Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mule Deer and Cougars

It has been a very long couple weeks which included my Mule Deer hunt and am now currently in the midst of my Elk hunt. Here is an update of what transpired during my deer hunt.

For starters the weather had been very mild and warm. So much so that it seemed as though I'd be better off spinning my wheels riding my road bike verses hunting. While the morning temps ranged from the mid 30's up to a balmy 50 and the forest was tinder dry, afternoon temps climbed into the upper 70's and teetered on the verge of 80. In my book that is way to warm and makes for extremely challenging conditions. None the less I was ready and eager to put in my time and make a go of it.

I was hunting close to home and appreciated the comforts after a long day of crawling through the brush. It was during my third morning when I was creeping along very slowly, my senses tuned in to the slightest sound that I caught a glimpse of movement off to my right about 15 - 20 yards. I froze instantly and was able to see the big cat's dark muzzle as he turned his head away from me after catching my movement. He moved fast with a sense of urgency, stealth in action as he flew down off the old slash pile while I watched him disappear into the thicket. My heart surprisingly stayed in my chest while my head processed what my eyes just saw and concluding that yes indeed that was a Cougar. Still my heart was calm, and if only for the reason that he fled from me I knew I was safe. I thought for a moment while still froze in my tracks from when we caught each others peripheral movement, that was to big for a Jack Rabbit. The tell tale signs of a cats movement are undeniable. They move like water, fast, silent and stealthy. No wasted effort or energy what soever. The buckskin color and the long tail gave him away. I immediately went to where he was and looked for tracks and only found a partial as he was on dried grass stubble before he disappeared into the thick dark woods. I didn't find any carcass either in the immediate area.

Umm I thought, very cool and a part of me had wished for a longer look although the outcome of such may have been quite different. I never had time to shoulder my gun and perhaps get a quick shot off. Then I thought oh great, he's out here hunting deer as well, and anything else that looks appetizing. So, maybe I was in the right place at least he thought it was a good place to be. I continued in the direction I was going and eventually looping around to where he exited to and I never did see him again that morning, thankfully. For that matter I didn't see any bucks either. Fine, I figured we were even, no harm no foul so to speak.

The next morning I hunted a different area (imagine that) and fortunately it had rained hard all night. I slept in a bit and didn't get into the woods til a bit after 9 a.m while it was still drizzling, but tapering off. It was a wonderful change of pace to have the quiet earth beneath my feet and smell the rain drenched pines and Bitterbrush. I stopped after a couple hours to shed my rain pants and as I got underway soon thereafter I ran across fresh tracks. These looked promising as there was dry dirt kicked up in the front of the tracks. I peeled my eyes as sharp as I was able and then I saw a mushroom that had been kicked over and nibbled on a bit. O.K. I thought, I'm getting close now, I can just feel it. Well let me tell you I had no idea just how true those thoughts were until about 4 or 5 steps later. In mid step with my left foot forward barely touching the ground and rolling off my right foot there he was! Right smack dab in front of me with most of his body hidden behind very tall Bitterbrush. We locked in on each other for the ultimate stare down. At 25 feet away or maybe less I could see only his left main beam sweep out to the side and split into a fork or better. The conversation one has with oneself at a time like this is somewhat comical and one of dis belief.

My gun was at waist level with both hands firmly grasping it so that I'd be able to bring it up to my shoulder quickly, or at least that was the plan. Clearly I was in a pickle and while I tried as best I could it was only a matter of time before my muscles were going to start twitching and shaking and ultimately be completely busted. I was fine for about a minute as we watched each other intently for the tell tale signs that I was not a bush, tree or any type of vegetation what so ever. While the buck kept a sharp eye on me licking his nose, blinking his eyes and tilting his head I thought to myself "here's my buck and I just blew it big time". While my muscles were starting to fatigue I had no option other than to try and slowly raise my gun to my shoulder and perhaps he would tolerate it. Nope, he blew and bolted and my adrenaline surged and my legs shook as I watched the buck take flight and win our stand off. No chance of getting a shot off due to the heavy timber and ground cover. I never did get a good look at how many points he was, although he had a very nice rounded full body. I think initially he was getting ready to bed down because as we spotted one another he appeared to come up off his right front knee.

So now the tracking begins and I tracked him for a good hour and a half maybe more. Then I got into some areas of private land and opted to swing around and point myself back towards the truck. Not more that ten minutes after doing so, did I hear a single gun shot from the direction he and I were moving in. I was gaining on him although the wind was swirly and not helping. I was a bit disappointed on one hand and on the other very thankful for having gotten so close. Just wasn't as ready as I thought I was.

The season ended on the 13th of October and I never did see another buck. I did see 5 does on the last day but that was it. All in all it was a fun hunt and what an experience to have seen that Cougar. A day in the field I won't soon forget and thanks for the schoolin' Mr.Buck!

On a gear note I was wearing Sitka Gear's Nimbus rain coat and pants in Mtn. Mimicry and they worked to perfection. I love that gear and thanks to the gang at Camofire for the incredible deals.

Am trying to catch up to an elk now and have a few days left. Will give you that report when I recover a bit and with any luck will have a better outcome than my deer hunt.

Women's Hunting Journal Integrity For The Hunt


NorCal Cazadora said...

Wow, those are some pretty amazing encounters! While I'm sorry you didn't bring anything home, I'm grateful that the cougar didn't take you home.

Casey said...

Awesome day out! I have never been near a cougar outside of a cage, but it would be awesome to experience that. Hope the elk hunt goes well!

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Seeing a cougar is a rare occasion, even around here, in the Rockies. They say, you never see one stalking you until it is on top of you. I've seen one once in the wild. They are truly awesome. I'd keep some pepper spray close if I were you!

Jennifer Montero said...

I'm glad the cougar ran and there was no fresh kill. You must have been in the right place if a cougar thought there was something worth having there too. Are cougars considered vermin? or protected and require a permit? or is it a case of OK if you are defending yourself.

Were you hunting the muley with a shotgun? (excuse my ignorance, I'm not sure the calibre requirements in the US).

I hope this comment finds you filling your freezer with elk.

Terry Scoville said...

NorCal thanks, I was relieved that he ran too. The outcome of a "longer look" may have been very different for both of us.

Casey, yep I won't forget that encounter anytime soon.

Karen, you are absolutely right that once they make they're move it's all but to late. I don't carry pepper spray but do have my rifle and a side arm. Plus I do look behind me and scan the ground carefully a lot!

Jennifer, Cougars are vermin to hunters and not so to non hunters. Since Or. discontinued the use of dogs to track and hunt Cougars they're numbers have skyrocketed and our deer and elk herds have taken the brunt. Now all one needs is a over the counter tag to hunt Cougars and it is year round. I am hunting Deer & Elk with a 257 cal. rifle this year. Just not enough time to get my new gun(Kimber 7mm-08) dialed in. I hope to after the season so in case I get an emergency hunt I can use it for Elk.

gary said...

Thats what you call a full season. If you have a couple adrenaline rush's like that, you had a good hunt. Only way it could have been better is with a freezer full of back strap and tender loins.

25 feet?! Thats almost shaking hands with the old boy. I hate it when that happens, you work so hard to get in on them and then practically run over them before you see them. The ground must really have gotten quiet in the rain. I remember how load it can be there when its dry.

Were you carrying a cougar tag? That would have made a great trophy, and helped out a few dozen deer in the mean time.

Luck on the elk!!

Terry Scoville said...

Gary, yep to darn close. I could see his wet nose glistening in the daylight & just about able to see my reflection in his eyes too. Oh well, yes I do have a cougar and bear tag on me at all times. So far a fun season. Keeping my eyes peeled for both of them too.

EcoRover said...

Dang, here in the open country you can usually depend on mulies to stop and look back (broadside) before they crest the ridge 200 or 300 yards away.

I'm most impressed by your lion sighting--I've seen only two (young ones, together, about 400 yards distant) and I am in the hills at least 100 days a year. See lots of tracks, and a few that were hit by cars. Common but elusive critter.

Holding off on my mule deer tag 'til daughter Emily is home at Thanksgiving, but an old friend shot his first the other morning.

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