Prime elk hunting time
It was mid-September in Eastern Oregon. Prime elk hunting time at my favorite backcountry hole, where spike camp pitches 7 miles from the closest trailhead. The previous week in Idaho just about wore the tread off my boots, and adding another day’s climb up the mountain with a loaded pack left me spent. Coupling that with a sunny break in the otherwise damp weather, it made for the perfect, and welcome, opportunity to set up on an active wallow for the afternoon.
Two miles beyond camp, on a route toward a familiar haunt where I had bugled in a 5×5 the past fall, I passed through some well-traveled rutting area torn up with rubs and elk sign. Anticipation hung in the air as I settled in for the heat of day, periodically working a cow call sequence while standing guard over the raked pit of mud. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to happen, yet despite my best efforts, time rolled past with no action. The sun had just begun to dip below the western peak when I opted to pack it in and glass the feeding areas along my return to camp.
I replay these next few moments of my story often. What if I stayed just awhile longer? What if I set off in a different direction? What if I had not turned around to check my six? It is impossible to say for sure.
What I do know is I shouldered up my pack, stepped out of cover, and made a dozen or so steps toward the nearest meadow before glancing back over my right shoulder. Something out of place caught my attention, and the instinctual double take confirmed it. A mountain lion crouched low, and creeping in my direction.
“I just shot a &%$#ing mountain lion!”
The beast froze in response as I turned to face it. Muscle memory taking over I ranged at 24 yards, nocked and arrow, and drew all without breaking a stare on the largest set of eyes to ever size me up. The cat was slightly three-quartered my way, but halting in mid stride with the left paw forward offered a clear window to vitals.
Settle the pin, exhale, and let carbon fly.
The ensuing reaction was mass of coiled muscle and bone, exploding in reflex to the arrow with extraordinary speed and power. A backflip, three belly rolls, and a few final twists before all was still. Just paces from my feet lay the ultimate predator. In total, the encounter just seconds from sight to silence. Gravity of the situation settles in. Nine miles from civilization, solo, and face-to-face with one of few creatures on the mountain that deals in death. Several thoughts roll through my mind, yet easily summarized in one sentence said aloud. “I just shot a &%$#ing mountain lion!”
100 plus pounds in tow
Daylight fading, I opted for a few photos and quick field dress in order to make camp before dark. After a little backcountry engineering the lion was awkwardly secured to my pack. I started off down the mountain with 100 plus pounds in tow, head and paws draped over my own shoulders to balance the load.
My first mountain lion
This was my first mountain lion, and the following morning was spent meticulously skinning and boning meat. I took great care to preserve the cape and every edible scrap from my harvest. A few hours later and I was back at the truck with all on ice. After a quick carb binge and change of socks, I turned and headed straight back up the mountain. It was bow season, and I still had tags to fill.
NEVER STOP HUNTING!
Dining on mountain lion, or any predator for that matter, is received with a mixed reaction even among the hunting crowd. I can now speak from experience, and review it as some of the best wild game I have ever sampled. Similar to pork in taste and texture, lion has graced my table as grilled backstrap, stew, smoked meatloaf, and even a bone-in salt cured ham for Christmas. I would challenge even those with the most refined palate to give it a try and tell me I’m wrong.
In the interest of time, I also left out one amazing piece from my elk hunt turned mountain lion encounter. My return trip to camp that evening following the kill was not without its own story and lesson. Considering my cargo, I opted for the most direct and easiest route back to the tent which took would take me across a high alpine meadow. I reasoned my luck was done for the day, and since the weight of my pack made it all but impossible to move quietly I put my head down and marched on. I did not even slow down when approaching the meadow as I crashed through the underbrush near the edge emerging into open space. I’m not sure who was more surprised, me or the 6×6 bull standing broadside less than 40 yards away. I made a feeble attempt at slowly knocking an arrow, but staring at a mix of mountain lion and man surely conjured up visions of his worst nightmare. Without a second thought the bull swapped ends and tore off through the timber. Had I been wiser, my chances at notching another tag that evening were almost certain. It just goes to show, NEVER STOP HUNTING!
Who is CHAD HARVEY?
@gundogarms on Instagram
Chad Harvey Passion for bow hunting, photography, and the outdoors. Oregon based, Michigan raised. BOWADX Prostaff. First Lite Prostaff. Owner Gun Dog Arms.
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