Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors
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Mountain Lions and Me
"That lion is scared of you," Willis said, as I slowly climbed up the juniper tree.
"Easy for him to say," I thought to myself. Willis was on the ground, I was 12 feet up a tree, and a mountain lion was six feet above me, hissing and snarling. I was armed with a noose on the end of a pole, with the intention of slipping the noose over the lion's head, tightening it, and dragging the cat out of the tree. I wasn't liking this project at all, even though Willis told me he'd done this many times, and declared that lions are really fraidy cats.
I gingerly attempted to lower the noose over the cat's head several times, but it easily slapped it away. "Now what?" I asked Willis. "Don't lower it slowly," he instructed. "Slap it down hard before he can knock it away."
I did, and managed to get the noose around the cougar's head. When I quickly tightened it, all hell broke loose. It was a rodeo the likes of which I've never seen.
The cat immediately jumped off the branch it was on, and I held on to the pole, scrambling out of the juniper with the cat snarling and twisting and falling. We hit the ground the same time. I held on to the pole for dear life. Willis expertly tossed a rope loop around one of the lion's back legs, and we had him stretched out between us, me holding its head in the noose and Willis holding the rope around the leg. It was all I could do to hold on to the furry ball of lightning, but I held on with all my might, because as long as that noose kept the cat's jaws and front paws a pole length away, I figured I'd be ok -- unless Willis lost his grip. I didn't want to think about that.
Somehow Willis got the rope looped around a front leg, and the lion was trussed --somewhat. There was still no guarantee it would stay that way. More rope work had the cougar completely subdued. Willis was having some health issues, (which, in fact, was why I was in the tree and he was on the ground) so I walked through the forest to the truck to get an empty 55 gallon drum. I rolled it to the thoroughly upset lion and we managed to get the cat in the barrel. Then we rolled him to the truck and loaded it. Luckily it wasn't a full grown adult. It weighed around 100 pounds, which was plenty heavy enough for the task at hand.
I was hunting with Willis Butolph, a US Government hunter who hunted lions and other predators that preyed on livestock, mostly sheep. The cougar we caught would be contained and fed in a pen in Willis's yard, and used to train pups. Willis would take the lion out to the forest along with the pups and a couple older dogs, and let the cat loose. The older hounds and pups would give chase, and hopefully tree the lion where it could be caught again, or left alone to roam freely.
At the time I was working my first career job after getting my college degree. I was employed by the State of Utah Department of Forestry and Fire Control, living in Price, Utah. I'd heard about Willis's reputation as a legendary lion hunter when I was in college at USU, but never thought I'd meet him. That opportunity presented itself when I moved into the area where he lived.
We quickly became friends after I finally met him. Having been raised in the east, I was intrigued at the thoughts of simply seeing a mountain lion in the wild. After meeting Willis, I saw many of them, sometimes during hunts that could have easily turned ugly. At that time, lions were not classified as game animals as they are today. There were no seasons, no bag limits, no license required to hunt them, nothing.
I spent several years hunting with him and had some close calls. We caught many lions, some of the hunts off the charts when it came to danger, and a few as easy as a walk in the park. A most interesting chapter in my life.Last modified on