By Courtney Wilhelm
For most of my life, I had dreamt of experiencing a mountain lion hunt and it was at the top of my hunting bucket list. For a time it seemed as if it would never be anything more than a fantasy but in December, I was able to embark on a trip that was two years in the making.
I set out on my trek across the state of Montana and crossed into southeastern British Columbia to begin this adventure. A snowstorm slowed me down along the way, but thankfully I made it safe and sound. The first few days of the hunt were rather slow, with eyes glued to the ground trying to cut a track. On the fourth morning, we finally did. We initially thought the track may have belonged to a young tom and we continued up the mountain, following logging roads as far as we could go, to the nearest spot to release the hounds.
The hounds took off and it was an incredible sight to watch them work. Much like bird dogs, when one hound caught the scent and let out a howl, the others rushed over to smell for themselves and fell in line following one another, honoring the lead dog. It wasn’t long before the GPS tracker told us the dogs had something treed, and my adrenaline spiked.
The cat was treed up the mountain about 400 yards off a logging road. The trek didn’t seem far seeing the aerial view on the GPS, but that was 400 yards as the crow flies. The hike began with us picking our way across the slippery, snow-covered side of a mountain. About 300 yards in, we descended about 1,000 feet just to ascend another 1,000 feet up the mountain again. At times I felt like Tarzan, grabbing branches along the way, swinging myself around trees and other obstacles as my feet slid on the mountainside beneath me. As we climbed and continued our way across the slope, we hit a roadblock so close to where the cat was treed.
I found myself staring at a vertical rock wall, just beneath my destination. The rocks were about 10 to 12 feet high and there was nowhere to go but up, or a very long trek around. At a height of only five-feet-four-inches, I needed a small boost. My guide lifted my left foot enough for me to dig my right foot into the rocks a few feet up. From there, I pushed my bow above me and hooked it into some brush and picked the rest of the way up the rocks. After the ascent on shaky legs, I wobbled the few final steps over to the baying hounds, where I first saw the beautiful cat up in a pine.
I set out on this journey hoping to achieve my goal with my bow but was faced with the possibility of not having a shot opportunity ideal for an archer. I was extremely lucky to have an opening in the branches, enough for me to slip a well-placed (and well-thought-out) shot.
I found myself staring down my dream game animal as a hunter and being within roughly five yards. This was the closest shot I had ever attempted with my bow, plus the sharpest angle. I must have imagined the shot a couple dozen times in my mind before letting my arrow fly. I watched my arrow sail true; the cat spun and I observed my arrow exit the opposite side of the magnificent creature, incredibly thankful for a clean shot. The angle and placement had been perfect, and I was overcome with a tremendous rush of relief.
What we originally thought to be a young tom was in fact a mature female. She was an old warrior with worn-down teeth, and likely past her breeding years. Two of her toes on her left front paw were fused together and missing the claws. I can’t imagine the scraps and scuffles she encountered over the years.
As hunters know, the work begins after the kill. The only way off the mountain was a four-and-a-half-mile hike down, following switchback logging roads, because going back up certainly wasn’t an option.
The entire experience was phenomenal; absolutely everything I had hoped and imagined a mountain lion hunt would be. Everything was perfect, from the blue mountain hues, serenity of the soft falling snow in the pines, to the strenuous physical challenge and sweat of the pursuit. I returned home after the hunt of a lifetime with a renewed sense of adventure and fearlessness. That hunt will forever be hard to beat, but I’m certainly ready for my next adventure.
Courtney Wilhelm is a Dakota Edge Outdoors contributing writer and is a North Dakota Bowhunters Association Board Member, serving as the Editor for the organization’s media.
Featured Photo: The author pursued her dream, and this large mountain lion, on a challenging archery expedition in the British Columbia mountains last December. DEO Photo by Courtney Wilhelm/NDBA.