Dennis Dunn’s Cougar

Cougar hunting without the aid of hounds is nearly impossible.  Even when you hunt with them, success seldom comes easily.  On the afternoon of November 27, 2015, not far from 100 Mile House, B. C., a decades-long quest finally came to an end for me.  It was the eleventh cougar hunt I had experienced  in my determination to harvest a true, trophy-quality, North American lion with my bow.

The endeavor had begun in my home state of Washington in the 1960’s, continued on some years later in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and even Arizona, but never came to fruition until this remarkable adventure of Thanksgiving week, 2015.  Given the fact that I was already well into my 76th year of life, I suspected this was very likely to be my last swing at the plate.  Lion hunting is a younger man’s game that usually requires excellent physical conditioning to have much chance of success.dunn-cat

The outfitter (and head-houndsman) was Sean McLean of Fraser Valley Outfitters — out of Salmon Arm, B. C. Before ever accepting the booking, Sean fully understood what I was looking for and felt confident he could produce the kind of trophy I was seeking.

The evening I arrived in 100 Mile House, it was snowing hard from a big new storm that didn’t exhaust itself till the next afternoon.  For the first three days of the hunt, we drove seemingly endless miles of snow-covered, forest- and country-roads — searching for just the right set of male cougar tracks crossing one of those roads.  Just at dusk on the third evening, we found what we were looking for: an impressive set of big tracks possessing a stride-length of 48 inches.  Sean assured me that anything over 42” was almost certain to be a male.

Too late to release the dogs that evening, we relocated the big male’s track crossing a highway the next morning — at least two miles away from where we had first found it the night before.  In minus-20-below weather, we released the eager, cooped-up hounds at 10:30 AM.  It took the  dogs a couple hours to turn the cold track into a hot chase, but by 12:45 PM the lion was jumped, and by 1 PM it was treed. Then the only question remaining was whether this septuagenarian hunter could reach the tree that held the big feline, before he decided to relocate and put the hounds to another exhausting, problematic chase.

By the Grace of God, my body did cooperate sufficiently with my willpower to get me to the big Doug Fir in time — or almost!  Sean and Ethan, being much younger and more fit than I, had reached the tree about twenty minutes earlier.   Somehow, the big cat saw fit to remain on his comfortable tree limb about 15 feet off the ground — until he spotted two more human pursuers huffing and puffing their way up the snowy slope toward the base of his evergreen refuge.  Suddenly, with one enormous leap, the nervous feline bailed out right over the top of all of us.

A dark apprehension instantly descended upon me, as my mind harkened back to two other, long-ago hunts, during which similar circumstances had denied me success after a lengthy, exhausting chase.  Was this hunt also going to end in failure?

It didn’t take long, however, as the dogs took off once again in hot pursuit, for my spirits to soar on the wings of renewed optimism.  Fortunately, the second chase ended rather quickly — within 200 yards.  Yet instead of coming to rest just 15 feet above the ground, this time our quarry scampered some 25 feet higher, then turned to face us, with just a portion of his brisket visible through a small opening in the branches.  The “window” I had to shoot through was no bigger than a football, and the shot-angle was far from ideal.

A careful walk around the base of the tree revealed no better options, so I made ready to embrace the only opportunity being offered me.  It was a very steep, upward angle — perhaps 70 degrees, and bending over that far backwards to complete my draw put an extraordinary strain on my back.  I became acutely uncomfortable, and aware that I’d never in my life practiced a shot like that.

Well, my first two arrows missed just under the lion’s chest by an inch or two.  The third drilled him through the brisket and exited his back.  Like a squirrel, he ran straight down the tree-trunk in one second flat, and in another second he had disappeared downhill into the wild white yonder.

Keeping all four dogs tied to nearby saplings, we built a fire and gave the arrow time to do its job.  After 30 minutes, a short tracking job led us about 80 yards to where we found the big tom’s lifeless form lying in the snow underneath an overhanging tree.  A mix of emotions suddenly overwhelmed me, and I quickly offered up a prayer to the Almighty for the blessing he had placed on my final cougar hunt.  My three companions had worked hard to make this happen, and their hearty congratulations made me feel extraordinarily happy, grateful — and humble.

As evening came on, our fire proved indispensable to keeping us halfway warm, while we took photos, and then proceeded to skin out our true trophy cat for a future life-size mount.  Just before the skinning began, Sean offered up his opinion that — alive on the paw — the big male had probably weighed somewhere between 180 and 200 pounds.

I’m sure my face must have been beaming broadly in the firelight.  My Curt Brisky selfbow (made of Osage Orange) and my Tuffhead broadhead (made by Vingtage Archery) had gotten the job done, and they had helped me cut one more notch in the bedpost of my remaining bowhunting goals with the harvest of a true, trophy-quality mountain lion.  It was the first season I had ever hunted with the Tuffhead, but I was so impressed with the job it did on this Boone & Crockett cougar (as well as on the B & C elk I took two months earlier in Arizona) that I know I’ll never use another broadhead the rest of my hunting lifetime.  Congrats to Joe Furlong for developing such an incredible product for the traditional archer!

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