A Very Legal Lion

I’m very much a “I told you that story, to tell you this story ”kind of guy and as a retired law enforcement professional, well, I have plenty of stories.  About a month ago, in February of 2023, I traveled to Monticello, UT to hunt Mt. Lion with my good friend and outfitter JT Robbins, owner and operator of All Out Outfitting and Guide Service.  JT is a cat killing machine, taking about 20 cats a year between Colorado, Utah and Nevada.  Hunters enjoy JT’s professionalism, and his work ethic is unparalleled.    

Now, I don’t know much about cat hunting other than what I have seen on television.  Watching shows on tv, and I hate using outdoors entertainment as a bench-mark for learning, I did pick up that it helps to have fresh snow for tracking cats on back roads and trails.  Well, when my camera guy, Shoshone’s own David McElwain, and I arrived in southern Utah a little bit of snow is NOT what we got.  It dumped on us!  Hunting cats for days in the deep snow is an exercise in cat hunting futility. The cats were not moving at all.  I mean, after all they like walking in deep snow about as much as people do.  Even the mule deer that winter in the area were scarce and holed up somewhere with more accessible forage.  After several days of hunting and not cutting a single cat track, we threw in the towel, and I drove home to southern Idaho to lick my wounds and dry out my gear.    

I told you that story, to tell this you this story….

Within a month, all of that snow melted at a pace that was shocking to me, and I grew up in Alaska so I have seen how quickly, or slowly two feet of snow can evaporate.  I got the call from JT to head back to southern Utah for quick hunt over the weekend before the end of the season.  The next day, and nearly 700 miles later I was back in the beautiful red rock canyon country of southern Utah…with much less snow. The next dawn I woke up to beautiful clear skies and a fresh skim of snow on the ground.  Not too much or too little, just about perfect for cutting a big cat track.  And like clockwork, eight miles into the canyon country along a farm road I came across my first Mt. Lion track.

I told you that story, to tell this you this story….

JT’s dogs made short work of finding the cat.  In fact, it took about an hour before the cat was treed at the very bottom of huge, deep canyon about 2 miles from the start of the chase.  We couldn’t see the cat or the dogs in the canyon, but we could hear the constant barking echoing off the canyon walls.  About the time we were planning and trying to figure out how to safely get down to the cat, a Utah Department of Natural Resources Game Warden pulled up. I was already digging through my backpack searching for my license and cat tag before the officer got out of his truck.  He was a super nice guy and never one to shy away from my chosen profession, I didn’t forget to tell him that in my former life I was a cop for nearly 25 years. Funny how fast you can become friends with someone you just met.  

The officer not only offered advice on how to get down to the bottom of the canyon, he came with us! The trek to the bottom of the canyon was brutal.  To quote Steve Rinella and Remi Warren, I had to “Embrace the suck” several times! Finally, after scaling several cliffs and impaling my hand on cactus twice, we were able to see the cat in the top of the tree fighting with one of the dogs.  Yes, one of the dogs had climbed the tree and was eye with the cat! At 80 yards out, we couldn’t get any closer fearing the cat would jump from the tree.  I had planned on shooting the cat with my open sighted muzzle loader but I know my limitations and there was no way I could ethically shoot a cat at that distance with open sights.  Not to fear, our friendly game warden turned camera man offered me his personal rifle!  He had hauled his scoped, AR-15 rifle all the way to the bottom of that canyon just in case I needed it!  If I missed the cat, this fine rifle would certainly not be to blame.   One shot from a solid rest, and the cat fell from the tree and expired at the very bottom of the canyon.  

Some folks might find it nerve racking to be contacted by a game warden out in the field.  But not many hunters can say that the game warden who checked their license, turned out to be their camera man and their gun bearer! What an adventure! My lion was certainly a very legal lion!  


Peyton Merideth is the Managing Director for Shoshone Adventure Consulting.  He is an avid hunter and lives in southern Idaho.

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