Catching a Cougar

It was the 4th day of my 8 day Elk hunt. I drew a special permit for shooting a bull elk and I just learned the forest service was closing the road where I was camped. (total bummer) so I was going to have to relocate. I had promised my wife I would give her a call every other day since I was hunting alone. My hunting partner canceled and I couldn’t find a replacement in time so I was all alone. Earlier in the week I had spotted a really large elk herd, near where I could get cell service. I figured I would do a bit of reconnaissance to find where they went. After I called in and left a message that all was OK I headed down this long abandoned tractor trail that snaked its way along the bottom of a very deep canyon. It was the same canyon I had watched the elk drop into on a previous hunt. I was elk calling and bugling as I went hoping to hear a bugle or a chirp but nothing was responding. After about 3 miles I started thinking to myself, even if I do find the elk there is no way in hell I can pack one out this far. There was a sharper bend in the trail up ahead and I thought well I’ll just walk up there and sit down and read my book while I listen for bugles. This was around 5:00pm and they typically really started bugling between 5pm and 6pm with last shooting light around 7:45. I knew if I heard a bugle it would need to be in the direction of the car for me to pursue it but if it was further down the trail at least I would know where they went.

It was at this point that I heard a crunching noise and it was really close. I peered over the edge of the tractor trail and down into the creek bottom. About 20 yards into the bottom I saw what looked like a couple of cat’s legs sticking out from behind this bush. Holy %^$@$ I thought that’s a friggin cougar and it’s only 20 yards away! It seemed completely oblivious to my presence, munching away on what looked like a fawn deer. Now I thought what the hell am I going to do? First things first I unsnapped my 9mm holster just in case it felt compelled to protect its kill. Then after about 30 milliseconds I decided I was going to try and shoot the thing. I quickly nocked an arrow and side stepped slightly down the tractor trail until I had a completely unobstructed view. I drew my bow and instinct took over, as the 20 yard pin settled onto the kill area the arrow was gone. It hit with a mighty loud crack and the cat let out a growl and flew into the air. It made 2 or 3 awkward bounds down the creek bottom disappearing into some thicker foliage and all went silent.

OK now is when all the doubts start to be weighed in my mind. Gee, here I am 3 miles back and no one knows where the hell I am and I have a wounded cougar. Now Pat, that looked like a great shot but you’ve been wrong about that sort of thing before…? What if I walk down there and that was just the 8 month old cub and mommas down in that bottom with it…? What the hell was I thinking….? Those and about 500 hundred other doubts were swimming around in my cranium as I pondered my next move. Somewhere in all that self-doubt the bow was laid on the ground and the 9mm was pulled and aimed in the direction the cat had gone. A glance at my watch and I realized that I had to at least wait 30 min. I spent that time trying to figure out how I could get down to where my arrow would be without falling down, it was very steep. After some reconnoitering and some sole searching and mental encouragement I started the descent down into the creek bottom, 9mm pulled and at the ready. I got to where the cat was when I shot and there was a distinct lack of blood. A couple of short steps towards where it went along the creek bank and a few specs were visible. The dry creek bed its self was about another 4 feet down and I peered over the edge looking for more blood. Sure enough there she be. The cat only went about 10 feet from the point of impact. The next task was to find a stick long enough to poke it in the eye. There was no way I was taking any chances with that fang and claw infused beast. All the anxiety was for naught. It was a perfect shot double lung and broke the shoulder bone on the far side. I’m sure she was dead within seconds of the shot. I dragged her up and out of the bottom and onto the flat part of the tractor trail to clean and admire the trophy. They really are spectacular animals.

I fully expect this will be a once and a lifetime event. Cougars are relatively common in this area but you very seldom see them. Much like a house cat they are very curious and are known to follow along behind hunters so checking your back trail regularly is a good idea. I’m absolutely certain I would have walked right by it had she stopped eating while I passed. Now the next big challenge was to get it out of the woods. A three mile hike with a fat cat slung over your shoulder is not an easy task. Especially when it is uphill the whole way. As hard as it was, that will be nothing compared to trying to get the wife and kids eat some of it. Happy hunting and good luck to everyone this hunting season!