On the Murder of Mountain Lions

Hank Sims / Tuesday, March 6, 2012 @ 4:20 p.m. / News , Op-Ed

lion

Surely you’ve been following the controversy surrounding California Fish & Game Commission President Dan Richards, who took a hunting trip up to Idaho and ended up slaughtering a mountain lion with high-powered weaponry for kicks. (That’s his grinning mug at left.) 

When the photo of this nasty little child and his trophy appeared in a hunting magazine last month, the legislature and other high-powered state Democrats organized to strip him of his office. Though legal in Idaho, hunting mountain lions for sport is 100 percent verboten in California, and so, they argue, Richards was in essence flouting the laws he is charged to administer. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports today that the effort has stalled somewhat, but his eventual removal and/or abdication seems inevitable.

Personally – for this is one of those kinds of posts – this whole sad story would have been an occasion for great joy and celebration if only the mountain lion had won. I can’t comprehend anyone who would think otherwise. This doofus, with his dogs and his technology, is the one who chose the fight. The unfair fight. The fight in which he risked nothing. What a satisfying turn of events if, with one swipe of its mighty paw, the mountain lion had managed that day to open the commissioner’s guts from stem to stern, and flee!

Maybe that’s what the Democrats’ efforts amount to, in the end – the spirit of the big cat rising up Balrog-like from the grave and dragging this oaf into the abyss. Still, you can’t possibly take issue with Dan Walters’ shaming of the legislature’s “politically correct claptrap” last week:

Should any political figure who does something legally elsewhere that is illegal in California also resign?

Should an official who legally hunts any animal or catches any fish elsewhere that’s protected in California be censured? Should one who legally bets on basketball in Reno be required to do penance in California?

Same-sex marriages still are illegal in California, although that may, thankfully, change soon. Would it be improper for a gay or lesbian legislator to legally marry in another state?

Read the whole thing. It’s worth your while.

So since the fellow failed to succumb to justifiable homicide at the hands of the cougar, I find myself indifferent as to whether he sinks or swims, bureaucratically. As per Walters, the precedent that the legislature is setting is perhaps not a very desirable one. Anyone with eyes in her head now knows full well that the commissioner is a simpleton and a coward. Perhaps that’s enough.

But I should mention, for whatever you want to make of it, that I am one of the few people who has witnessed the slaying of a mountain lion first-hand. It wasn’t pretty.

This would have been sometime in the late ’70s or early ’80s. My dad got a call from a rancher he knew out by Hearst, east of the Little Lake Valley. A mountain lion was in the neighborhood. It had killed some sheep, or could possibly kill some sheep in the future. Would my dad like a shot?

For reasons lost to time, it was decided that I would come along. We loaded up the horses and dogs and guns in the very, very early morning. He would have had a thermos of coffee and I a thermos of hot chocolate. Then we drove out into the hills for an hour or more and unloaded.

It turned out to be a very quick hunt. The dogs scented the lion almost immediately and ran bawling up the slope. We kicked the horses and tried to keep up as they barreled off through the oaks and the madrone. After a quarter of an hour or so, we could hear that the dogs had stopped moving. They stopped barking and started howling. Something had been treed. We hustled their way. 

When we got there, the dogs were baying up a Doug fir. Through the binoculars you could see the lion bristling on a high branch. My father gave me the reins to his horse and took his .30-06 out of the scabbard. He walked away from us in a quarter-circle around the tree. Since the lion was so high, he’d need to have some distance to get a clear shot. After some time he found a place that suited him. He crouched down on a knee, lifted the rifle to he shoulder and peered through the scope. The shot boomed around the canyon, the dogs lost what was left of their minds and the lion fell out of the tree.

But it was only wounded. The dogs crowded round, as was their habit, but the lion started to fight back. It latched on to one of them before it was able to scamper away. My dad gave a shout, dropped his rifle and ran as fast as he could to the scene. Despite everything, he was a sap for his dogs. He pulled out his pistol, but for some reason it wouldn’t fire. So one day, at five in the morning, an hour’s drive from civilization, standing on a forlorn hill in the deep wilderness with two horses in my hand and dogs screaming all around me, I stood and watched from a distance as my father pistol-whipped a mountain lion to death.

I was a pretty small kid at the time. It made an impression.

I could say that my father took on a mountain lion one-on-one when the occasion arose, and I could doubt whether Commissioner Dan Richards has balls of similar heft. I could say that my father was not in the habit of posing for photos with his kill. I could say that he was at least ostensibly helping a rancher, or so he told himself. But you know what? All that’s bullshit.

This should be said, though: My dad grew up in a world where going out in the woods and killing large animals for fun was a natural activity that, for most of his life, he never thought to question. The momentum from his childhood carried him straight into adult life. I can’t remember exactly when, but at some point he stepped back and considered the whole pastime objectively. It was like a spell had been broken. He just stopped. This is how the world makes small steps forward. 

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