The Race Was On

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I can still hear the music of the hounds as they sang "treed" across the canyon.  Their voices had changed from the erratic bawling and howling to a series of staccato barks no longer moving through the dense underbrush and trees of the lush countryside.  This was what I'd come to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington to hear; the announcement by a pack of hounds that they had treed a bobcat.

Our hunt had started early Saturday morning, the 10th of February.  I was hunting with guide Kevin Blankenship of Forks, Washington.  Kevin operates the closest thing to a guaranteed hunt, as he keeps taking a hunter out until he's successful in bagging one of these elusive 18 to 30 pound cats.  I've spent thousands of hours in the woods over the past 37 years and have seen only two bobcats in the wild.

Along with my son-in-law Steve Felbinger, and friend Stan Nelson, I met Kevin at 5:15 AM and headed southeast out of Forks for our day's hunt.  The weather had turned from clouds and rain to clear and cold and everything was covered with a crystal layer of ice and frost that sparkled in pre-dawn moonlight.  It promised to be a wonderful day for hunting.  About 20 miles out of town, Kevin put several "strike" dogs on top of the truck and we slowly cruised the logging roads waiting for them to catch the scent of a cat recently in the area.  Kevin runs a group of well-trained and disciplined "Walkers" and is extremely successful in chasing and catching the bobcats and cougars so plentiful in this area.  When the strike dogs get a scent, they open up with barking and jump from the truck.  If the scent is fresh, they're off and running.  If it's too old, they sniff around a while and return to the road.

We spent the next 12 hours covering as much territory as possible.  Though we got several cold strikes, we didn't hit a track fresh enough to set the dogs to running.  It turned out to be a day of sightseeing as we inhaled the beauty of the Olympic Mountains and the freshness of the Rain Forest.  What an incredible day!!  When Kevin dropped us off at the motel, we were ready for a good night's rest.

He picked us up at 4:50 AM on Sunday morning and our spirits were soaring, as again the weather was beautiful.  The stars were glowing like cats' eyes in a crystal sky but the temperatures had risen enough to thaw the ground and leave a film of moisture.  It was perfect weather for bobcat hunting.  This time we drove southwest from Forks and eventually looked out over the Pacific Ocean.  We could hear the roar of the waves in the distance and see them as they crashed against rocks on shore.  With four strike dogs on top, we began driving the roads.  Several times the dogs hit a cold track but nothing to get excited about and we were beginning to wonder where the cats were hiding.  About 9:30 all four dogs began barking and jumped from the truck.  They sniffed around but were quiet, so Kevin called them in.  Three dogs came, but Dixie was gone.  Kevin called and called but she wouldn't return and wasn't making a sound.

After 20 minutes, Kevin turned a receiver on and we heard the constant beep from the radio collar Dixie was wearing.  She had gone down into the canyon and would only occasionally bark or bawl.  Each of Kevin's dogs wears a radio collar to aid in locating them should one get lost.  But now, rather than waste time waiting for Dixie, we left her and continued hunting in another area.  Half an hour later, when we returned, we could still hear her down in the canyon, but the barking was more frequent and with more intensity.  As we sat in the sun eating some lunch and listening to Dixie, Kevin decided to set a few more dogs loose.  Like radar, they honed in on her barking, and were off.  What music we listened to as the sounds of their baying echoed across the canyons.  The race was on. 

Before long, Kevin had released the rest of his dogs and we followed the sounds of their barking as they chased a cat.  My blood pressure peaked when Kevin finally said his dogs were barking treed.  I grabbed my bow as my hunting partners snatched the camcorder and backpacks.  Walking in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula is an experience in itself.  It took us what seemed like an eternity to hike down into the canyon, wade the stream, (thank goodness for Gore-Tex boots) and pick our way up through the trees and downfalls to where the dogs were doing a tap dance around the base of a large evergreen.  Stan spotted the bobcat perched on a limb about 60 feet up.  As Kevin gathered and tied all the dogs, we looked for a shooting angle and got the camcorder ready.  I had a two-inch target to hit the cat.

I judged the distance to the tree horizontally to be about 18 yards and vertically about 60 feet.  I decided to use my 20-yard pin and slip the arrow just over the branch and into the target, but I knew it wouldn't be easy.  Being careful to take a solid stance, I aimed and released.  The arrow went about one inch under the limb and rattled through the branches above.  The last thing I wanted was to have the cat climb even higher in this huge tree.   I wondered how these cats knew how to pick the tallest trees around?  I nocked another arrow and took aim.  I didn't compensate quite enough and the arrow slammed into the limb directly under the cat sending him fleeing to the trunk where I could no longer see him.  We picked our way around the tree looking for another shooting lane.  Finally, when I was almost directly under the cat, I could see his underside as he stood with his hind feet on one limb and his front paws on a higher branch.

Having never shot straight up before, I made the mistake of raising my bow arm before drawing.  By doing this, I lost the draw distance between my shoulder and anchor point.  In drawing the extra distance, I had to move my head into an awkward position just to see my sights.  (If I had it to do over, I'd draw the bow in a natural position and then bend backwards till I was on target.)  I was uncomfortable as I released my third arrow and it slipped between the cat and tree missing the vitals by about 2 inches.  Kevin had warned me to bring lots of arrows as he'd watched hunters go through a dozen or more and never touch a cat.  Shooting through dense trees at awkward angles isn't as easy as one might believe.  I inhaled several deep breaths and took aim for the forth time.  After my release, the cat sprang up the tree another 20 to 30 feet and out of sight.  I was sure I had hit it this time though.  A few seconds later, he made his non-stop voyage to the ground and was dead almost immediately.

I was elated to find that I'd just harvested a large mature tom with a beautiful winter coat.  After having him tagged by the Washington Department of Fish and Game, I took him to Zach Wise of Rainier Taxidermy where he's being mounted lying on a branch in a relaxed pose.  It just doesn't get much better. 

Comments

Retired2hunt's picture

  Arrowflipper - You do a

 

Arrowflipper - You do a fantastic job of describing your story as I could see the truck driving down the road with the dogs. 

As for the shooting tip - thanks as some of us with lesser bow experience (me) would be having a very hard time trying to figure out how to accomplish with that straight up shot.

Good Idea on keeping stories in a book.  I now have copied all my stories in writing so I can later share them and also pass on to future family. 

Thanks for sharing this story and an excellent cat.

 

 

SGM's picture

Nice

Nice story and great looking cat. I got one several years ago and did a full body mount of it laying on a small rock out crop. They are beautiful critters and are a true trophy.

codyac21's picture

pretty cat

Wow! very impressive.   I had the opportunity to catch a glance of one last year while out hunting.  Pretty sweet critter. 

ManOfTheFall's picture

That is a great story, I

That is a great story, I really enjoyed it. Very nice pictures as well. Here in Ohio the bobcat is illegal to kill. The population of bobcats is on the rise though and I am hoping within the next few years we will legally be able to hunt them. I would love to take one out with a bow. That would be awesome!!!!!

Ca_Vermonster's picture

Great story arrowflipper, and

Great story arrowflipper, and beautiful bobcat!

I do not hunt bobcats, but have had the priviledge of seeing a couple of them in the wild.  They move very silently, are hard to see, and make themselves very elusive.  Being able to harvest one of these guys takes some skill.  And, as with the bison, I see it was archery.

Again, very impressive!

arrowflipper's picture

Thanks Monster

Thanks "Monster", you are the man!! I love hunting and I love to write my stories. I'm glad you enjoy reading them. I actually made a book of my stories that I will eventually hand down to my kids.

hunter25's picture

Great hunt and story

Great hunt and story arrowflipper. I have only seen a few bobcats in my life but never when I could shoot one or chase them with dogs. I have however been on a 5 day mountain lion hunt with teh finale coming on the last day. The thrill of trying to keep up with the dogs is great as you look ahead in anticipation for what you will see. We took several minutes to take a few pictures and enjoy the sight before I actually fired the shot that killed the big tom. I wish i had used archery equipment like you did as there was no real need for the pistol I waqs carrying that day. I thought it would improve my odds a little but really made no difference. My guide at the time said that he believed it was actually harder to get a bobcat treed than a lion, there are more bobcats but they just won't sit a tree as well and keep the dogs going all day long sometimes.

Congrtaulations on a great trophy, I hope to get one as well someday.

 

ndemiter's picture

great story! thanks for

great story! thanks for sharing it with us.

I'm glad to see others out there who take such joy in the scenery and participating in the hunt.

your story made me think of how i was reading whitetail magazine last night and was nearly disgusted to see the raw emphasis on trophy deer. loving to hunt trophy animals is no sin, but when we start to pursue our ambition, the qualities that fall by the wayside are usually the ones that we need the most. Sometimes the experience should be enough to satisfy our desires, instead of thinking of our year in terms of our success instead of in terms of the experiences we had.

and i agree with you, whenever you seem to tree anything (be it coon, bobcat or cougar) it always picks the biggest tree with the most hiding places.

congrats on your experience, i've had very few oppertunities to take a bobcat, but i'm feeling lucky about this year.

groovy mike's picture

Your experience with the dogs sounds very much like mine.

This is another good story Arrow-flipper – thanks for sharing it and for sharing your excellent photographs with us again.  It is rare to read a story about hunting with hounds and even more rare to hear about anyone using archery tackle when dealing with a treed animal.  It sounds like a good hunt.  The only thing lacking from your tale is a shot of the finished taxidermy to round out the experience.  Your experience with the dogs sounds very much like I encountered when bear hunting in Maine.  My guide promised us that we would see bear. The best chance was hunting with dogs. It cost a little more, but was almost a sure thing. We agreed to get up early and ride along while he trained his dogs. If a bear was treed we would have the opportunity to upgrade our hunt and take him. It sounded like a good proposition. When the first dog was let out at the third bait site, he immediately struck trail and sounded off. When he was sure it was a hot track, the guide Steve released the other dogs and the chase was on.

We tracked the chase by ear and by radio transmitters on the dogs' collars. When the bear crossed a logging road a fresh dog would be put on the track and, at just after 10 a.m., the bear had had enough. The dogs sounded their "got him treed" call. We drove in as close as we could and then began the mile or so trek to them.  Forty minutes after the dogs had treed, we walked up on them bounding beneath an oak tree slightly smaller than the average telephone pole. Ten yards above sat a coal black mature boar of about 250 pounds. He looked down on us still panting with his brown muzzle standing out in sharp contrast to the long black hair. His perfect winter coat was so black that it shimmered in the bright sunlight streaming between bright green leaves. I used half a roll of film on him before the dogs were called back and leashed. He was the first bear that I had seen in the wild and will always be a special memory. The beauty and latent power he represented is the essence of the north. We all declined to shoot him. It was early in the week. We were sure that we would all bag bear over bait, but I didn’t collect a bear that trip and in fact I never have – yet.