I have hunted lions in bitter weather, the kind that has icicles hanging from your horses’ belly. I have hunted lions in deep snow that closed down most of the hills to only the most ardent snow shoe enthusiasts. But I must confess to enjoying hunting lions in shirts sleeve weather. I enjoyed sitting high in the cliffs and feeling the winter sun beat down and warm my face. There was no snow to tell me if lions were about and to tell the truth I have become accustom to lion hunts that provide deep contemplation and nothing else.
Both hunts this weekend gave me food for thought.
Saturday morning found me nestled against a sandy outcrop on the Red Water. I have seen no lion sign recently, but last year there was a heavy and predicable travel corridor used by lions. As the sun came up I was treated not to a lion visitation, but instead to the sight of this year’s antlered survivors of deer season.
There were seven bucks and a few antlerless individuals that I at first mistook as large does. Leading the pack was an individual animal that I had seen only twice during the season and never within range for my son. His antlers swing far out beyond his ears and the main beams are palmated. His tines are not that high, but his shear mass in spectacular. He and the bachelor band of bucks came to rest on the south face of a timbered ridge and laid out in the open soaking up the sun. It reminded me of a conversation I had had earlier in the week with a neighboring Wyoming outfitter. He claimed that this time of the year, after the bucks exhausted themselves in the rut, that the lions killed many as they lay recuperating. That morning I provided their protection against lions unseen.
On my way out, I picked up a beautiful set of shed antlers. They came from a three year-old five by five whitetail and had only been on the ground for a few days. It reminded me that the muzzleloader and youth deer seasons were still open and that the band of bucks was still not guaranteed another season. If the massive buck that I hoped would live through to next year dropped his antlers too, he was legal game for any hunter with a doe tag. I remember a group of Colorado hunters coming out one year to fill their doe tags and shooting three bucks that dropped their antlers. They just shook their heads and laughed at a state that would charge them nearly two hundred dollars to shoot a deer when the antlers were still on and then only fifty-five after the antlers fell off. Perhaps it would be wiser to end the deer hunting earlier?
When I arrived home I discovered an acquaintance had shot a 142 pound lion just outside of Spearfish. It was the second lion taken this weekend near city limits. With game production areas nearly encompassing the community, some of the best lion hunting is being past by as lion hunters head deeper into the forest. At this rate, with lions being taken three every two days, a hunter should focus his efforts on those areas that offer the best odds. Custer and Lawrence counties have been this year’s early season hot spots. Both big male lions harvest so far this season have come from the northern hills.
Finally I envisioned the amount of effort it must have taken to muscle a 142 pound lion up out of the bottom of a deep canyon. The GFPs requires both hide and the entire carcass to be submitted within twenty-four hours. There are no horns to hold on to. Lion hunters need to come prepared for a long day or call in the reinforcements.