By: Kristy Titus
British Columbia holds all the promise of what my heart yearns for: adventure, the intoxicating sound of nothing but the wind whispering to me through the trees, a place where I can hunt the hunters—mountain lions—with the aid of my best friend and companion, my Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kruger, at Otter Lake Outfitters.
The Cascade Mountains in Southern British Columbia are much steeper and rougher than the stretch of my home mountain range in Oregon. Fortunately, there’s an intricate system of logging roads that zig-zag around the mountains, allowing access during the winter months by snowmobile.
The wind tore at my face. It was minus 15 degrees and this was my first time driving a snowmobile. If adventure is what I sought, I had found it.
The motor revved as I squeezed the throttle and I was suddenly being dragged alongside the snowmobile. At some point, my wits came about me and I let go. To the rescue, my guide, Colton Wabnegger, approached, turning my snowmobile upright and with a grin he calmly said, “Next time, let go of the throttle a little sooner.” Colton’s father, Dave, just looked at me and chuckled a bit.
What had I gotten myself into?
- Lesson No. 1: You don’t steer a snowmobile with your arms like a car. You steer it with your body weight, leaning to and fro depending upon the topography of the land.
- Lesson No. 2: It’s easier to move to and fro while kneeling, not sitting, on the seat.
- Lesson No. 3: If you should happen to lose your balance or “get bucked off,” quickly let go of the throttle and spare yourself the embarrassment of being dragged alongside your machine, getting a face full of snow.
Nothing feels better than a nice warm cabin after a bitter cold day on the mountain. Dave was preparing pierogi’s, a Polish dumpling that’s stuffed with potatoes and topped with sautéed onions and bacon. This was my first taste of the pierogi and I must say that, should I create a cookbook, these are definitely going to grace the pages.
Some of my favorite parts about hunting camp are the stories told, adventures shared and memories made that last a lifetime. Dave certainly has acquired a lot of memories while guiding clients and raising his three children on these blessed mountains. After dinner, I couldn’t help but stare at all of the photos that lined the walls of the cabin. If walls could talk, they would tell tales of hunts past for hours upon hours.
In each photo, I could literally watch Colton’s first hunts as a young boy develop him into as a guide alongside his father as a young man. The priceless tradition of hunting and passing along our time-honored traditions from one generation to the next is why I do what I do.
Is All In The Snow
When it comes to hunting cats, whether it be lynx, bobcats or mountain lions, good snow is critical. If the snow is hard and crunchy, the cats will walk on top and never break through, leaving no trace. If the snow is slushy and wet, the track will not leave much scent, making it difficult for the hounds to follow and, if the snow is too old—even if the consistency of the snow is good—it becomes a guessing game as to the age of the track you’re examining.
It was our second day on the mountain in search of a fresh track and, fortunately, we had a fresh snow upon my arrival, so the tracking conditions were good. The areas that we had visited the day prior were re-visited to see if any cougars had crossed in the night. With temperatures this brutally cold, we had to make certain we found the right track: large enough to indicate a tom, one that’s less than 10 hours old and a track that’s solo.
We were also looking for an area that we could snowmobile around to make sure the lion had not exited the area. The last thing a houndsman wants to do is turn out his hounds only to find that the lion crosses another road some 5 miles away and you could’ve turned out in a different, closer location. You’re always considering the health of the dogs, making your best effort to ensure the shortest race with the best likelihood of a positive outcome. With temperatures in the sub-zero category, we had to take caution with everything we did.
The chainsaw was our best friend. The heavy snowfall had downed many trees, and Dave and Colton worked hard at clearing the trails for our safe passage. Between the tracks and the fallen trees, it was stop and go, stop and go.
Dave easily revved his motor up the steep mountainside, but this was not his first time guiding and he knew where the sticky spot was when he went over it. My machine bogged down, I’d gotten scared and didn’t have the necessary momentum to make the steep trek. Waiting patiently for me, Dave taught me my next snowmobile lesson:
- Lesson No. 4: When in doubt, throttle out. Sometimes momentum will make the seemingly impossible possible on a snowmobile.
There were so many tracks—bobcats, lynx, coyotes, lions with kittens, deer and moose—but there just wasn’t the right track. As with all days hunting, the sunset comes all too soon.
There is no more magnificent of a paintbrush than that of the hand of the good Lord. These sunsets were some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen. The snow turned a stunning shade of gold from the sun’s rays caressing down, and there were tiny diamonds of light shimmering on the snow-covered ground. Here in places like this, experiencing beauty unlike anything else in this world, is where I feel the closest to Heaven.
We found the track of a large tom, but the track was too aged and we were uncertain as to where he went, but we would return the next day to scour the mountain for his whereabouts. The hounds had waited yet another day, patiently waiting to be turned out and go to work.
Finally, Work For The Dogs
My snowmobile skills had vastly improved and I was ready to take on the mountain! Colton went high to the top of the mountain while Dave and I circled low to the valley floor. This was our third day in search of that perfect track. Navigating the snowmobile around the mountain kept me warm, despite the bitter cold, and I was having a blast.
Colton found a fresh track that he wanted Dave to get a better look at, so we loaded up and drove to his location. The truck heater felt good on my face, but I was so excited to have finally found a good track that I could hardly stand it.
When I dreamed about coming to British Columbia to hunt mountain lion, I expected to be in a far-off distant area, far away from civilization and man, on the tops of a mountain in the most remote country. But what I soon discovered was that mountain lions spend their winter hunting, not in a distant location or remote area, but just on the outskirts of town, on small farms, near people and where there are large numbers of wintering deer and elk herds.
The track that Colton located was most likely a big tom, and it was obviously hunting the elk and deer tracks that were zig-zagging everywhere. We were less than 10 miles from town and just above several little farms and a small neighborhood that inhabited the valley floor that stretched below us.
Colton gave warning of extremely steep, rough terrain, so I stayed behind while he and Dave made sure the track was true and worth pursuing. At this point, I was anxiously waiting, hoping that we would begin the hunt and, in that moment, I knew exactly what the hounds had been feeling for the past few days.
The track was good. We had an entry point and we knew there was no exit below because Dave and I ran the road below that morning. The cougar was somewhere between where we stood and where we began our morning. It was early, and we had lots of daylight left. This was the opportunity we had been waiting for.
Colton loaded two hounds onto his snowmobile and I hopped on Dave’s snowmobile with his hound, Stormy. While holding Kruger tight in my arms (no easy feat with an 80-pound hound), we made our way toward where the lion had crossed during the night.
This was the hounds’ first time being turned out since spring bear season, and they were anxious to get tracking. Kruger, still being young, followed the hounds and the track for a few minutes but quickly returned to my side. With a little more training, maybe someday he will be in on a race.
We watched the hounds move across the side of the mountain on the GPS tracking device, and within less than 10 minutes, the device signaled that hounds were treed. The lion had been close and was now treed within 500 yards of where we stood.
The snow was knee-deep and the mountain could not be any steeper. I clutched my bow, careful not to fall during my decent down the mountain. My heart was racing. I’d waited my entire life to hunt mountain lions in British Columbia, and it all came down to this moment.
The lion was perched high up in a giant old pine. Colton and Dave caught and tied the hounds up so that we could get a better look at the cat. It was definitely a tom and he was definitely a mature cat. We’d been blessed that our first turn-out went so smoothly. But that’s what a good guide does—he makes sure that everything is as perfect as possible for this very moment.
Years of practice, planning and experience made this very moment possible. Drawing back my bow and taking careful aim … my hunt for the hunter was a success.