It was dusk on the first afternoon of my mountain lion hunt in the Idaho Panhandle. There was snow on the ground, but I was sweating. The temperature was hovering near 15 degrees, but I shed my outer layer in the two-hour vertical climb. We were standing on a 50-degree slope surrounded by an ancient coniferous forest blocking the radiant heat of the remaining dim sunshine. It was dang near the winter solstice. “It’ll be dark in twenty minutes,” Leon Brown said. “Did you not have a shot?” We had just watched a mature tom mountain lion snake 70-feet down a tree and bail out like a skydiver.
“No,” I said. “Was this a normal walk to a mountain lion tree?” I asked with hesitation. It hadn’t seemed to bother him. Leon couldn’t weigh more than 150 pounds, and 70% of it was pure Idaho sinew. I remembered the slick rock outcropping on a near vertical slope, the snowy log we crossed to ford a narrow drainage, and the near vertical section we traversed on all fours. My heart was beating fast from physical exertion. “That was harder than average. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say that was an 8,” Leon said. I didn’t know if he was trying to make me feel good or if it was true. I couldn’t remember doing anything harder in that short a time. In addition to the climb, we’d ridden 20 miles on snowmobiles to find the lion track. I was cold, exhausted, but absolutely exhi