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A Long 27 Years – A B&C Audio Adventure

By Gene R. Alford
20th Big Game Awards Program | From Legendary Hunts

For 40 years, I have hunted cougar with hounds; and, hopefully, my 1988 hunt will not be my swan song. The last 30 years, I have hunted in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho each winter, trying to kill a Boone and Crockett lion. Each winter for the last 20 years, I have hired a ski plane to fly me, my dogs, and camp, into the backcountry where I hunt for a month or longer. I prefer to start hunting about the first of February, as the weather tends to improve rather than deteriorate after that time.

That was my thought on February 3, 1988. The day dawned clear and cold, and since I had loaded my pickup the day before, all I had to do was to phone the local commercial fly-boy and make arrangements for the flight. I called Frank Hill, of Hill Aviation in nearby Grangeville, and told him I was ready to go.

After a 30-mile drive, I arrived at the airport around 9 a.m. and started loading my gear into a 180 Cessna ski plane. I’d done this many times, so I had a pretty good idea of what I was doing. When the load got to within a foot of the headliner, I stuffed my two hounds on top and we were ready for takeoff. The airstrip we were using was long and black, so there was no problem getting airborne. The strip we were going to, however, would be different.

Forty-five minutes later, and 100 miles east, we came to the snow-covered, 900-foot, private airstrip with a double dog-leg. Frank extended the skis below the tires and powered-in around the ridge to the final approach, and we splashed down in 18 inches of fresh snow. My work was just beginning.

After unloading the plane, I packed all my gear 200 yards to the campsite. I had to clear snow for a place to set up my tent, then get the stove in place, and cut a good supply of wood. It was dark by the time I was finished, and the stars were out. The night was going to be really cold.

The first three weeks, my dogs treed several lions, one of them a big tom and the rest females. None were big enough to consider taking. I was enjoying the action and the solitude.

I’m 65 and have been a senior citizen for 10 years already. While I spend most of my life outdoors and take long summer and fall pack trips with my horses and mules, I wasn’t ready to run up and down the mountains as I once did. Consequently, I spent the first week getting in condition and breaking the trails. The first three weeks, my dogs treed several lions, one of them a big tom and the rest females. None were big enough to consider taking. I was enjoying the action and the solitude.

Then came the morning of February 26th. It was clear and cold, and the snow was hard and crusted. After a good breakfast, I turned the hounds loose and headed for a saddle in a ridge a mile from the river. My dogs reached the saddle first and had a track started by the time I got there. But they’d trailed-off the other side of the ridge, down into the canyon, then up the other side and over the end of a ridge that came down from the high country. Not knowing if they were trailing forwards or backwards on the track, my only choice was to try to stay within hearing of them. In the steep Selway Bitterroot, that’s not always easy. I headed up, staying on top of the ridge they’d crossed. From there, I could hear them well enough to know the direction they were going.

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Three hours of uphill climbing later, I found where the dogs and lion had crossed the ridge that I was on. After another hour of steep climbing on snow that was getting soft, I could hear the dogs barking treed. They were still a long way off.

When I finally got to the scene, I found the cougar treed on a steep, north-facing hill­side, in a tree that had fallen downhill and was not lying in the tops of others. When I saw it, I realized for the first time that my dogs had treed the cougar that I had spent most of 30 years looking for. It had been a long time since 1961, when the lion I killed that year had challenged Teddy Roosevelt’s record cougar. I would take this cat.

The big lion was nervous and wanted to get out of the tree. I was nervous and didn’t want him to jump. I had already gone farther down the mountain than I’d wanted, and I did not want him to jump and go even farther down into the canyon. It was already going to be a long trip out.

Light conditions for picture taking were very poor, but I tried a few photos anyway, while the cat was still in the tree. Then I tied up my dogs in case I had a cripple, a situation that can get dogs hurt or killed. The shots were at close range and the two slugs in the ribs from the Smith and Wesson Model 19, .357 Magnum pistol put an end to the excitement.

Skinning the heavy cat on the steep hillside in two feet of snow was no small job. An hour later, I had his hide and head on my back and had started up the mountain. In another hour it was growing dusk and I was only on top of the first ridge. Camp was still miles and hours away.

I can only estimate the cat’s live weight, but from experience and the size of the hide (laid-out on a log, it was 9 feet, 7 inches long) I’d put it at 225 pounds. While I would later find that the hide and head weighed 42 pounds and my backpack 18 pounds, the entire load felt like it weighed 100 pounds.

It was dark when I hiked into camp three hours later and the stars were out again. It had been a long 27 years. 

Note: This outstanding trophy, taken on an excellent example of the epitome of a fair chase hunt, was awarded the coveted Sagamore Hill Award at the 20th Big Game Awards. While at the Awards, in the spirit of sharing this exceptional trophy with all sportsmen, Gene Alford donated this skull to the Boone and Crockett Club’s National Collection of Heads and Horns, with the collection on continuing display at Johnny Morris' Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium.


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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt