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Wiltz: Conditions can help chances on mountain lion hunt

From left, Matt and Ben Gabler stand with their mountain lion shot in British Columbia in January.(Submitted photo)

Ben Franklin said sometime to the effect that if we don't stand together, we'll fall separately. He might have been talking about hunters. We hunters have a tendency to think that our way is the best way. This narrow line of thought could divide us. The enemy is anti-hunters, not one another.

One of the hunting forms that divides some of us is the hunting of bears and mountain lions with dogs. This is certainly a time-honored tradition. What we must keep in mind is that the chase, the stamina required to get to the cornered bear or treed lion on foot is what the hunt is about, not the simple task of knocking the quarry out of a tree with a pistol or high-powered rifle. Let's take a peek today at a friend's recent mountain lion hunt.

Matt is a Wisconsin friend of mine that you've met twice before. He was on the deer hunt when my grandson took "Big Eight," and he was a crew member on the "Banana Curse" salmon fishing expedition. Matt and his brother, Ben, successfully completed mountain lion hunts in British Columbia in January. We're talking big, 170-pound cats that will probably make Boone & Crockett's record book.

They flew to Spokane, Washington, where they rented a car for the four-hour drive to Christian Valley country near Westbridge, British Columbia. They hunted with Kettle River Outfitters, a small but highly successful operation owned by Melvin Kilback. Melvin hosted six lion hunters this past season with all six filling their tags. Melvin's Christian Valley hunting concession is a 100 miles long by 25 miles wide.

In spite of the above-mentioned success rate, Matt's and Ben's lions didn't come easy. Their 2014 hunt was foiled by too much snow, and a 2015 cat escaped to the waters of an open river. The guys gave themselves a break last year. This year's hunt was discounted as an unsuccessful hunt brings a discount on a follow-up hunt.

I thought the hunt strategy was interesting. At 1:00 a.m., on the day of a hunt, Melvin goes out on a snowmobile and looks for fresh tracks. Fresh or falling snow is a requisite. Melvin travels a circle with a 10-mile radius. Keep in mind that he is looking for big male tracks and he can distinguish between male and female.

If he finds suitable tracks that enter the circle, and he determines by riding the circumference that the tracks don't come out, he knows the big cat is within the circle. Now he has a place to begin the following morning. In all likelihood, the cat has a deer down within the circle, and he is gorging himself on fresh venison.

In the meantime, Matt and Ben were up for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. The guides were ready to go at 7 a.m. On the first morning of the five-day hunt, Matt went with Melvin. Ben went with another guide to look elsewhere for fresh trails. When Matt and Melvin reached the fresh trail that Melvin found earlier in the morning, Melvin released two Plot hounds, Mocha and Copper. The race was on!

Mocha, the leader and primary dog, wore a signal collar that transmitted his location to Melvin's GPS. Matt and Melvin always knew where the dogs were. When Mocha barked "treed," the men could look at the GPS and know exactly where the action was and choose the best route to the dogs.

Sounds easy, doesn't it. Well, there was nothing easy about it. Matt did not score until the fourth day. Another thing. Once the dogs were released, the men were on foot! The hunters were also carrying their cased rifles. The cases protected the guns from snow, bark, needles, etc.

As it turned out, Ben nailed his lion on the first day. This enabled Ben to accompany his brother on his hunt. Matt regretted not being a part of his brother's hunt.

When talking with Matt about the hunt, I assumed that once a cat was treed, one had to really hustle to get to the tree before the cat took off again. Not so with Matt's hunt. There was time.

I also guessed that on occasion, a big cat might turn on the dogs and take out a dog. This wasn't the case. Matt killed his lion with a pump-action rifle in .35 Remington caliber. He said that shooting that lion from a tree was emotionally difficult for him. I'd feel the same way.

The dogs were rewarded when Melvin turned them loose after the kill. The frenzied dogs tried to tear that cat into pieces. No damage was done to the cat.

There was no waste. Matt and Ben have their hides and skulls. The guys will eat the succulent, pork-like back straps. The quarters will be ground into dog food. One more thing: the guys hunted in cattle country and the area was very much pro-hunting with local ranchers appreciating the cat control.

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