On the Trail of Tag-Team Lions
By Gary Lewis
When two inches of November snow fell on the high desert, Rich Brogdon of Action Outfitters (541-536-5893) in La Pine called his client Mark Broadman from Port Orchard, Washington. Mark made the seven-hour drive to central Oregon that evening.
In the morning, the hunters headed into the sagebrush and junipers of the Paulina Unit. They made their first calling setup in an area where Rich had found evidence that lions were killing deer.
After several setups, Rich and Mark returned to the truck. Driving on, they found another set of tracks. Stopping to look, Rich found the sign of two cats traveling together. He was certain the prints were made just minutes before. Parking the truck, the hunters set out on foot, setting their faces into the howling wind.
Soon they found signs of a struggle below a rocky outcropping. Hair in the snow gave evidence that the bigger lion had sunk his claws into a deer and then lost his grip.
A mile and a half uphill, they followed the trail into a bowl below a ridge top. The hunters sat down to watch. Soon they spotted two animals, a deer and a cow elk, side by side. One watched, while the other fed. From time to time, they would run, staying together, and then return to feeding and watching. Something had them agitated.
Suddenly, Rich saw the deer make a run for safety. A streak of brown fur caught Rich’s eye as a mountain lion moved to cut off the deer’s escape. Next, the elk made a dash and it too was cut off and forced back down into the bowl.
Rich and Mark began moving in, closing the distance to about 400 yards. Hunting as a team, one cat would block the exit and the other cat would attack downhill. When one cat would get tired, the two would switch places so one could rest while the other wore down their prey.
Finally the elk made another run for it. This time, its long legs allowed it to outdistance its pursuers and the cats were unable to keep it from escaping. Now Rich and Mark were within 100 yards of the lions. The male, for it was a male and female hunting together, had returned to the trail of the elk with his nose in the snow. Mark shot and missed.
At the sound of the rifle, the big cat seemed to vanish, disappearing into a grove of pine trees. Leaving Mark on the hill to watch, Rich moved into the timber, zig-zagging, hoping to push the cats out into the open. Armed with only a pistol, he kept it ready, just in case.
Finally, at the head of the canyon - when he was about to believe that somehow, the cougars had escaped - he saw them. The male was less than five feet away when it turned and fled. For an hour, it had lain in wait as he approached.
Through the course of the next two hours, the two hunters tracked the lions. The trail took them in a large circle that seemed to go nowhere, as if the cats had vanished. Puzzled, Rich knelt and saw that the male had turned and doubled back using his own tracks to throw off his pursuers. Following back up the hill, they found the lion’s prints in their own boot tracks. Then they found the lions. The female was in a tree and the male was snarling in a lava cave. Mark dispatched the male and Rich tagged the female.
Calling remains the most effective way to hunt Oregon’s mountain lions. Hunters can use a variety of calls to bring a big cat within range. Effective calls simulate prey animals in distress, coyote pups and mating mountain lions. An electronic call will help you direct the lion’s attention away from your position. Most important, approach your calling area carefully. Wear total camouflage and keep movements to a minimum.
When in place, use your peripheral vision to spot the movement of an approaching cat. Give the call time to work. If you’re after a lion, don’t shoot the coyotes that might come in. Most hunters will call in one location up to 30 minutes before moving on. When you decide to shoot, do it right. Shoot and keep shooting.
Biologists estimate that, prior to the ban on hunting with hounds, there were more than 2,000 mountain lions in Oregon. Today, it is thought that there are at least double that number. An adult lion, some say, will take one big game animal per week, approximately 50 per year. You do the math. Habitat loss and poaching take their toll, but predators are taking more of Oregon’s deer and elk than at any time in recent history.