posted by Jim on Jan 22
Words cannot express the experience the Hunters Prostaff team had last week in the mountains of Arizona. In an effort to get as much realistic and unique predator footage, we embarked on an adventure, which tested our emotions from one spectrum to the other. Needless to say, it was an experience of a lifetime!
It started out on a long flight from Indianapolis, where we spent the weekend at the Archery Trade Association show, promoting Hunters Pro Gear, our new upcoming store. Our voices were gone, our heads were hurting and we were spent from talking to thousands of manufactures and archery retailers. Every evening we tipped back a few, because we all know where most business promotion is done. Obviously, not the way to prepare for one of the most grueling hunting adventures soon to come.
We arrived in Arizona and had to make a stop at the In and Out Burger. Again, we made another bad decision prior to climbing mountains in pursuit of a good Tom. Our first day in Arizona was spent predator calling with Darrell Nielson of 7 Seventy 7 Guide Services. We hunted hard and made several calling sets in very diverse terrain. This was a learning experience for us, as well as, for our guide. When a camera is involved, it makes everything change. What may be a great set up for the hunter may be an impossible set up to get good footage. We called in some bobcats on the first day, however, the camera and the hunter did not sync very well. The area was too thick and seeing predators coming from a distance was near to impossible.
On day two, we met Wade Eckel and Blaine Tow of Marathon Outfitters and Guide Service. We were very impressed with these guys from the start. They had driven hundreds of miles up and down washes, cutting lion tracks. We had two lion tags. Blake Wollenberg, my new partner in Hunters Pro Gear was up first. We cut two fresh tracks and they both looked to be from very good Toms. One thing I appreciate from hunting out of my normal element in the Midwest is the learning experience of every hunt. Wade is extraordinary in his ability to see tracks while driving 30 miles per hour on his ATV. Not only can he see a track, he has lived with these lions for so long, that he knows what their travel routes and overall behaviors will be when they are pursued. He was very efficient and did not set his dogs on a track until he knew we were close. By 10:00 a.m. that first morning, Wade set his phenomenal dogs loose. Blake grabbed his bow and I grabbed our new Canon HD camera and we jumped on the four wheeler. We were off to get as close to the dogs as possible. Jed Speiser, our lead predator hunter and cameraman, followed with Darrell in their truck. The goal was to get two camera angles on every hunt. This was the first disappointment. Our ATV was covering ground much faster than the truck and we were able to go an additional ¾ of a mile where the truck could not follow. They were a half hour behind us.
Blaine, Blake and I arrived just in time, as the lion began to get tired and perched himself on a large boulder about 200 ft. above us. Wade already made it to the top and yelled to us to start climbing. It was a hand and foot climb, as fast as we could, carrying equipment. About 5 minutes into the climb, I realized that Blake and I were not prepared for a hunt like this physically or mentally. I could barely hear the dogs bawling over my hard breathing and my heart racing with excitement. We eventually crested the top and I looked to the sounds of the hounds. My mouth dropped at the view of one of the most magnificent animals I had ever set my eyes on! His ears were tucked back and his neck, shoulder and forearm muscles were pumped up and very intimidating. I could see and hear him growling at the dogs which were literally in his face. He was 3 times the size of each dog and it was very obvious to me that he could kill them without a great amount of effort. However, as I learned another very valuable lesson from Wade; he is still a cat and all cats fear dogs! Little Daisy, Wade’s lead dog would literally turn her back on this lion and then turn right back and get in his face. She was fearless!
I climbed up above the lion on a hogs back of loose boulders and began to settle myself down to get the lion on camera. Blaine was behind me snapping some incredible pictures. Here is where we made a mental mistake which caused several near tragedies. Blake is 26 years young and he had a lot of factors going against him. He was hunting an animal which was very intimidating. He was 20 yards in front of a lion which could take two bounds and be on top of him or I in seconds. He just climbed 200 ft up a rocky mountain and was winded. He has not bow hunted anything in these conditions. Finally, the lion is in a position which is not text book for any archer.
I have the experience and I feel I am partially to blame for not stopping, what was to happen. I yelled down to Blake, as I did not like his position to the cat. He was head on to the cat and the cat was lying down. His only shot would be a head-on chest shot, if we got the lion to sit up. Blake yelled back that he was more comfortable where he was and would wait for a shot opportunity. Wade called the dogs back and the lion held his position. The camera was rolling and I knew I needed to get the lions attention away from Blake, so he could possibly offer a shot. I whistled and the lion turned and looked in my direction. Then I realized that I could be making a mistake. As the lion gazed at me, I began to think that maybe the lion was thinking I wanted him to come over and eat the camera guy. Not good! The lion sat up for a moment and exposed his chest. Blake took the shot and hit the lion in the head. Read the rest … »