Hunt of a lifetime
Wed, 11/29/2017 - 11:09am admin
The newly arrived dog started baying.
“I thought up to that point nobody would believe me,” said Branden West about seeing a mountain lion.
Hours had gone by, straining his eyes and not knowing if the cat was even still in the area. Actually, the cat hadn’t moved more than a few dozen yards. Two houndsmen with dogs, as well as the landowners, some of West’s relatives and other hunters, arrived. Then, the excitement really began.
West had been guiding a deer hunter, Nov. 18. They watched from a distance as, separately, several large bucks pawed, snorted and high-tailed it out of there. West saw a movement. Though it was the first one he had ever seen in his hunting/guiding career, there was no mistaking it. It was a mountain lion. Looking through binoculars he could barely recognize the camouflaged shape; though with West looking through the hunter’s gun scope, the cat just wasn’t there.
“The only reason I saw him was he was moving,” said West. “When he was still, he was like a ghost.” The other hunter believed him, sort of.
A phone call to his brother, Pat, started the word getting out. Owners of the land – south of Interior, on Bear Creek off of White River – arrived on the ridge behind West. They had cameras, not rifles, thus any claim to a chance at the cat was still open. Pat’s relayed calls got houndsmen Kris Weinberger and Will Lettau to come out with their dogs.
The far rise started filling with witnesses to West’s supposed sighting of a cat.
“The timing of that many dogs and people was perfect,” said Branden. “Biggest cheering section ever.” But, his worries of not proving he had really seen a mountain lion had started out extreme, and were growing.
Two and one half hours after the only sighting, the lead dog was commanded, Check that, at the sighted spot. The dog began baying. Weinberger yelled the confirmation that they had a cat! West admitted, until that point, he feared nobody would believe him. It might have been nothing, or even a lesser dog declaring a coon.
Then, according to Branden, his brother slapped him on his shoulder and told him to got get him. This cemented that it was Branden’s hunt.
“From that point on, the grin I have on my face was there,” exclaimed Branden.
Every moment is part of the telling. Briefly, the cat was watching unseen from a near tree. The hounds quickly began trailing a scent. Branden said he has never been quite so embarrassed as when he got the look back from a houndsman after he asked if the dogs would ever go after a deer.
It turned out that electronic trackers on the dogs were not necessarily needed this hunt, because the dogs never left the somewhat larger grove of cedar trees.
“The freaky part was when we walked in, we walked right by the cat,” said Branden. Downplaying his talents, “I’m a seasoned hunter, and I can’t find him! I could never see him. The entire time he was right underneath my nose. It goes to show you what is in the woods and what you see in the woods are two different things.” Lowering his voice, Brandon added, “If you’ve walked a creek bottom, a cat let you walk by him.”
After the hounds circled round to discover the cat high up in his way-too-close perch, the cat jumped so far overhead of the dogs that only the lead dog noticed. The others, still frantically howling, had to be literally picked up and thrown toward the new trail to follow the lead dog. Meanwhile, the cat got to a clearing, doubled back, and launched over the oncoming dogs. Again, the lead dog was good enough, and the dogs and hunters turned around. The cat climbed a tree not far from his original vantage point. There he stayed, patiently waiting for the baying irritants below to tire and leave.
Branden, circling the grove, was the first to have a clear sighting of the again treed cat. He took aim.
He said that he was stopped by the houndsmen, who were frantically yelling as they raced toward him. They demanded that he not shoot the cat yet, because it would come out of the tree and kill their dogs.
The dogs were pulled away from the tree and out of the underbrush. Following instructions, Branden aimed his open-sighted rifle to take out both shoulders of the cat. A clean hit, yet the cat stayed in the tree, its haunches doing all the work. The second shot was a heart shot. The cat, seemingly on purpose to break his fall, hit branches all the way to the ground. No shoulders and his heart stopped, a 30-plus-feet fall, and the cat still easily traveled over 50 yards away from Branden. Branden said that he, then, understood how a “dead” mountain lion could kill a pack of hunting dogs.
The entire hunt’s area was not more than 150 yards from where the cat was first seen, to the clearing, to its final tree.
The mountain lion weighed out at 115 pounds, measured 80 inches noise to tail tip, and was guessed to be about one and one half years old.
Branden plans on a full body mount of the mountain lion. It will be displayed in the trophy room of where his guided hunters often stay. Branden’s wife, Tayta, has final say on that. She assists with the hunting guide business, but also runs a preschool. “Not in my house! It’ll probably scare the daylights out of all the preschoolers.”
“There is no deer that could possibly compare to what I experienced on that cat hunt,” said Branden. “All of us have been searching for that one hunt that could compare to how this feels. I wish everybody who hunts could experience the privilege I felt in being a part of this kind of hunt.”