Tracy Hardy’s Triple Mountain Lion Threat in 2011
Tracy Hardy’s Triple Mountain Lion Threat in 2011
Editor’s Note: Three mountain lions stalked 49-year-old PSE Pro Tracy Hardy of Tucson, Arizona. One was coming down the mountain from above him, the second cat was stalking him from down below and the third mountain lion was coming directly to him on the path where he’d set-up with his PSE bow. The mountain lions use this strategy, so that regardless of which way the intended kill moves, one of them will be able to grab its intended dinner by either the back of the neck or the throat and hold the prey, while the other two lions finish-off the kill. All that stood between Hardy and this three-cat attack was his bow and his archery skills. Most of us would be terrified if we saw one mountain lion weighing 100 pounds or more crouched and slowly crawling toward us. Although Hardy had three cats on attack, he was unafraid. “I felt like the quarterback on a football team,” Hardy explains. “I was in charge of the situation, and I knew I could handle it.” And, he did. This week, Hardy will tell us about his close encounter with death when he faced three big mountain lions and how he took his big mountain lion.
The three-lion hunt took place in January, 2011. Every January, the Hardy family has an annual javelina hunt in Arizona that family members come from all over the country to attend. “It seems like only a few years ago that I was a little kid on this hunt,” Hardy says. “Now, I’m seeing other little children in camp and trying to help them enjoy the hunt as much as I did when I was their age.” Rick Matthews, Hardy’s cousin, a contractor from southern California and Hardy’s hunting buddy for many years, teamed-up with him on this hunt. “When Rick and I hunt together, we have unbelievably memorable hunts that for some reason seem to be almost too unreal to be true,” Hardy explains. “Rick and I were sitting on the side of a mountain with our binoculars on tripods glassing the other side of the mountain. The technique of using binoculars on a tri-pod to glass is a technique that Tracy’s father, Bill Hardy, had pioneered in the 70’s and has been adopted by many western hunters and sheep hunters use to keep their binoculars rock steady. Then they can see the slightest movement of game from great distances. Rick whispered, ‘I’ve glassed-up something I’ve never seen before.’ Tracy has glassed many cats through the years including a big one he had been able to kill in 1989, but he knew that Rick had always wanted to find one while glassing. “Because I knew that the only animal Rick hadn’t seen when we’d been out hunting was a mountain lion, I instantly knew that Rick had spotted a cat.” Matthews walked Hardy into the cat (describing different bushes, shrubs and rocks that Hardy could see through his binoculars to explain exactly where the mountain lion was lying on a rock and sunning). Once Hardy spotted the mountain lion, he said, “We should go after him. He’s asleep on that rock on the other side of the mountain and not going anywhere. If we can get on that rock out above the cat, we probably could get a 60- to a 70-yard shot at it.”
Matthews explained that he hadn’t bought a mountain-lion tag and that having a chance to take a mountain lion with a bow would be remote, if almost impossible. However, Hardy had bought a conservation license at the first of the year, which allowed bowhunters to buy an archery deer tag, turkey tag, mountain-lion tag and bear tag at one time at a discounted rate. When Hardy admitted to Matthews that he’d never seen a mountain lion before, Matthews encouraged him to go after the animal, while he stayed in his position, so that he could watch the cat and tell him if the cat moved. Nightfall was approaching, and Matthews knew that if Hardy could get close enough to the lion quickly, he might have a chance at a shot. He also knew that time was of the essence, because the lion was lying in the sun, and as soon as the sun went down, the lion would get up and begin to hunt.
Using his range finder, Tracy Hardy knew that the lion was 750-yards away. So, he left his stand with Matthews, snuck over the top of the mountain without being seen, went down the backside of the mountain and hurried 1/4-mile to where he had his ATV parked. He went as fast as he could in his ATV, but the trip still took 15 minutes to reach the backside of the mountain where the cat was sunning. “We took quite a few javelina from this mountain, so I knew where I had to climb to get above the lion,” Hardy says. “As I reached the top of the ridge line, I found an old cattle trail that I knew would take me right to the outcropping rocks above the mountain lion. I knew that night was fast approaching, and if I didn’t reach the outcropping before the sun went down, the lions would leave that rock and I’d miss my opportunity,” Hardy emphasizes. As he hustled up the trail, Hardy began to see lion tracks and scat. He realized that multiple lions were using the old cattle trail regularly. He realized that there might actually be multiple cats in the area.
Rarely, if ever, will you see one mountain lion when you’re out bowhunting, and if you do see more than one, most of the time it will be a female with her young. Hardy wondered if that would be the case in this situation. “When I reached a small saddle above the cats, I saw that the sun had gone off this side of the mountain,” Hardy reports. “I figured that the cat was probably starting to move off the rock and would head up the canyon.” Hardy knew that he was about 300-yards from where the cat had been. He decided to use a varmint call and see if he could call the cat to him. What Hardy could not see but his hunting partner could was that there were three cats, all males, heading toward Hardy. Fortunately, Hardy had nocked an arrow in his PSE X-Force Vendetta XS bow and backed-up into some bushes to try to break-up his. Hardy recalls, “The trail I expected the cat to come on turned right below me, but I had a clear shooting lane down the trail and a clear shooting lane out in front of me. I blew the call again and waited.
Rick could see a dangerous scene unfolding. “All three cats are in full-blown hunting mode about 40-yards apart. One had circled down below Tracy, the second was coming up under him and the third lion is coming down from above him,” Rick recalls. “Then, one of the lions started to head right down the middle of the trail toward Tracy.’” Hardy blew his diaphragm predator call like a fawn bleating with whimpering sounds at the end of the bleat. “When he made that call the cats began a fast stalk, half crouched and moving, right at Tracy.”
Hardy had ranged a thick cactus at 70 yards and hoped his calls would bring the cats to within bow range. He then began to whimper on his predator call, so the cats would have to listen even closer and look harder to hear the soft sounds of what they believed to be a fawn in distress. Matthews could no longer see the cats but knew they were very close to Hardy
“I knew that by now, the lions had to be within 40 to 50 yards of me,” Hardy recalls. “The brush was thick, and I couldn’t see them. I decided to make one more call. One of the most-amazing elements of the hunt at this point was that I knew the lions were extremely close. As a matter of fact, I learned later that the lion above me was only 10 feet from me, and I couldn’t hear a sound – no rustling in the brush or twigs cracking – just stone-cold silence. At this point, I realized that if any mountain lion attacked, I’d probably only be able to hear the cracking of my neck, if he grabbed me by the throat or the back of the neck. I reached down to pick-up my predator call. Then I spotted a lion stalking down the trail straight toward me and only 20- to 30-yards away. I could tell he was a tom, so I reached for the handle of my bow. The cat stopped and looked at me. I said to myself, ‘OK, he sees me, so I better go ahead and get the bow back,” Hardy recalls. As Hardy drew the bow back, he was so close to the lion that he instantly could tell that the big cat saw his movement and was now focusing all his attention on him.
“The cat got low to the ground, advanced about 10-more yards quickly and then stopped,” Hardy remembers. “I was aiming at him and trying to steady my bow for the shot. When the cat was about 18-yards away, I could tell that he was confused, because he was looking at something that was different from what he’d heard. At that same instance, I was squeezing the release on my bow, and when the arrow fired, it hit the cat right between the shoulders and at the base of the neck. He’d given me a perfect coming-to-me quartering shot. When the lion took the arrow, he went straight up into the air like he’d been shot out of a catapult. Then, he hunched-up with his back raised almost over his head, turned to his right and tumbled off the side of the mountain. When the bow fired, in my peripheral vision, over my left shoulder, I saw the second lion go airborne right toward the lion I’d just shot. That lion sprang from 10 feet behind me. I had no idea that the cat was there, because all my attention was focused on the lion that had been at 18 yards coming toward me. When I saw the second cat in mid-air, I turned my back to him, and as I turned, I saw the third lion coming straight at me at about 15 yards. The third lion was on a dead run straight for me but then instead of coming all the way to me, he turned and ran about 6-yards behind me. He jumped-off the side of the mountain in the same direction from where the second cat had leaped.”
“When all the lions had finally disappeared, I just sat still. This hunt was the coolest and the most-exciting one I’d ever been on in my entire life. Finally, after I collected myself, I took a walkie-talkie from my pack and keyed the radio to call Rick. “I told him that I got that sucker and gave him the 2-minute version of what just had happened. When I released the mike, I heard Rick’s voice saying, ‘I’m so glad to hear your voice. I’ve been sitting here for about 10 minutes knowing that the last thing I saw there were three lions stalking you and moving straight for you. I couldn’t see or hear you or the lions, and I didn’t know whether to come and see what had happened, or if I should sit still and wait for you to call. I’m just glad to hear your voice.”
Tracy knew that the lion was hit well and that the PSE X-Force Vendetta had done its job. “I got-up and went to the spot where I arrowed the cat and found plenty of blood and quickly started looking for the cat,” Hardy said. “I heard Rick say, ‘Man, I was worried silly. I thought one of those lions had grabbed you by the throat and locked down on your neck, so you couldn’t scream. I’m glad you’re alive.’ After hearing Rick, I realized how excited I really was. I went back to the spot where I first found blood, sat there for a little while and tried to calm-down. Then, I got-up, started following the blood trail and found my lion not 50-yards away. I keyed my mike and called my dad, who was back at camp.”
“Before I started dragging my cat out I called my wife Jolene on my cell phone. She was working in town and I excitedly recounted the story and I heard her start to get emotional on the other end of the phone. I was all excited about the hunt, and she was upset thinking that one of the lions might have eaten me. But, I didn’t get eaten, and this was the most exciting hunt of my life.”
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