Mason Payer’s ‘Just in Case’ Cougar
By Gary Lewis
An hour of light left. If anything is going to happen here it will happen soon.
No sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I felt a wave of excitement and a strange feeling of heightened awareness. The fatigue from the hike and the boredom of sitting quiet were washed away, replaced by an alert, calm, energy.
Moments later, a cougar stepped out into the meadow.
I was sitting on my pack, hidden in a small group of Christmas tree-sized firs on the edge of a small meadow near the top of a ridge in the Rogue/Umpqua Divide Wilderness. The meadow was covered with elk sign. I was set up for the evening hunt, hoping the elk would come out to feed in the meadow before dark.
When the lion stepped out I thought, ‘Wow, I finally got to see a cougar in the wild!' My next thought was ‘I've got a tag, maybe I can shoot him.'
He had taken one step into the meadow when he stopped and stepped back into the trees.
I eased my bow out of my lap as I watched him scan the meadow before him. He was upwind and showed no sign that he knew I was there, but I expected him to detect me at any moment.
With an arrow nocked, release attached, all I had to do was raise my bow vertical and draw. I was tempted to draw while the tom's head was obscured by tree boughs, but I was worried he might stay behind the tree for a long time and I wouldn't be able to hold my bow that long.
Deep breaths. Maintain calm. The rise and fall of my chest was making my binocular covers squeak and I thought the cat was going to hear them.
Thirty seconds passed, but it felt like five minutes. The big cat walked, calm, into the meadow. Now. Sight pins tight behind his shoulder. He quartered away very slightly at about 18 yards. I held my top pin right on his vitals. If he would stop...
After ten yards, he paused. The release trigger was under my index finger. I stroked it and the arrow arced right behind his shoulder and disappeared through the cat.
Hit, the tom ran about forty yards straight down the hill and stopped to look back to see what had just happened. That was when I realized how big he really was and the moment I became afraid.
Even though I knew he was hit hard, I didn't know how long it was going to take him to expire, and I sure didn't want to find out while he was chewing on me!
I yelled for my brother and his buddy who were only about one hundred yards away, sitting on another part of the meadow. Once I started yelling, the tom kicked into gear and made his last run around the ridge and crashed in the brush out of sight.
We looked for the arrow for several minutes without success, then took up the blood trail which was heavy and easy to follow. When we crested the ridge, Graham pointed. "There he is." The big cat had traveled 80 yards and piled up in a large deadfall.
We skinned, quartered and packed out the trophy, which we estimated weighed close to 180 pounds.
Bleached and dried, the lion's skull scores 14-14/16 PY which will rank him as eighth largest killed in Oregon with a bow when I enter him into the Record Book for Oregon Big Game. He was only three years old based on tooth aging done by ODFW.
As an added bonus, my tag was drawn in the OHA Cougar raffle, winning a Leupold Vari-XIII scope.
Every now and then, we put a cougar steak on the barbecue and the images and the adrenaline comes back to me. I never expected to even see a cougar in the wild, let alone tag one, but I buy the tag every year. Just in case.