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Home / Helen Butt / The journey to “Tank” My 2016 Archery NM Mountain Lion

The journey to “Tank” My 2016 Archery NM Mountain Lion

January 13, 2016
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The Cougar population is growing fast and the number of dangerous encounters with humans is rising at a rapid rate. A number of people are killed by Cougar each year and many more injured. Lots of pets and livestock also fall prey to the Cougar. When there is no hunting pressure, Cougars loose their fear of people. We are nothing more than meat on the hoof to a Cougar who isn’t afraid. Let me assure you, it would take one helluva man to fight off a Cougar attack unarmed.

Why did I want to hunt a mountain lion? It was on my bucket list, kind of a dream hunt if you will. Another reason? I eat elk and deer….and they eat my elk and my deer. That is all the reason I need! Did I also mention I have an awesome brother-in-law that offered to take me on my dream hunt?

“Lion hunting isn’t for wimps!” That is what my brother in law, Jesse told me just before we left for my first New Mexico Cougar hunt. That Thursday night, the snow had started about 3 in the afternoon and was coming down pretty hard. The next morning should be GREAT for finding tracks in the snow.

Friday morning we are up at 4 am ready to go. It had snowed quite a bit, definitely a good sign! We get the dogs ready to go and head out in hopes of finding lion tracks to turn the dogs out.

We were in a good 5 miles in and Jesse spots tracks in the headlights. He gets out, confirms that it is definitely a lion track and immediately starts stomping the track out to the road on each side to let other lion hunters know he’s on this track.

It is still just an hour before we can turn the dogs out, so we drive on in search of more tracks that might be up the road. We drove for a few miles and never saw any more so we turned around to go sit on the first tracks we had seen.

When the sun finally peaked, it was 7:30 and we were able to turn the dogs out, within minutes, Jesse’s tracker indicated they were 850 yards already!! “He’s must be a big one, he’s running, let’s go!” I grabbed my bow, Jesse grabbed the pack and we were off. We hiked up a bit and kept a good pace for a while and then started to climb in elevation in the snow. I struggle climbing in high elevation even when it isn’t full of snow, so this was beginning to become a huge challenge the further up we hiked, I would over heat from the layers or I’d run out of breath from the climb and breathing through my mouth. After about an hour, we were getting spotty signal on the dogs and eventually lost their signal. Panic didn’t set in for Jesse, but I will admit, it kind of did for me. Jesse told me “We’re going to have to get on top of this mountain so I can try to get signal.” I cringed, I was already feeling the struggle because my legs were just tired from going and going in 2 to 3 feet of snow. Jesse would get ahead of me and all I could do was just follow his tracks and try to keep up, we had to get signal on the dogs as soon as possible. Almost an hour passed and we just kept going through layer after layer of this mounting climbing in elevation. I had a really big struggle and had to stop. I even told Jesse, I don’t think I can keep going, my lungs were starting to hurt from breathing so much through my mouth and not enough through my nose. Jesse said “You can’t quit, that isn’t an option! We have to keep going, you can do this, you just have to believe you can! There is no going back, we are too far in, we gotta get to the dogs.” I took a few long deep breaths, started breathing through my nose and we headed out again.

Jesse stopped in his tracks and was checking his tracker for the dogs. He looked over at me, smiled and said “We got em, the dogs have him treed a little over 800 yards from here. It was great news, only we were on top of a very snow, very rocky, steep mountain and they were in the very bottom in a canyon and worse? It was straight down. We had to try to zig zag down rocks, lots and LOTS of snowed on, slippery rocks. Holding on to branches to keep from falling. As much as I tried, I still fell a few times and even tossed my bow to brace myself at least once. We could hear the dogs barking getting closer…a sound that was truly music to my ears!!

Climbing down those last few minutes seemed to take forever, but we did it. We walked down the canyon to the dogs and looked up…there he was, a huge mountain lion, treed!! Jesse took out his phone to take a picture of him, but before we knew it, the lion moved and jumped, he was gone. My heart sunk! Yes, I probably wanted to cry, but there was no time for that, we had a lion to catch and Jesse reassured me he’d tree again. He was right and the lion treed not far from where we were.

I climbed up on the ridge below the tree and Jesse said he was 20-25 yards. I pulled back and just as I was about to let go, the lion was getting ready to jump again and as he moved, my arrow flew and he caught it directly up the main artery of his front leg, stopped at his chin and he fell to the ground bleeding out profusely. The ground looked like a red highway. He ran, but not far, the dogs were right on him and treed one last time. We grabbed our stuff and ran after him again. When we got there, Jesse said he was dead. He was slumped over with both legs over limbs and had bled out. For a deer hunt, this would have been great, but this isn’t good, how do you get a dead cougar out of a 50 ft tree with no limbs half way up and no other trees to get in to pull him out? A chainsaw is the only solution and well, we didn’t have one. About that time, we saw him flinch and move his head. I couldn’t get a good arrow shot to try to get him out of that tree so I unfortunately had to resort to a few shots with the pistol and thankfully, it jolted him enough and he fell to the ground, within seconds, he was gone….

Wow…What an adventure!! Now, the hard work begins and a race against the clock to get out of there before the sun sets and the next snow comes. I was starting to shiver from being wet from falling in the snow and we needed to get moving to stop the cold from setting in. We managed to hike up the ridge stopping to take several breaks with the extra load. But not for long because the last thing we wanted was to get cold, gotta keep moving! When we stopped one more time, Jesse looked at his tracker where the truck was and we were so happy, the county road showed on the tracker that we were a little over 500 yards. We headed down the last ridge and when we saw that road, no words can express how happy I was, we both were! We got to the road and were still a quarter mile from the truck, but it was a road to walk and not snow and rugged, rocky terrain so we were not complaining. At the edge of the road, we dropped our equipment and took off walking down the road toward the truck. I was so happy to see that truck!! We got in and drove back to get the pack and my bow.

We headed to camp and in less than an hour….it was dark. Our 8 hour hunt had came to an end and we walked out of that forest with “TANK” a huge, gorgeous mountain lion that gave us a hunt that I know I will never forget. Jesse gave him that name, and rightfully so, he sure was indeed, a Tank!!

I want to thank my brother-in-law Jesse aka the Lion King (that is my new nick name for him!) and those awesome 5 Pups. I am truly grateful. Not only did he know we were going to get a cougar that day, but he showed me I could do it if I just stopped worrying and focused on believing I can. “It will all be worth it in the end.” Jesse told me, and you know what? He was right!

I dropped him off with the amazing Robert Major of Major Wildlife Studios Taxidermy today and I can’t wait to see how he turns out!!

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About Helen

Helen Butt

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My Bio

My name is Helen Butt. I am from New Mexico. I live for my life in the great outdoors. I absolutely love to hunt. There’s something about being able to harvest an animal and feed your family that is just amazing. When I'm not hunting, I travel to compete in various 3D archery bowshoots. I am currently the NWTF Women in the Outdoors Coordinator for the State of New Mexico as well as our local NWTF Chapter President. I strongly believe wildlife conservation is vital, individual hunters make such a big contribution towards ensuring the future of many species of wildlife and habitat for the future.  My family and I are all members of the NWTF, the NRA the RMEF  and are active in mentoring our local Youth 4-H  and YHEC shooting sports competitions. It is important that our youth become involved and participate in hunting and that hunting mentors teach them what fair chase and ethical conduct and conservation is all about. I have also created an all female hunting/archery group called “Gals at Full Draw Outdoors". Empowering women and encouraging them to hunt and enjoy life in the great outdoors is my mission!