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A Special Time and Place - My Big Cat Story

I met Gary Keller after giving a predator calling seminar at a Sportsman’s Warehouse store in Tucson. Meeting new friends and seeing old ones is still the best part of doing these events and I still try to do a few every year as time permits.

Gary was from Michigan, what the folks in Arizona refer to as a “snow bird”, retired and wintering in warmer weather before heading north in the Spring. A few phone calls and a year passed and we were finally able to set up a time to hunt. It was a perfect winter desert morning. The trade-off for the miserably hot spring and summer weather in the desert are the winter days…..every minute of every day in December and January feels like a perfect, Midwest Fall morning, the kind you look forward to and appreciate more as the years go by and your hair slowly grays.

In the dark, we drove east for an hour, maybe more and slowly gained elevation in the process. Sipping hot coffee and talking life stories. In many ways, we were nothing more than strangers, but the love and adventure of the hunt bonded us as if we were lifetime buddies. I told him to take the next exit and head north for a few minutes.

The sun poked its head and peered into the rocky walls and canyons. I had hunted through, and scouted this country for several years and never had much luck. It was always tough to cut a coyote track when there was snow or see much coyote sign at all at any time…. but every now and then, with some work, a guy could find a cat track or two. And this was big country, the kind first time visiting Midwesterners are a bit intimidated by but it also the reason they come west. Other than seeing a javelina or two, I had never seen a thing here…but it was so beautiful, so peaceful, so good looking that I always went back. Over the years I have learned that is the key, if it looks good, sooner or later it should pay off. Persistence is the key.

My plan for this day was to make two or three stands in the beauty of the rocks. Many of the folks that come to the wide open spaces of the west for the first time are in such awe of the countryside that seeing animals is simply a bonus!

When guys watch my DVD’s, critters show on every stand, but it didn’t bother Gary nor did he seem to have a care in the world after thirty minutes went by and it was time to move to the next spot without any action.

We took our time tender footing and pecking through the boulders. It was still early and cool as we climbed. Great pioneer day lion hunters like the Lee’s, the Lilly’s and the modern era lion legends the Glenn’s had all travelled after their hounds in this country.

This was also Geronimo’s country, where he hunted and evaded capture for years before surrendering and being hauled by wagon to Holbrook, stuck on a waiting train and shipped off to Oklahoma and Florida. It was said he and his warriors would travel over 20 miles in the dark of a single night to avoid capture. Gary and I would not be moving that swiftly. It is a special place to me and any who know the heritage. It was the country I had read about as a kid and moved to as an adult, not to pan for gold or stake a claim, but to call critters.

I placed the FoxPro thirty yards from us and started blowing into one of my Zepp’s Big Cat Rattlers. After a few minutes, I switched to the CS-24 and gray fox distress sounds filled the air. Minutes passed. I looked to the south and saw the big cat coming at a steady pace. To this day, it is the only one I have ever seen.

I immediately realized just how special the moment was and what was about to happen. I stood for a better view and made sure the camera was in focus and time code was running. She stopped for thirty seconds or so to look at me, dressed head to toe in Realtree’s Max-1 camo, before turning her attention back to the call. Although she was only fifty or so yards from Gary at this point, he did not have a view of her until she was belly crawling past him, towards the call, at fifteen or twenty yards. Instincts took over from there.

In two stands, before many had poured their first cup of coffee, Gary and I had done what no other predator caller had done to that point in time. Call in and shoot a big cat on tape for Zepp’s DVD “Free Grass and No Fences”.

It is one of my favorite predator calling memories.

Good Hunting!

– Big Mark

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