He was a skinny, young, redheaded kid with freckles who seemed to be along just as an extra. He had his own set of dogs, his own equipment, and an overall seriousness about his demeanor. After spending the first day with this kid, I knew he was the real deal. He was extremely knowledgeable, passionate and professional on the hunt. My buddy and I left Colorado without a mountain lion that week — in fact, we didn’t even cut a set of tracks — but I would not forget how much passion and energy that kid had when it came to chasing mountain lions.
In my opinion, no trophy room is complete without a cool mountain lion in it. As an avid bowhunter, I was determined to make my second trip for the elusive cat a success and, thanks to the stand-up business practices of Bruce Nay of Bookcliff Outfitters, I had a deal to come back. They offered me an opportunity to hunt with this kid named Wade, and a second chance to take a nice mountain lion.
The kid, Wade Hollerman who operates Pine Valley Outfitters in Cedar City, Utah, turned out to be a very impressive young man, with an absolute dream and desire to be the best outfitter on the planet. He is very driven and impressed me as a young outfitter with his determination, skill and knowledge. He has some great dogs, a supportive family, and the entire trip could not have been a better experience.
I had trust and confidence in Wade as we spoke on the phone about coming out for lion. We discussed the opportunity, made plans, and a week later, on December 15, he was picking me up at the St. George airport. On the way to camp, Wade and I caught up on life, hunting and current hunting conditions. In the previous weeks, Wade had run some cats with the dogs, so things were looking up. Good snow is paramount on a lion hunt, and he informed me that things were perfect. They had a decent storm a few days back, leaving plenty of snow for tracking.
On my first experience in Colorado, the conditions went from bad to worse. We couldn’t locate fresh tracks and the snow continued to melt as the week progressed. Like any cat, a mountain lion typically sticks to the south face of the mountains where the snow melts first, so they don’t get their feet wet or walk in the snow. For obvious reasons, that makes it tough to find fresh tracks. Wade expressed we had good conditions and the timing was perfect. If we could pick up a cat track that was no more than two or three days old, it should be fresh enough for the dogs to run it.
On our first day, we loaded the snowmobiles and headed out with the dogs. Wade, along with some of his buddies, spread out on separate trails to increase our chances of locating lion tracks and, by mid-afternoon, Wade had found a set of lion tracks. He couldn’t be exact on how old the track was, but he was sure it was a big, mature tom and I could sense his excitement.
The next day broke cold and sunny. Wade and his buddy, Jeremy, took off on the snowmobiles at first light to pick up the mountain lion’s track while I stayed back with the dogs, sipping coffee and trying not to get overly excited about the potential opportunity of the day. Wade was barely gone a half an hour before I heard the snowmobile returning and thought that could mean either really good news or bad news. But he returned with a big grin on his face and, as he cut the motor to the snowmobile, said, “We got him.” The track he found was fresh, probably within the past 24 hours, and was about two to three miles from where we left it yesterday. It was on!
We got to the spot were Wade cut the tracks and prepared for the chase. The dogs were going nuts and it was pure chaos. I was excitedly preparing what I needed so that I could move quickly and easily, taking only the basics such as my bow, release, camera and license.
Wade and Jeremy prepped the dogs with GPS collars so they could monitor each of the dogs released. Wade took off with a couple of dogs and quickly picked up the fresh track while Jeremy and I waited behind monitoring them via a radio and GPS. Wade and the dogs were moving fast, which Jeremy informed me was a good sign. “The track is fresh and they are having no problem following it,” he stated.
At one point, Wade called and informed us he came across a kill the mountain lion made. A mule deer buck’s remains were not totally eaten by the cat, so there was a good chance he was still in the area and planned on coming back to finish.
Then Wade called on the radio, fairly certain the dogs had the lion treed. On the GPS, Jeremy could see the dogs had stopped near a creek bottom. We hoped it was a good indication the lion was treed. Within minutes, Wade called back and confirmed he had a big old tom in a pine. The snow was perfect — maybe four to six inches deep — so it was plenty for fresh tracks and also made easy going for us to hustle the mile we needed to reach Wade’s location.
As we made our way down the mountain, Wade and Jeremy checked in every so often on our progress. We got within a couple hundred yards of Wade when he called and said the lion jumped from the tree and took off with the dogs in tow.
Jeremy and I crossed the creek bottom and were within sight of Wade. The dogs all around us were trying to get back on the track and my concerns started to run high. Wade indicated what tree the lion was in and what direction he ran. Jeremy asked me to wait in the creek bottom while he went up to join Wade and sort things out.
Suddenly, Wade shouted out: “There he is!” and pointed to tree that wasn’t 50 yards from where I stood. There were two dogs at the base of the tree going nuts! I climbed the near vertical bank as fast as any track star could with a bow in his hand.
When the lion jumped, he ran a quick circle and then climbed a tree. He was near the top and nearly obscured by the pine branches.
It was time for me to make a quick, clean, ethical shot. I found the best angle I could, but my window was pretty small. I took some pictures of the lion in the tree as Wade and Jeremy tended to the dogs and secured them with lead lines close to the base of the tree.
Finally, everything was in place. I drew my bow and anchored just behind the lion’s shoulder within the small window of pine limbs. My arrow flew fast and true. The big tom leaped and immediately started to slip down through the tree limbs. Wade shouted to nock another arrow. I quickly drew a second arrow and the big cat dropped as soon as my arrow connected. Crashing through the limbs, he hit the ground and slid downhill in the snow maybe six or seven feet, coming to rest against a small tree, stone dead. It was over, and I had one of my “bucket list” animals.
As we made our way over to the big cat, Wade was elated at its size. I was not aware just how nice, but I could tell this was one special cat.
I had an absolutely beautiful lion. The warden who checked it in noted that it was the biggest lion he had checked in the past two years.
Wade is young man fulfilling his dream to be an outfitter. Wade Hollerman has a bright future in this business. He knows his area well, his dogs are some of the best, and he is very knowledgeable about hunting mountain lions as well as other critters that roam the West.
As an official scorer for SCI, I green scored the lion. He will easily make the P&Y record books and also score well in the SCI book.– Bill MacFarland