My mountain lion story began a long time ago when I was just a boy. I grew up in southern Oklahoma where I hunted coon, bobcats, squirrel, and rabbits with my dad, David K. Williams, our close friend "Cotton" Russell, and my uncle Mark Gillham, who were all hound men. I was fascinated with hounds.
My family moved to Colorado in 1979. My dad raised and hunted with a few bear hounds the first couple of years that we lived in Pagosa Springs, until he became a government trapper in the north end of the state near Grand Junction. He hunted with Larry Sanders and Jeff Brent, the state bear and mountain lion men for a couple of years. I got to go a few times in the summer after problem bears were killing the local rancher's sheep.
I attended high school in Pagosa Springs, where I met Mike Ray, his dad Dick Ray, Dick's brother Sam Ray (owner and operator of Bear Paw Outfitters), and Dick and Sam's brother Rodney Ray. I started guiding for Dick Ray, owner and operator of Lobo Outfitter's, just after I finished high school. The Ray's had a lot of good dogs then, as they do now. About four years after I began working for Dick, I went to work for his brother Sam. I even traded him a crazy old horse for a dog! I hunted bear and lion with Sam for several years, those were some of the best years of my life. I raised my own hounds for a little better than ten years, then the constant barking of eight hound dogs started to wear on my wife and neighbors, so I reluctantly decided to sell them. I called Mike, and he and Dick agreed to buy my dogs. Four of my dogs were really proven. Charlie, Andy and Pebbles, I got from Sam, and Doozie, a female I bought from my old friend Cotton in Oklahoma. I had a few pups also, I told Mike that Snoopy, one of the females, was going to be a good one.
After that, I didn't get to lion hunt much until I booked a hunt with Lobo Outfitters in January 2001. This would be the hunt I would never forget. A little before daylight on the morning of the first day of my hunt, Mike and I took off on snowmobiles in search of a big Tom track that Mike believed was in the area. We had gone about two miles when Mike stopped dead in his tracks, and as sure as the nose on your face, there was a huge track in the two-day old snow. We tried to cut the track again by circling the area. Not finding it again, we knew it had to be in that area. We went and got the dogs, but by then it had warmed up and the dogs could only cold trail, but to hear my old dogs, Andy and Pebbles, trailing again was music to my ears. I was kinda glad that they didn't tree a cat that day because my hunt would have been over. We hunted a few more times in February and also in March, but I was unsuccessful at that time. Other hunters with Lobo Outfitters, however, took a good many lions that season. Some were huge, one scored 15 6/16 Boone and Crockett points. Several years ago Dick and Mike went on a hunt in New Mexico, which resulted in Dick killing the New Mexico state record at 15 8/16. It is rumored that that record has been broken.
It was a long summer and fall and then on December 1, 2001 after a good six-inch snow fall, I resumed my hunt with Lobo Outfitters. Harold Thompson, a local dentist and a good friend of the Ray's who loves to hunt for lions as much as he loves to hunt for big bull elk, was my guide that day. Harold went out early to beat the rush of other lion hunters in our area. I had over slept that morning and was rushing around trying to find my tire chains. By the time I arrived at Mike's, he was loading dogs in the truck, he told me that Harold had gone ahead of me. Mike told me to take Andy, Jube (a dog Mike and Dick had raised), and Snoopy. Mike was taking a hunter to a different area. I was glad to hear that I would find Harold at the same place that Mike and I had seen the big Tom track nearly a year before.
When I found Harold, he had already found a track, not far up the road, so by the time we figured out that it was a female, the other lion hunters had hit the other roads in the area so Harold and I made a plan. He was going to go to the end of the road and I was going to make sure the other hunters hadn't missed anything. I called Mike on his cell phone and he told me that they had found a good Tom and all but had it treed. I told him where Harold had gone, and Mike said that it was a bad area and Harold was probably stuck. We hung up and I went to check on Harold, to my surprise he wasn't stuck and informed me that he had found a dandy track, near the end of the road. He had already called Dick and Dick told Harold that we might as well try it. We went back to where Harold had found the track and turned the dogs out. It was 11:30 am and my thermometer read 26 degrees. We had a chance!
Harold and I got our packs together and added extra food and supplies, knowing that we might have to spend the night. We were going into some of the roughest country I knew of, and we were also off to a late start. I turned the three dogs loose, they were out of ear shot in a hurry. I cannot speak for Harold, but I was excited in a scary kind of way, knowing we had some dangerous cliffs and ledges to climb through. In some places we even had to take off our packs and crawl through narrow ledges. About 3:00 p.m. we could hear the faint sound of dogs, in the distance. The going got a little easier and we could see that the big Tom knew exactly how to maneuver through the rough terrain. We had two pistols, mine was a 9m and Harold had a 357. I asked Harold of he wanted to take the Tom, I was wondering how big it was because I had already killed three lions in the past, two of which were 14 inches in size. Harold had taken a huge Tom a few years back and said he just loved the chase, so he declined my offer to take the Tom. I thought to myself, I couldn't believe that I was actually the Hunter this time, and not the guide. We found scrapes in the trail along the way, indicating that this was a large Tom, but his track didn't seem overly large. I did note that he had an extra long stride.
We saw the back half of the lion in the tree first. Harold asked, "What do you think?", I gave him a thumbs up. I was grinning when I saw the front half of the lion. I tried to call Mike while Harold tied up the dogs, no way that phone was going to work in that canyon. I took aim and jerked the trigger like a green horn, not knowing the pistol was on safety. Realizing just how excited I was, it was a struggle to stay calm. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger, that time resulting in a good lung shot. When the mammoth Tom hit the ground, he ran down the side of the mountain, about 25 yards, I followed right behind him. When I passed by Harold, I asked if I could borrow his 357. He handed me he pistol while continuing to hold Andy. Unfortunately, we had only taken two leashes. I rounded the brush and rocks, thinking he had gone quite a ways, but to my surprise, he was sitting on his hind end in some boulders not ten yards away. He turned and faced me. He couldn't go through the boulders, and his only escape was to go through me. Now I have been in some tough spots with lions before, I have seen a lion crush a dogs jaws and legs. An angry lion on the ground can do a lot of damage to a pack of dogs, not to mention what this Tom could do to me, I had a pistol in each hand ready for the battle. The lion snarled at me, not like any old lion would snarl at you, but like the fourth biggest lion in the world would snarl at you. As the legendary Ben Lily would say, I got the "lock tail" and ran backwards as fast as my cowardly body would carry me. For those of you who don't savvy "lock tail", it's when a dog is in the scared retreat mode and has his tail tucked tight between his legs against his belly.
Well, I made it back to Harold and the ecstatic hounds. We decided to just let the fatal shot take its toll and wait a few minutes. It worked, when we went back, the monster had perished. I wanted to move him to a rock to take some pictures. Harold grabbed a front leg and I grabbed the other front leg. Failing to pull him in sync, the lion didn't budge. We had to put our backs into it and pull together to get him to the rock. I told Harold I was going to try to lift him for a picture. He chucked, I guess I still had a little adrenaline left, because I managed to barely hold him up for a couple of quick shots. I was still so excited, I had no idea the trophy I had.
Mike and his hunter had taken a good Tom also. Mike came looking for us, he could hear the dogs and cut across the canyon, an easier route than we had taken, except that he had to cross a deep and frigid river. He had taken some small logs and made a footbridge. I was glad to see him as he walked up to us. He said that mine was the biggest lion he had ever seen. Mike is very conservative when it comes to judging the size of an animal, so I thought he was teasing me. When we arrived back at Mike's house, Dick said that the lion was the widest he'd ever seen. I realized that Mike hadn't been teasing me. Mike and Dick, very conservatively, measured the huge skull. It was well over 16 inches. After the 60 day drying period, it officially scores 16 Boone and Crockett points. It will have to be panel scored in a couple of years for the official Boone and Crockett record book, however, it is going to be the new Colorado state record which is currently held by President Theodore Roosevelt. He took his lion in 1901, and it scores 15 12/16.
I would like to thank Mike and Dick Ray of Lobo Outfitters, and Harold Thompson for giving me the hunt of a lifetime. My family, for all of their support, especially my lovely wife for putting up with a hunter's life. God, for watching out for us lion hunter's out in such treacherous country. I want to give a special thanks to the dogs, Andy, who is about 10 years old now, Snoopy, who is in her prime, and Jube, one of the best young dogs I've ever seen.