Story and photo By Kyle Wisniewski, Explorebigsky.com contributor
As I drifted off to sleep, I listened to
the sound of the wind howling against
the side of my cabin in Gallatin Canyon.
I knew soon enough the alarm would
sound and it would be time to head out
into the forest to check our traps. I lay
there, thinking about mountain lions.
The next morning I rose at 3 a.m., drank
my coffee, and loaded the wood stove
for the day. I headed down my driveway,
filled with anticipation. The fall
air was blustery and cold, and I drove
slowly to the first trailhead enjoying
the warmth of my truck. I set off on
our first trapline in the dark, walking
through snow by the light of my headlamp.
Mountain lions are elusive and hunt at
night, but with enough perseverance a
dedicated outdoorsman will encounter
the silent predator. At least that’s what
my mentor and hunting partner said,
and what I hoped. I’d never even seen
a lion track, but was fascinated by the creatures.
On that first line, I found nothing in
the way of animal tracks, and nothing
in our traps.
As I drove to my second stop, I caught
a lone coyote standing for a second in
my headlights. I walked down the trail
back to our first set of traps and found
every trap holding a coyote. Overwhelmed,
I collected my bounty and
wandered back down the trail.
My third stop also held great rewards
in the way of coyotes, but again no
lion tracks. It was now first light, so
I made my daily call to my hunting
partner. I told him about the coyotes,
and then asked him to bring his lion
hounds and meet me. The excitement
in his voice matched mine.
What happened next will be a hunting
story in my family for generations to
come. Our next two stops yielded
coyotes, bobcats, pine marten and even
an unlucky mule deer. It was already
an unprecedented morning.
Then it happened. Clear in the soft,
white snow, I found my first mountain
lion track. I sprinted a mile back to the
truck, crossed the icy Gallatin River,
and told my partner. He asked how big the track was.
We returned to where I saw the tracks
and let the dogs loose. They disappeared
into the forest, hot on the lion’s
trail, and we followed them along
the mountain face overlooking the highway.
The walk took forever, but anticipation
kept us pushing through the knee-deep
snow. Dogs will typically track a
lion until the annoyance of their
pursuit forces it up a tree, so when
we finally heard the dogs barking,
we knew they’d treed it.
Perched on a branch 30 feet up,
the lion was magnificent. We
snapped a photo, leashed the dogs
and walked back out of the snowy
At the last stop on our daily checklist
we found more lion tracks. Again
we chased a feline and gave her a flattering
photo shoot. It was 8 a.m. and
was time to go to my day job.
It’s been years since that morning,
but it’s the kind of adventure that
keeps me in pursuit of the rewards
these mountains hold.
This story was first published in the winter 11/12 issue of Mountain Outlaw magazine.