Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mountain Lion

There are times when luck works for you, and there are times when it doesn’t.  Sometimes two persons will split the good and bad luck with one hogging the all the good stuff and the other taking the leftovers.  But I think there is just as much of one as the other.  And for me the bad always follows the good.

When I was returning from a very successful fishing trip in Pennsylvania I realized I left my ice chest full of fish at the motel near Harrisburg.  The problem was that I was in Oklahoma when I realized it.  And there had been business stops in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri.  I was some eight days down the road.  I turned around and drove straight through to the motel.

I arrived to find my ice chest waiting for me.  I thanked the managers for saving it for me, paid the storage fee, and drove a few blocks away where I found a trash bin.  I opened the lid to throw out the well-spoiled fish and heard a growl that I didn’t like hearing.  I abandoned the ice chest and ran back to my car to escape the bear emerging from the bin.  I drove away, and I didn’t look back.  Forgetting that ice chest at the motel cost me a lot of time and travel money, and I had nothing to show for it.  But at least I had enjoyed a great fishing trip.

Georgia has some great bass fishing water, and I took a couple of days to rent a boat and do some serious fishing on the Georgia side of Lake Hartwell northeast of Atlanta.  I had a great time, and in addition to returning more than sixty fish to the water, I caught the biggest bass of my fishing career.  My hand scales showed it to be a little over nine pounds.  Just after taking a picture of it, I dropped my camera overboard.  I kept fishing and catching, but I was really trying to hook my camera, although I knew that it was ruined even if by some miracle I did retrieve it.  It was only a small amount of bad luck after the good luck of catching the big bass, but I was catching a lot of fish; therefore, something really bad was going to happen.  It did.

Returning to the boat rental company’s dock, I hit a submerged stump or rock or something, and down went the boat.  It didn’t sink, but that was only because of the floatation tanks in the bow and under the seats, but the motor was submerged.  Another boater rescued me and towed the submerged boat back to the dock.  That cost me a fifty.  Then I had to pay for the boat and motor.  Good luck/bad luck.

My cousin Vern was “unique” in my family.  Not that the entire family wasn’t “unique,” but Vern was possibly the most “unique.”  I didn’t see Vern very often, but this wasn’t a bad thing.  Whenever I did see him, I knew something was about to go very wrong. 

Vern’s portion of the family either owned or leased a ranch in southwest Texas, and they raised some cattle and had a small herd of sheep there.  It was a big place, and he and I had done a bit of hunting there for deer from time to time.  Now he was having some problems with a mountain lion taking about two sheep per week.  And so he came looking for me.  Vern was an experienced hunter, but a mountain lion was a bit daunting for him.  He decided that two daunted hunters would be better than one.

Neither of us knew much about the habits of the big cat, so we headed to the library to do some research.  In our quest for knowledge, we discovered many things, but the most important thing we came across was the bounty being paid for the skin, and we could keep the skin after it was marked and registered.  My first thought was about covering the cost of the trip.  Vern’s first thought was about beer.

We met at his ranch on a Friday evening and studied a map showing where the sheep kills were occurring.  We thought we could determine the approximate location of the next kill, and hopefully be close enough to it to take the lion.  Early Saturday morning we drove out to the location where we thought we could succeed at our task and took a long look around.

We glassed the range for four or five hours before driving back to the ranch house.  We knew we were up against a formidable opponent on his home ground.  But we were hopeful.  We took a long nap, and waited for the sun to move low in the western sky.

About eight in the evening we were back in the cat’s territory waiting for the moon to make it’s appearance.  But we were going to have a long wait.  The stars disappeared one by one as the clouds moved in and soon the rain began.  We got out of there in a hurry.  I can’t blame this on bad luck, because it hadn’t been preceded by good luck.  I can blame ourselves for not getting a weather report before starting the hunt.  We could try again next weekend.

I needed to spend a few days in New Mexico and Arizona on business and couldn’t return until the following Sunday, but I arranged to take up to four days vacation at the ranch and hunt for the mountain lion.  Vern, to his credit, didn’t go off bull riding or noodling, and he was there when I returned to the hunt.

This time the moon was just a couple of days past full, and we had plenty of light under the clear skies.  We walked the trails and roads on the property until about one in the morning, and then stopped to take a break.  We had just sat down when we heard the bells on the sheep start ringing, and we knew the cat was on the move.  We slipped into the shadows as much as we could and walked toward the disturbance.  Suddenly Vern started punching my shoulder and pointing into the distance.

Sometimes luck is in abundance.  The wind was slight, but it was blowing straight at us from the direction of the lion.  And lined up somewhat behind us was the moon.  Very gently I brought the hammer back to full cock on the .30-30 and lifted it up to peer down the iron sights.  I squeezed the trigger, and the cat tumbled end over end and never moved again.

Vern stood there with his mouth open for about as long as I did.  Then we decided we had better get it back to the ranch house.  But was it really dead?  Neither of us wanted to get very close to it to find out, so we threw a few rocks at it, but it just lay there.  After about half an hour Vern went back after the truck, leaving me to get eaten if it suddenly came back to life.  I chambered another round.

Vern drove up to the cat and rolled his window down just enough to push a fishing pole through and poke the cat a few times.  It still didn’t move, so I summoned enough courage to walk up to it—rifle ready, of course.  A few feet away I could see there was no need to worry.  The exit wound had come up through the spine a few inches behind the head.  We tossed the cat into the back of the truck and drove back to the ranch house.

There was not much sleep allowed on this night.  Neither of us went to bed nor did we want to do so.  We sat up in the kitchen with a pot of coffee, but a couple of times I think we dozed off while talking about our adventure.  After the sun was an hour or so old the next morning, we took a look at our prize.  It was an old battle-worn male with broken teeth.  It had probably turned to sheep killing out of convenience when it became too difficult to hunt deer.  The sheep dogs didn’t pose much of a problem, and if one got too close, it could become a meal.

We were puzzled about the path of the bullet from the .30-30.  The exit wound was obvious, but it wasn’t until we skinned it that we found the entry point.  When I squeezed off the shot, its tail was lifted, and I couldn’t have shot more dead center with a target rifle in a tournament.  We bundled up the skin and drove about 30 miles to the nearest town where we could collect our bounty. 

“Boys, you’re out of luck.”  The game warden had checked over our licenses and identification.  “Last Monday we got us a new law.  You cain’t shoot these critters anymore.  They’re endangered.”

I knew the good luck we had in taking this cat would be punished.  The warden cited us for waiting too long to turn in the cat we had taken “last week.”  Maybe that was good luck.  It could have been a lot worse.

The interesting thing is that neither Vern nor I ever questioned this “new law.”  It was about three or four years later I discovered that in Texas the mountain lion (a.k.a. puma, cougar, painter, big kitty, etc.) was never considered endangered, and there was no law preventing us from killing it.  This can’t be classified as either good or bad luck, so I file it under the heading of “Screwed.”

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