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Determined – A B&C Audio Adventure



By Jerry J. James
19th Big Game Awards Program| From Legendary Hunts

My cougar hunt began in the spring of 1979 when I first decided to go on a hunt. I wrote letters to guides, and then eagerly awaited the morning mail for the replies to come. I was able to narrow my guide selection, and after calling several references, I finally decided on Bob Smith of Kooskia, Idaho. I had read about Idaho’s reputation of having large cats, and the Selway-Bitteroot area has yielded numerous record-book cats.

My enthusiasm was brightened, when upon arriving in Lewiston, Idaho, I was informed that they had a fresh snow in the high country. My enthusiasm was quickly dampened, though, when my hunt began the next day and the weather turned extremely warm. The snow quickly melted, and the possibility of finding a fresh track was just about nil. Bob and I spent a week walking in the high country with no luck. I returned home, but I was determined to try again.

The next year was a repeat of the first, with no snow. I planned my trip for two weeks later, but little did I know that Idaho would experience a snowless winter. When you consider the number of miles that guides cover when there is snow to cut a fresh track, you can imagine how lucky you would have to be to jump a cougar under non-snow conditions.

My plane trip home was once again a long ride back to Minnesota. But, I was even more determined than ever to get a cat. I vowed that my third trip would only happen if snow conditions were perfect, and I planned on staying until I was successful, or Bob sent me home, whichever came first.

Finally, in late December 1981, I got the call. Bob said that they had 18 inches of snow in the high country, and more was expected. My first night after arriving was spent in renewing acquaintances and preparing my equipment. I shoot a 60-pound Bear Alaskan bow, with Bear Magnum arrows and Satellite broadheads. My equipment has accounted for numerous whitetails and two bears, and I knew that this would be adequate medicine for cougars.

The hunt began with Bob and I driving the back roads in his four-wheel-drive truck, along with his two best cat dogs, Chief and Ralph. Chief is an Airedale and bluetick hound cross, and he has been involved in more than 100 cat kills. Ralph is a pit bull and Walker hound cross, with a big hate for cats and bears. It was really a switch, driving back roads through more than a foot of snow, compared to our first two years. I was really amazed at Bob’s ability to determine what kind of tracks there were along the road. I had never seen a cougar track, so I had Bob stop several times for tracks that I thought were those of a cat that he called elk, etc. And, he was always right.

As we drove along, Bob told me about different cougars he had taken over the years. I told him that I wasn’t fussy after two unsuccessful trips; all I wanted was a cougar, and he did not have to be a record-book cat. Bob told me that if I got a cougar, more than likely it would make the book, as the cats in his area all seem to have large heads and every mature cougar would make it.

About 10:00 a.m., we cut a day-old cat track crossing a bridge and heading up the side of the mountain. We took to the trail, with Ralph on a leash while Chief was allowed to run ahead. The cat headed straight up the mountain, Bob and I following in a foot of snow. Bob told me that Chief did not have to be leashed because he would only run the trail if Bob gave the command. Once the command was given, Chief would run the trail silently until he jumped the cat. Then, the hound would take over and he would bark like crazy. Ralph was leashed so that he would not take the trail. Because of Idaho’s remoteness, Bob does not want to turn his dogs loose until the trail is fresh, as his dogs could be gone for days. Four hours later, the track was not getting any fresher. My legs were suffering from cramps from climbing the mountain, so we decided to quit. I was dog tired and soaking wet as we slid down the mountain to the Bronco.

That night, about a foot of snow fell which made it impossible to go back and follow the old track, and we found no new tracks that day. For me, it was a welcome relief, as I was still tired from the first day. That night it snowed again, and next day we cut another cougar track on the road. The cat had crossed the river and headed up the mountain. Bob was really excited, as he thought the cat was a big tom with skull measurements that would easily exceed 15 inches. The track looked as big as a pie plate in the snow.
We started up the mountain again, with Ralph on a leash and Chief following the trail. After climbing about a mile, we came to some rock bluffs where the dogs went wild. The cat scent was strong in the rocky area, and both Chief and Ralph were barking like crazy. Bob sent Chief on the trail and turned Ralph loose, and the chase was on. The trail paralleled the river for about a mile, then headed downhill straight to the river. We tried to keep up with the dogs, but it was impossible as the snow was more than three feet deep, and we did not have snowshoes.

We could hear the dogs barking down by the river, so we raced down the mountain. Unfor­tunately, the cat swam the river.

We could hear the dogs barking down by the river, so we raced down the mountain. Unfor­tunately, the cat swam the river. After that, our daily equipment list included a boat, and we hunted both sides of the river. I doubt that we could have followed the cat anyway as we were both tired and it was getting late. Bob also thought that the cat had crossed the river before he had even turned the dogs loose, as the cat had made a lot of tracks down by the river.

That night, it snowed again. We decided against taking a boat across the river and following the cat. The track would have been over 36 hours old, and the cat could have been 15 miles away. We drove up one back road where a tree had fallen across the road. We turned around before we got to the fallen tree, since we did not have a chain saw to remove it. That night, it snowed again. As we headed up the road the next day to where the tree had fallen, I joked to Bob that there probably was a cat track just beyond the fallen tree. Sure enough, there was a track only 100 yards on the other side of the tree! Needless to say, a chain saw was added to our equipment list after that. The cat had crossed the road and walked up the fallen tree and then up the mountain. The track was already over 24 hours old, but we decided to follow it anyway, hoping the cat had made a kill on the mountainside. Unfortunately, the cat had not, because he continued to climb the mountain. Soon we were wading in four feet of snow. After about four hours of trailing, we headed back to the Bronco totally exhausted. I didn’t think I was ever going to get my cat.

The sixth day, we did not cut any tracks. This was just as well, as I was still too tired from the day before. I saw more hills in Idaho in one day than I have seen in Minnesota in a lifetime. The scenery was beautiful beyond description; and during the day’s hunt, we continually saw numerous deer and elk.

The seventh day was a perfect day for hunting; we had two inches of fresh snow. We stopped at a cafe to have a cup of coffee, and we were told that a truck driver had seen a cougar right next to the road two days before. We went to where the cougar had been sighted, and then spent some time in the area listening for ravens which might indicate that the cat had a kill. His track was too old to follow, so we decided to cover our daily route.

After some time, we found the track of a large cat that had crossed the road and headed up the mountain. The track was filled with snow, but we knew that it had been made during the night. We hoped that the cat was not too far away. We started our usual procession of Chief leading the way, with Ralph on a leash, and me bringing up the rear. We headed up and then paralleled the mountain, when the cat track turned and headed into a small canyon. All of a sudden, Chief, who had gotten out of our sight, started barking as though he had jumped the cat and was following the trail. Bob turned Ralph loose and he headed down into the canyon. After days of walking, I was finally listening to hound music.

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The chase was short; soon both dogs were barking that the cat was treed. We hurried over to the tree, and there was the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen. The lion looked golden brown against the green pine trees, and it was obviously a big tom. Finally, the moment I had worked at for the last three years was about to happen. Bob tied up the dogs as I positioned myself for a shot with my bow. I only had a small hole to shoot through as I released my arrow. The arrow deflected on a small branch and hit the cat on the side of the head. The cat started snarling, and he knocked off every branch as he started down the tree. I nocked another arrow, and took another quick shot before the cat was halfway down the tree. The arrow hit him right behind the front leg. The cat died before he could go 20 yards.

I beat the dogs to the lion, but I remembered what Bob told me about not touching the cat until the dogs got there. I knew what he meant when Ralph hit that lion wide open. I am sure he would have chewed on me too, if I had been holding that cat. Chief gave the cat the business too, but he knew he had done his job, just as he had done dozens of times before.

Later, we laid the hide on the floor. The big tom measured 8 feet, 7 inches long. Bob joked that we could stretch him a lot further, especially if we used two pickups. Needless to say, I was elated. After hunting 22 days over a three-year period, walking at least 200 miles, sliding down mountains, and crossing icy rivers in a rubber boat, I had finally taken my cougar.

Fortunately, this is not the end of my story. I received a phone call from my taxidermist in the middle of July. He had sent the skull to the University of Minnesota to have it cleaned in a bug-box. After receiving it, he had taken the skull to a Pope and Young scorer who gave it an official score of 15-11/16. My cougar was recognized as the new World’s Record at the Pope and Young Club Awards Banquet on April 9, 1983, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It also was awarded Pope and Young Club’s prestigious Ishi Award, which is the highest form of recognition given by the club. The Ishi Award is presented only when a truly outstanding big game animal is taken, and the award criteria are similar to those for the Boone and Crockett Club’s coveted Sagamore Hill Award.

Never in my life did I believe this could happen to me. I called Bob Smith and thanked him for a tremendous hunt, as it had been a real experience to see Bob and his dogs work. I also reminded him about the big cat that swam the river and got away from us. There is no doubt that cat was larger than the one I shot. I am sure when someone gets him, Bob Smith and his dogs will also be there.



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