A Mountain Lion bow hunt


Trees. The author chased his dream, and that big mountain lion, on a tough archery expedition in the mountains of British Columbia last December. WD Photo by Courtney Wilhelm.

By Courtney Wilhelm

For most of my life I had dreamed of experiencing a mountain lion hunt and it was high on my bucket list. For a moment it seemed like it would never be more than a fantasy, but in December I was able to embark on a journey that had lasted two years.

I started my hike through the state of Montana and drove through southeastern BC to start this adventure. A snowstorm slowed me down along the way, but luckily I made it safe and sound. The first few days of the hunt were rather slow, eyes glued to the ground trying to carve out a trail. On the fourth morning, we finally made it. We first thought the trail might belong to a young tomcat and we continued up the mountain, following the forest paths as far as we could go, to the nearest place to release the dogs. .

The dogs took off and it was an amazing sight to watch them work. Just like bird dogs, when one dog picked up the scent and let out a howl, the others rushed to smell for themselves and lined up one after another, honoring the lead dog. It wasn’t long before the GPS tracker told us the dogs had something tree, and my adrenaline spiked.

The cat was raised in the mountain about 400 meters from a logging road. The trek didn’t seem far from the aerial view on the GPS, but it was 400 meters as the crow flies. The hike started with our way through the slippery, snowy side of a mountain. At about 300 yards we descended about 1000 feet just to climb another 1000 feet up the mountain. Sometimes I felt like Tarzan, grabbing branches along the way, swinging around trees and other obstacles as my feet slid down the side of the mountain below me. As we climbed and continued our way up the incline, we hit a roadblock so close to where the cat was treed.

I found myself staring at a vertical rock face, just below my destination. The boulders were about 10-12 feet high and there was nowhere to go but up, or a very long hike around. At only five feet four inches tall, I needed a little push. My guide lifted my left foot enough for me to sink my right foot into the rocks a few feet up. From there I pushed my bow above me and hooked it to some brush and scooped the rest of the way over the rocks. After the ascent on shaky legs, I wobbled the last few steps to the barking dogs, where I first saw the beautiful cat in a pine tree.

I undertook this journey hoping to achieve my goal with my bow, but was faced with the possibility of not having an ideal shooting opportunity for an archer. I was very lucky to have an opening in the branches, enough to slip me a well placed (and well thought out) shot.

I found myself looking at my dream game as a hunter and being about five meters away. It was the closest shot I’ve ever attempted with my bow, plus the sharpest angle. I must have imagined the shot a dozen times in my head before shooting my arrow. I watched my arrow sail true; the cat spun and I watched my arrow exit the opposite side of the magnificent creature, incredibly grateful for a clean shot. The angle and placement had been perfect, and I was overcome with a huge jolt of relief.

What we originally thought was a young tom was actually a mature female. She was an old warrior with worn teeth and probably past her reproductive years. Two of his toes on his left front paw were fused together and he was missing the claws. I can’t imagine the snatches and fights she has encountered over the years.

As hunters know, the work begins after the kill. The only way out of the mountain was a four and a half mile hike, following switchback forest roads, because going back up was definitely not an option.

The whole experience was phenomenal; absolutely everything I had hoped and imagined a cougar hunt would be. Everything was perfect, from the blue hues of the mountain, the serenity of the soft snow falling in the pines, to the intense physical challenge and sweat of the chase. I returned home after the hunt of my life with a renewed sense of adventure and fearlessness. This hunt will always be hard to beat, but I’m definitely ready for my next adventure.

Courtney Wilhelm is a contributing writer for Dakota Edge Outdoors and a board member of the North Dakota Bowhunters Association, serving as the organization’s media editor.


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