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Western Slope Lion Hunt by Johnny Bellmyer - Fort Scott Munitions

Western Slope Lion Hunt by Johnny Bellmyer

Western Slope Lion Hunt - Velocity TacticsFor nearly a year, January 14 was the date I had been waiting for. On this day I was to meet Fred Wallace of Cat Track Outfitters in Collbran, CO for my first ever mountain lion hunt.

When January finally rolled around, my anticipation was running high. I had gone over my checklist countless times. Windproof outer layers...check; waterproof mountain boots....check; backpack loaded......check; coolers for meat and hide....check. The list goes on and on.

I had even gone so far as to ask my friends Greg Fess and Ryan Kraft with Fort Scott Munitions to work me up a special round for my .30-.30 Winchester just for mountain lion. I wanted a round that would put the lion down fast but not tear up the hide. They worked up and tested a subsonic, lead-free round they assured me would do the job well. I shot a few rounds to make sure my sights were on. Ammo....check.

Imagine my surprise and excitement when Fred called on the evening of January 6 just as I was getting home from work. "Can you be here in the morning? We have a big track located". I told him I would head that way as soon as I could pack up the FJ Cruiser. I loaded up quickly and called my wife who was still at work to let her know I was headed west. I would travel 925 miles which would take me roughly thirteen to fourteen hours.

Ten hours into my trip, just west of Denver in the area between Frisco and Vail, the snow started falling; And it was a heavy snow. Driving on I-70 was very slow and treacherous. For the next few hours, I did my best to stay focused on driving on the slick roads, but my mind kept thinking about what to expect on the hunt. Could I keep up in the high altitude? Did I pack everything? Will my shot be on? Will I even get a shot?

Finally, fourteen hours after I left my home, I arrived at a small store in Collbran, CO. I had to have some coffee and purchase a few other necessities. A few minutes later, I met Fred in person along with his guide Ronnie.

We went to the area where they found the tracks the previous day. The new, deep snow had been unexpected and had covered all the tracks. We had to start from scratch. The whole the day was spent looking for fresh tracks, but none were to be found. By early evening, I was exhausted and sleep deprived. It was time to eat and get some sleep.

Fred and the whole Wallace family have been in the outfitting business his entire life. Their days start early, typically around 1:00 a.m. with a home cooked breakfast at 5:00 a.m. sharp every morning. At breakfast, stories of past hunts, rodeos, friends, and family abound followed by business; lion tracks are found in the hours before breakfast.

This morning Ronnie and Fred had found a few tracks but nothing they thought was big enough to hunt. These guys actually measure the tracks and can tell how big the cat is just by looking at the tracks. We would spend all day, from breakfast till evening, trying to find a large lion track.

We had put in about forty miles on Fred's tracked snow machine and a lot of time on foot in the deep snow. There is no way that a truck or four wheeler could cover the mountain trails in these conditions. Having the right equipment is a must. Although we found some lion tracks and lots of mule deer for lions to feast on, none were big enough for Fred. Fred really focuses on big, mature toms, and he assured me that the conditions were getting good. It had been a couple of days since the snow, and the lions would be moving. With over 400 mountain lions under his belt, I trust his judgment.

Shortly after midnight, I got up to cut tracks with Fred's dad, Bill Wallace. Bill also has several hundred lions under his belt and has been hunting them for over 60 years. Fred, Ronnie, and Fred's son, Cody, all went to different locations to look for tracks. We all met for breakfast at the usual 5:00 a.m. It seems nearly everyone had found tracks.

Not long after daylight, we all went to the tracks Cody had found and shortly thereafter turned the dogs loose. This area has some of the steepest, rockiest, snow-covered country that Colorado has to offer. It would be very easy for a person or a dog to get hurt or killed on the slick rocks and cliffs.

The dogs were off and on a hot trail. Not long in, it seemed the like the dogs had the cat tread since they didn't seem to be moving. When everyone finally got there, the dogs had split up. There were more than one set of mountain lion tracks in this one canyon. Two, maybe three lions in this one canyon! Fred and Ronnie got the dogs lined out and off they went again.

We circled around to the next mountain top to find the dogs had tracked a nice female lion down below the rocky ridge. Since we were after a tom, Ronnie and Cody pulled the dogs off, but two were missing. They could be heard a long way off chasing another cat.

After hours up and down the mountains on foot, Ronnie took off after the other dogs. This guy doesn't quit! Hours and miles later, Ronnie caught up to the dogs that had tracked a small cat. Ronnie gathered the dogs and off we went on Fred's snow machine to look at some of the other tracks that Ronnie had found earlier.

Fred measured the tracks and decided that if we didn't find something bigger we would run these tracks tomorrow morning. I was really surprised to see as many mule deer as we did in this area.

The morning of day four came early. Gathered around the breakfast table, Fred, Ronnie, Cody, and Bill were telling stories of some previous hunts and the experiences they have had over the past 60 years of lion hunting. Bill truly has some of the greatest hunting stories I've ever heard. I hope that some day he writes a book, so these are not lost.

Fred spoke up that he had cut a big, fresh track up near a mountain top, and we were going to try for it. In fact, he already had the horses saddled up and loaded as well as the dogs in their boxes.

I was outwardly calm, but inside I was busting with excitement. In the four short days since I had met Fred, it was obvious that he under promises and over delivers. If he said it was a big tom that we were going to try for, I had zero doubts I would get to meet this lion.

We drove about a half hour to the spot where we would park and go the rest of the way on horseback. Now, I am not a very experienced rider. In fact, I hadn't ridden a horse since high school some 30 years ago. When Fred pointed out the mountain we were heading to I thought to myself, "This isn't good." Fred was prepared and luckily had a very experienced mule for me to ride that was almost like being on auto pilot. It didn't slip on the snowy rocks and seemed to know exactly what to do.

A little over a five mile ride in and up the mountain trail, Fred stopped and showed me the track he had found several hours earlier. It came from down the mountain and crossed the trail going up, toward the mountain top, which we were very near.

After some quick looks at the tracks and a brief what to expect conversation, Fred turned the dogs loose on the tracks. Immediately, they were barking and hot on the trail. The cat was right there! Just out of sight! It must have been there all night. Not what we had expected at all!

The lion turned and ran down the mountain right behind us with the dogs hot on its tail. We mounted up and took off after them. My excitement level went from 3 to 10 in one second! My adrenaline was flowing, and I didn't notice the lack of oxygen at the high altitude...yet.

Now, I mentioned that I wasn't an experienced rider, but in this case, I had no experience. We were going thru deep snow, on rocks, on the side of a mountain, dodging snowy cedar tree limbs at a fast pace, and chasing dogs that were hot on the tail of a mountain lion!

It sounded like the dogs had the lion tread since the sound of their barking wasn't moving but just as we got close, they took off again. Fred said we need to get this cat before it gets to the cliffs which were just up ahead of us.

Western Slope Lion Hunt - Velocity TacticsAgain, it sounded like the dogs had tread the cat. It was everything I could do to try to keep up with Fred. It looked like a scene from a wild west movie with Fred on his horse weaving in and out of trees and snow flying! I saw Fred jump from his horse and run to the dogs at the base of a tree. I grabbed my rifle and was trying my best to follow thru the deep snow. Fred was grabbing dogs. I looked up and there was the lion, in the very top of the cedar tree, probably 10 to 12 feet up. Amazingly, right at the lion's feet, were two of the dogs. They had climbed right up the tree after it. Fred quickly climbed up and pulled one dog down.

The lion started moving around in the treetop and acted as if it were about to jump out. Fred yelled, "Take him". I aimed the iron sighted Winchester model 94 that my dad got me for my 12th birthday some 37 years ago, and sent a bullet straight into the side of the cat's chest. Fred yelled, "Shoot him again", then immediately yelled "Don't shoot". The bullets that Fort Scott Munitions made for me performed exactly as I was told they would. In about one second, the lion had fell dead from the tree and slid a short way on the steep, snowy mountain side!

For the first time in my life, I laid hands on a mountain lion. Not only that, but a big tom that I had taken. A hunt that I had dreamed of for years had come to fruition.

After some congratulations, pictures, and just taking in the whole experience, I could feel the adrenaline coming down. It was becoming more difficult to breathe. I was exhausted. I was extremely happy, but I hated that the hunt was over. A fantastic, exciting hunt with good people, in God's country; I couldn't have asked for more.

We tagged the cat with the Colorado mountain lion tag, and Fred caped and quartered the lion right on the mountain top. Cody said the cat weighed around 150 pounds and had most likely been feeding on a kill (a freshly killed mule deer) all night. We loaded everything back on to the saddles, rounded up’ the dogs, and began the long trip down the mountains.

With the lion hunt over, I really took in the scenery on the ride down and stopped to take several pictures to remind me of one of the most exciting hunts of my life.
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