"Levers and Lions" by The Lever Action Hunter
This past March I was able to fulfill a dream of mine and go on a mountain lion hunt with hounds! It had been postponed from the previous season due to a broken leg injury that I had suffered. I knew the hunt would be physically demanding so I made sure that I was fully rehabilitated before setting off to chase a pack of hounds.
I would be hunting with Tim Rawlings from Old West Outfitters and Guides. Tim is a full service guide and outfitter that hunts all big game species found in the Western United States. However, his true passion is hunting mountain lions with hounds. He has been breeding and raising this strain of hound for close to 30 years. They are bred to hunt dry ground and are tough as nails! They are mostly Redbones with a few Redticks, Blueticks, Plotts, and maybe a Walker or two mixed in. It was pretty amazing to watch the pecking order that these dogs had established at feeding time each evening. I was very impressed with the handle that Tim had on his dogs and how well they worked together as a team.
The hunt would take place in Northern Arizona near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were hunting the Kaibab National Forest which is a very unique habitat unlike any other part of the United States. It is bordered on the south by the Grand Canyon and to the North by the dessert scrub brush that is along the Utah border.
We stayed in the Marble Canyon Lodge near Neal’s Ferry. It was a tiny community that contained a gas station, small post office, and the lodge where we stayed. The first day we arrived it was snowing and conditions were looking perfect for finding a big tom track! The next morning we set out with high hopes and about 2-4 inches of fresh powder on the ground.
I had a hard time deciding on which lever gun to accompany me on this trip so I took three of my favorite rifles to “sub out” each day. The roster consisted of a Marlin 1894 CB in 44 magnum, a Winchester Model 1894 30-30 made in 1977, and my Uncle Herman’s trusty Winchester Model 1894 30-30 made in 1962.
We hunted hard the first day and saw some absolutely stunning country. About mid morning as we were going up a mountain we slid off of the road and had to spend about 2 hours winching and digging out the truck. A rough start to a 6 day hunt for sure. We were unable to locate a fresh lion track in the snow and had to call it quits around dark and head back to feed the dogs and eat supper.
The next morning the weather started to warm up and the snow began to quickly melt. We were able to locate a decent sized lion track along the rim of the Grand Canyon but chose not to turn loose because of the danger that the situation presented to us and the hounds.
I managed to take some epic pictures of the Grand Canyon and my Uncle Herman’s Winchester 94.
A little known fact about mountain lions is that they hunt mostly in the darkness of night. Unfortunately when the ground thaws during the day and then freezes at night they don’t leave much of a track to follow.
That evening while eating supper at the lodge Tim and our co-guide “Egan,” decided that we needed to relocate to another part of the state to try and change our luck. The next morning we headed out at 4 am and drove south for about five hours to Globe, AZ. We would be hunting the Tonto National Forest in the famed Gila County.
We left out early the next morning well before sunrise. As we began to slowly drive the dirt roads to cut a track I began to notice how different this part of the state was from the Grand Canyon. It was lower in elevation and seemed to contain more desert like plants, shrubs, and trees.
Earlier in the week, this area had received some very heavy rainfall and all of the creeks and draws were flowing with water. It was beginning to “green up” and you could definitely tell that Spring was just around the corner.
About mid-morning Egan and I spotted a nice lion track in the soft mud along a ravine. We radioed Tim and asked him to come and take a look. Tim thought the track was fresh enough to run so we collared the dogs and turned them loose. They instantly opened up on the track and ran it for what seemed like 3-4 hours. As they trailed the track up on the rocky ridges it became harder to follow and our excitement began to fade.
We finally called off the dogs and made our way to the truck so we could have a bite to eat for lunch. We decided to check out the other side of the mountain in hopes of finding a fresher track of the Tom. As we topped the hill and came upon a “bowl,” we jumped a small group of Coues deer and a covey of Gambel’s quail. Something that I definitely don’t see everyday! We ended up finding a nice spring at the end of a canyon drainage and put together a game plan to hunt it in the morning.
The next morning we loaded up our packs and water bladders and set out from the spring up the canyon to see if we could jump the lion. The dogs opened up and ran a track almost instantly. However, just like the day before the track turned cold and the dogs struggled to work it out. We hiked up to the top of the mountain and took some great scenic shots of the beautiful sprawling countryside.
Even though the hunt ended with no lion I still considered it a huge success. I was able to see some beautiful country, hang out with a couple of great guys, and see some fine hounds work. I will definitely be back in the future with a lever gun in my hands.
The Kaibab National Forest near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the first hunting spot:
The Tonto National Forest, just outside of Phoenix, Arizona, was the second mountain lion hunting location:
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