Over the past few years, I have heard many exciting stories about hunting mountain lions with dogs from a longtime friend, Steve Smith. Well, during this time, I have accompanied him on a couple of trips on mule rides through some of Arizona's wildest country, watching Steve work his dogs as he gives them commands.
In over 35 years of hunting mountain lions with hounds, he has gathered a wealth of information that enables him to read signs left by these secretive cats.
As a young man, he was mentored by longtime houndsman, Bill Workman.
Bill taught Steve these skills and the ability to work dogs in pursuit of the Arizona cougar. A strong work ethic, paying attention to detail, excellent physical conditioning, and good dogs are all key characteristics in the development of a successful lion hunter.
Younger men often come to Steve for advice and tips and Tony McNeeley, longtime Payson resident, accompanies Steve on many of his trips for that very purpose. A week ago, I joined up with these two avid houndsmen, looking for a lion that had eaten 11 goats over a two-month span.
I was actually kind of excited, not only about the hunt with friends, but also not seeing a horse trailer, which meant we were going to be on foot. Steve always makes sure when I do ride, that I have the calmest and easiest to ride mule, but being on foot sounded like a healthy challenge.
Watching these guys work the dogs and reading the sign, gave me confidence that I might actually see one of these elusive critters.
Following Tony McNeeley for the next 3 miles, as he trailed the dogs was at a fast walk or run, depending on the intensity of the dogs barking.
Crossing the creek a dozen times and getting wet up to our knees was all a part of the fun of trying to stay up with the dogs.
Then, Tony showed me a fresh track of the large tom lion and that really got the adrenaline flowing.
At that moment, the dogs cranked up their howling to a new level and we were about 200 yards from the spot.
The last distance was closed with Tony leading the way, as we climbed hand over hand up a cliff and across a talus rock slope that was giving away under our feet.
We finally got to a solid rock outcropping and peeked over the precipice to see two dogs nose to nose with the angry mountain lion.
To see that cat silhouetted against the Arizona skyline was a sight I will never forget.
The dogs and their owner, Steve Smith, and Tony McNeeley had completed a successful lion chase in the Arizona wilds and I have a story to tell my grandchildren around the campfire about the awesome Arizona outdoors, God's creation.