrated I walked back to my pickup and called my buddy. He said he was close and would stop and say hi. As we were talking a couple other lion hunters we know stopped and chatted with us too. Funny thing is I told them they could have the track if they wanted it, they looked at where it was going and quickly declined. The cat had walked up a super rocky steep slope, thick with timber that looked to climb about 600 vertical feet to the top of a mountain to the west.
After our morning greeting was over we all went on our way. I decided to drive to the other side of the mountain and see if I could re-cut the track. Just under 3 miles west, as the crow flies, I found its track again.This time it had gone into a small housing development. I drove around the area for a while and finally found where it had re-crossed the road right back up the mountain where it had come from.
Studying a map I decided to circle around and try to cut the track on foot about ¾ a mile away and close the distance. As I walked I did not re-cut the second track. I decided to walk to the spot where I had last seen the track and try to work it out from there. After looking at my GPS I knew I was close to the road where I last cut the track and started to look for it. The cover started to get thicker as I climbed up the ridge. Soon I saw a drag mark in the snow going up the ridge, realizing that this was the drag from a kill, I quietly backtracked a little hoping not to expose myself to the cover above.
Checking the wind and realizing that it was in my favor I pulled my muzzleloader out of my pack and slowly worked my way up the ridge. Looping downwind in small circles up to areas of cover, peaking into areas of thick timber hoping to catch the cat feeding on or sleeping next to its kill. Approaching the third thick area I peaked back over the ridge and saw the cat had still dragged its killed up the hill around some big rocks into some jack pines.
I continued sneaking up the ridge and as I peaked around the rocks above me and to the right I saw a small patch of tan on the ground at the base of a tree, which looked out of place. Instantly, I realized this was the cat and it was sleeping. It was really close, maybe fifteen yards away.The cover was thick and I saw a small hole I could shoot through if I could make a couple more steps uphill without it catching me.Thankfully it was near noon and the sun had had a chance to warm up the snow a bit, making it quiet.Ducking down and taking those few steps hoping not to slip on or turn over a rock and blow my chances, I made it to the spot I had in mind.
I take a few deep breaths, pulled back the hammer, raise my smoke-pole to my shoulder and center the crosshairs on the patch of brown in my scope.It seemed huge because the cat was so close (12 yards!). As I started to squeeze the trigger I saw him raise his head from his slumber, instantly all I saw was smoke, lowered my muzzleloader and watched the cat start running in my direction.Three to four strides in my direction and the cat made a 180 heading straight into a couple deadfall not five yards from where he was sleeping. He quickly expired and my adrenaline started pumping. I walked up to him, made sure he was expired and looked at where he was sleeping. His kill was literally buried underneath where he was laying. After a couple phone calls, some quick pictures, I dragged him over the ridge and down the hill to the road. I don’t think it really hit me that I had accomplished another goal until I was back on the road and heading home with another beautiful Black Hills cat. He checked in at 113 lbs and was 2-3 years old, not my largest but what an adventure!