“Get in here now…he’s HUGE!” hissed across the radio with an urgency that was clear despite the whisper! As the hounds bellowed their approach, we had little time to get into position. Without a word we sprang into a run, dodging the pine boughs aching with heavy fresh snow. As the curtain of falling snow opened, we emerged at the edge of a creek bottom. We paused, struggling to quiet our heavy panting before Mike’s voice broke the silence…“THERE HE IS!!!”
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to experience hound hunting for the first time in the mountains of Idaho. I will never forget the hounds man’s yarn in the waning hours of our final hunting day; “Cat hunting is hours of mind-numbing boredom followed by moments of pure exhilaration.” As it did with that hunt, a recent bobcat hunt in Michigan would hold the same lessons taught decades earlier!
After unsuccessfully drawing for mule deer tags, my close friend, Mike Strope, and I decided we would fill the hunting void with a local Bobcat hunt. Mike had a contact with quality hunting hounds that could accommodate both of us on the same hunt. As our hunt date approached, business travel complicated our schedules, so I encouraged Mike to go as planned and I would hunt later in the season. As I waited to board a flight home, I started receiving text messages documenting Mike’s day…needless to say, I couldn’t get home soon enough.
Mike met Marcus Garner, Chris Sellers and Kevin Keeler of ‘Blue Plague Guide Service’ north of Baldwin, Michigan to take advantage of a one-week, special bobcat season in that management unit. Message after message buzzed into my phone recounting his marathon day. In the pre-dawn hours, they found a fresh track crossing a remote National Forrest road. Given the proportions of the track, they decided to wait for light then turn the dogs on the trail. Mike shared the details of biting cold freezing his pants as they crossed swamp after swamp in knee-deep snow, following the hounds’ signal. He described the confusion trying to sort out the cat’s trail as he ran from one section to the next, evading his pursuers. It appeared this mature tom knew the game being played, and used every trick of a cagey old bobcat, nearly losing them on countless occasions.
Mile after mile they stuck to the cat’s track, doubling back to find him circling and doing his best to confuse the relentless hounds. After several close calls and a full day of chasing, Mike anchored the giant tom with one round from his favorite twelve gauge. Reading carefully, savoring every detail of Mike’s quest, it was the furthest tale from ‘mind-numbing boredom’ that I could imagine and couldn’t wait for my opportunity.
Four days later I met Mike and we made the pre-dawn trek west across snowy highways to meet the Blue Plague crew. After sharing his story in person, Mike decided to take a day off work to join in the final day of the Baldwin unit hunt.
My anticipation soared as we crept up the same remote trail looking for tracks in the falling snow. Should we find one, it would assuredly be fresh! Then just as had happened with Mike, Chris’s rig jerked to a halt! It took only two words from the guide’s mouth to realize we were on another giant tom! This was going to be EPIC! As blackness gave way to varying shades of gray, we turned “Jug” and “Daisy” loose on the fresh cat track. Their excited howls pierced the nine degree morning air as they sped through the cattails bordering the trail. Suddenly, Chris hollered, get out here…the dogs are headed this way. I leapt from the truck, scrambling to load my shotgun as the bellowing hounds approached. I stood frozen, waiting for the giant cat to slip onto the trail, but nothing. Seconds felt like minutes…the cold bit at my finger poised to squeeze at any moment until the sound turned abruptly away and faded back into the morning gray.
We loaded into the truck to circle the section, watching the dogs’ progress on the GPS unit. As the color-coded paths circled one another, it became evident that this cat was up to the challenge. Just as quickly as our hopes had risen, they were suddenly dashed. Hoping to sort out the cat’s direction, Chris trudged off into the fresh snow and cattails. As he broke brush away from our vehicle, another truckload of hunters approached. They had also turned hounds on the track, only a short distance from our position! After several hours of walking, we met Chris on the opposite side of the section. He had found the tom’s escape route from both sets of dogs which was directly onto private property. Kevin and Chris quickly collected their dogs and pulled them from the private ground…we were done!
Despite being wet and cold, Chris and Kevin quickly formulated a plan. Based on the additional hunting pressure, they circled to the far side of the private property where we searched for the track that could be seeking refuge in a pine thicket with public access to the west. As luck would have it, the track emerged from the east heading directly toward the thick and dark cover of the pines as they had anticipated. In another stroke of luck, Marcus, joined the crew after work and moved ahead to the thicket to search for tracks. Shortly after his arrival he found the track and let loose his best hound, “Sock”. In no time, he had the big tom running circles in the relative protection of the pines. Suddenly, we heard Marcus hiss into his radio, “Get in here now…he’s HUGE!”
Chris immediately plowed directly into the thicket, his broad shoulders and chest knocking the fresh snow from the boughs. Struggling to see through the falling snow, we ducked and dodged heading in the direction of the echoing hound. Suddenly, we hit the edge of the thicket and immediately stopped. As if in slow motion, here came a huge bobcat running down a frozen creek bed right toward us. Mike, in the excitement, pointed urging “THERE HE IS!!!” As the large cat bound toward us, I shouldered my Benelli and yanked the trigger sending number 4 shot through the brush. He faltered only slightly so I hammered the trigger again dropping him motionless into a bed of fluffy snow.
For an instant, everything was still and quiet. Then suddenly, the throngs of back-slaps and high fives rang out in unison with the dog’s celebratory howls. We had taken another giant Tom bobcat that surpassed my wildest dreams. And while the congratulations and photo session ensued, I kept flashing back to my old cowboy friend and thinking how much I cherish these “moments of pure exhilaration”.