I imagined my lion would stalk out of the forest one day. That it would slip like fog from the timber looking for the fawn in distress that I was imitating. I never imagined that my cat would suddenly be staring down into my face from 40 feet above. Or that my rifle would be uselessly slung over my shoulder as I pursued its prints up the side of a cliff.
Why hunt lions?
I have chased them now for seven years and missed my opportunities time and again. That first season with my daughter, the only lion we saw was on the wrong side of the border, safe from us in Wyoming, but still so exhilarating. Too turn the corner of the trail and come in sight of that big tom stalking the whitetail fawn through the falling snow; to catch its gaze as it glared at us for ruining its stalk just before it gathered itself to leap out of sight; to stare in amazement as it threw its massive tail stiffly straight in the air. Amazed, Maggie couldn’t stop talking about our encounter all of the way home. Two years later, I failed again. No excuses for missing three times at that distance.
I learn more about hunting from following a single lion’s efforts than from a library of books. Spending a day in the forest following a hunting cat’s tracks is akin to being able to listen to Mozart lecture on the nuances of music. They are the experts, and I, just an attentive student.
I discovered more about hunting and about cats with each failure. I became increasingly resigned to the notion that hunting lions was more art than science. But I practiced, and I learned, and last weekend, I finally found my lion.
I have wanted to harvest a lion on my terms, no electronic calls, no long drives into the forest or in another county. I limited my hunts to ground where I had an advantage, places I’d hunted for years and near my home.
There was fresh tracking snow as we left for town that morning. I geared up after lunch. The climb up the ridgeline clearly showed that the cat I had followed the day before was still in the area. The tracks dived down into a familiar box canyon. I skirted the top and peered over the rim, but the tracks never came back out. I set up on a rim rock and called uselessly into a strong wind while scanning for any sign of movement. I ranged ledges and open areas where a lion might appear and no shot was much over a hundred yards. Finally, I gave in to the cold and wet. I decided to backtrack and see what I could learn from following the tracks in the snow.
My first lesson was; that a lion can easily go places that a man will wish he hadn’t. My imagination wanted this lion to walk across an open meadow. My reality took me through cover so thick that I could no longer worm my way through. It was too dense and oh so steep and eventually, I ended up sliding down the canyon wall hanging on to ironwood saplings to slow my decent. At the bottom, I cut sign again, and the tracks were very fresh. Out of habit, I chambered a round and turned my scope down to its lowest setting.
The trail headed up towards the rim I had just been calling from. I mentally began writing another column about my own weakness and why impatience is the reason most hunters fail. In fact, I recognized the ledge I was now climbing up to, as one I had ranged at 110 yards. The canyon wall grew steep and my hands were clinging to rock when I looked up and made eye contact with the lion. It must have felt secure there, just feet above me. There was no threat, no snarling, and no made-for-movies dramatics, just two hunters who had seen each other’s sign but until that moment, had never met. At the shot, it flowed like quicksilver, to the bottom of the canyon.
There is so much more to follow. But this question I’ll answer now. A lion’s pale, white meat, when lightly breaded and fried, in taste and texture, truly does resemble pork.