Late November in 1998 found me hunting less than three miles from home in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. It was the last week of deer season, and deer had been scarce. The year before had been the worst winter in the Panhandle in nearly fifty years, and the winterkill on deer was close to eighty percent in our area.
It was raining lightly when I left home, and as I climbed up the hillside ahead of me, the rain changed to a sloppy, wet snow. I was working my way up a very open, south-west facing slope with some kiniknik, manzanita and tobacco brush in scattered patches, punctuated with mature Ponderosa pine trees intermittently dispersed along the finger ridges and draws. Being late afternoon, I wanted to just find a likely looking place, to view a fair piece of ground and just sit until dark. The deer had been feeding heavily on the kiniknik in this area, and I felt with the brewing storm, that they would be feeding before dark.
I checked out several finger ridges and draws before selecting one ridge that separated two fairly good sized draws, both with good feed and reasonable cover. Each of these draws had heavy timber both at the bottom and top of each. The deer sign was so heavy and fresh it looked as if sheep had been ranging in the area, and I knew I'd found my vantage point for the evening.
I wanted to stay near the top of this separating hog-back ridgeline, and needed to see equally well into both the north and south draws for best coverage and opportunity. Up above me about two hundred yards on the ridge trail was an outcropping of rocks which had a very vertical face on the lower side. This I knew would be the perfect place to sit and wait. As I reached the top of the rock outcropping, I was thrilled at the vantage point it offered! Wow, I had a totally unobstructed view of both draws, all the way to the bottom of each at the timber's edge nearly three hundred yards below.
As I looked for a comfortable place to sit down, I noticed an overhanging rock just below me, at the top of the vertical face. Underneath this overhanging rock was a nice, dry place to sit, with the rock only about a foot above my head when in a sitting position. It had a nice soft, dry bed of natural moss on the rocks to sit upon, and a comfortably positioned rock on my right side for an armrest. Man, this was living!
I made myself comfortable and glassed thoroughly the two draws below with my binoculars. After sitting for about an hour and a half, I got the strangest sensation that something was wrong. Dreadfully wrong! I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just wasn't right. I'm not a spooky person, and the hair on my arms stood up, and I got goose bumps all over. Being very uneasy was bad, but not knowing why made things worse.
I slipped the safety off my rifle, not really knowing why; just the uneasiness of the moment prompted me to be at full alert. Still, I saw and heard nothing except the soft patter of the wet, slushy snow falling on the rocks around me. Yet, the sensation of something being very much amiss intensified.
Then, I sensed something, even before I saw it. There above me, on my overhanging rock, was a dinner plate sized head with green eyes looking down on me! The mountain lion was as surprised to see me, as I was to see it, at a distance of about twenty inches! We made eye contact and mutual recognition about the same time!
The cat stood frozen for about 15 seconds, as I made mental inventory of what I had at my disposal. My rifle was facing to my left, in my lap, and the cat was over my right shoulder. Very much at a disadvantage I reached for the .44 in my customary cross-draw holster, and NO REVOLVER! The cat took one leap off the rock into the draw to my right, covering at least fourteen feet with the first leap off that rock! Before I could get myself situated into position for a shot at the cat, he had made it to the timber some three hundred yards below, and was gone.
The cat was a beautiful black-tipped seven-foot beauty. Apparently he thought that rock outcropping was a perfect place to look for a venison dinner too. Our cougar season runs from the fifteenth of September to the fifteenth of April, and I'd blown a great opportunity.
My sixgun was down in my truck, under the seat. I didn't want to take it along because of the extra weight! Besides this was just a quickie hunt close to home, I really didn't need that .44 did I? It was then that quite a lesson came home to me. That cat might just as easily have had more aggressive ideas towards me than he did, and if I'm not carrying my sixgun because of the weight factor, one of two things is wrong.
Either I need to get a lighter revolver; one that I will carry, and not leave under the seat of a vehicle or in the tent at camp; or, I need to get into better shape so that the three pounds a good revolver weighs won't be an issue. A revolver isn't much use in the field if you aren't packing it!
The Lord allowed my to see a beautiful cat of His creation that day face to face, and as usual to let me learn a lesson that I wouldn't forget as well.