Some of the best hunts don’t end with a filled tag.
One of the greatest things about hunting is going out and not knowing what you’ll see or experience. This sense of wonderment is what keeps me out in the mountains, because I might experience something incredible at any moment.
On Thanksgiving morning in western Montana, having already filled my elk tag, I was in pursuit of a buck. Arriving at the trailhead before light, I was happy to be out and away from college classes and responsibilities for a few days.
As soon as it was light enough to see, I headed up the steep, forested mountain. After studying the map the night before, I chose to explore an area I had never been to. It was a calm, cold morning with snow lying in the shaded areas of the forest. I took my time, carefully choosing each step and never going more than a few feet at a time before scanning up ahead. During one such pause, I stopped behind a large fir tree after noticing a fresh deer bed.
As I moved around the tree, movement up ahead caught my eye. About 70 yards up the mountain in some young pine trees, I saw a brown colored animal. I slowly lifted my binocular and focused in.
The sun had still not come up, so it was difficult to make out what I was seeing. My first thought was I was looking at a bedded calf elk. Seconds later, when the animal moved again, I saw a long tail and immediately knew what it was: a mountain lion!
I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I watched, the lion which was crouched and focused on something ahead. My next thought was that I needed to get my camera out of my backpack. I slowly moved behind the tree and retrieved my camera and tripod from my backpack.
After setting everything up, I slowly peered around the tree. He was in the same spot, but now he was focused directly on me. I was surprised he didn’t take off running since it was obvious he knew I was there.
After watching me for a few minutes, the lion bedded down. We had a 20-minute stare-down as the sun rose and filtering through the forest. I was able to capture dozens of images and videos, something that I don’t imagine I will ever get to do again.
As if the day couldn’t have gotten any more surprising, I turned to my right after hearing a twig break. There, no more than 30 yards away, was a young 2-point mule deer buck looking at me. I almost laughed thinking about how bizarre the situation was. Any other time, I would have considered shooting the buck, but filling a tag seemed unimportant just then.
After deciding I was nothing more than a poorly shaped tree, the buck moved on past me and closer to the lion. I watched as the lion became focused on the deer and resituated itself. I thought, “Am I going to witness this lion attack a deer?”
Unfortunately, the lion must not have been too hungry, as it became uninterested and moved which allowed the buck to see it. After giving a warning snort, the buck bounded down the mountain.
Finally, the mountain lion decided it was time to move off. I watched as it stretched and then slowly made its way into the trees. I focused in the direction it was headed and got one final glimpse of it in the trees.
Just to add some icing on the cake, there alongside her, was a mountain lion kitten that she had kept hidden from my site until then. I decided to continue my hunt, even though I knew nothing else could top what I had just witnessed.