Wolfe vs. Lion
By Derek Wolfe | ML-CO-GD-PL
“I look up, and the lion is right above me, staring right in my face.”
We had fresh snow coming in, and I got a call from Alex Nestor
“Hey, you know, we got a monster cat up here,” he said. Do you want to come up and give it a chase?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
I got my licenses squared away really quickly. I’d already taken the required exam for hunting mountain lions in Colorado, so it was easy. I was ready to go and chomping at the bit when Alex called again.
“All right, I’ll let you know if we’re going to do it for sure…” he said.
I cut him off, “No, I’m coming no matter what.”
It was a restless night for me, and at four in the morning my phone rings again; it’s Alex. “Hey, I actually saw some tracks, but they went on private, and now I’m not really seeing much,” he said.
“I don’t care,” I responded. “I’m coming.”
I got up jumped in the truck, which I’d packed the night before and drove the hour to get up there. It was snowing really bad, so it took an hour and a half. I finally showed up at about 6 a.m. We jumped in Alex’s truck and went driving around, looking to cut some tracks. We went to the area where he knew that there was definitely a big cat running around.
As soon as we pulled down this side road, there were cat’s tracks going in the unplowed snow.
“Oh, that’s a big one,” Alex said, whistling low.
We jumped out, looked at the tracks, and they led up underneath this tree to a full-grown, four-point mule deer that the lion had freshly killed and packed up under that tree. He had it devoured; it was still warm and kind of steamy. So, we knew it was fresh. The tracks continued on toward a person’s home across the road. We followed them with our binoculars, and they disappeared under the porch of this house. That lion was living right under that porch!
We walked up to knock on the door to see if the landowner would allow us to cut those tracks with the hounds. We could see that the cat walked up on the porch and was looking in the windows, probably looking for pets to eat. It was like he was casing the place, trying to figure out how he could get in.
The tracks moved off the porch and led up into the woods at the foot of a super-steep mountain. It was snowing hard, and the tracks weren’t covered; we could make them out perfectly. So, we started making phone calls, using our online maps, trying to call different landowners to try and get permission to cross their land and go after this lion.
We could not reach anyone, even knocking on doors, but nobody was around. However, we finally started getting people on the phone, and everyone we talked to told us stories about dogs taken by a huge lion. We eventually got in touch with the homeowner whose house the cat’s tracks went up on the porch of.
“He’s walking up on my porch all the time,” she said. “I think he’s living under my porch, and the guy right next door on the dude ranch is having the same issue. He’s a big one. I’ve seen him once, and I’m terrified to come out at night.”
“You can use my property for whatever, do whatever you need do,” she said.
The problem was the tracks went onto her neighbor’s, the dude ranch, and we needed permission from that landowner. Our search continued. . . We did have a chance to chat with one landowner, who didn’t understand why we wouldn’t just leave the cat alone.
We tried to explain lion hunting and management, but the guy wasn’t interested and tuned us out saying, “I know last year somebody’s dog was eaten, but that’s just what cats do.”
He did give us another number to call, and it turned out to be key in getting us on that lion’s track. After we called and left a message, we were sitting in the truck waiting for a reply when here comes this guy, the manager of the dude ranch.
He comes roaring up to us, “You guys hunting lions?”
“You gotta see these cat tracks! He was on my porch! He’s a huge f$@#&ing cat, man. You guys want to come through here?”
We couldn’t believe our luck had taken such a massive turn.
“All right, go ahead. Do what you gotta do. Please get him out of here, man. He’s been harassing my house, my cats, my little dogs; it’s only a matter of time before he does something real bad.”
We didn’t waste any time breaking out the hounds, and the first place they went was right to that porch. It didn’t take them long before they took off on the track and followed it up the mountain. It was go time! Fifteen hundred feet straight up through the steepest, nastiest country I’ve ever hunted. I was hoping the dogs would catch that lion quickly, but of course, that wasn’t the case.
We chased those dogs through three feet of snow, blowdown timber in vertical, rocky, rough terrain, all the way up one side and down the other. I’m dying, but Alex is like a mountain goat, having no problem getting through it. He was probably a half a mile ahead of me. I had to keep stopping; I just kept slipping and falling. Finally, I just started crawling, trying to gain the 2,000 vertical feet to get where I need to be.
The entire time Alex is yelling at me, “Get up here! We’re gonna lose this cat!”
At this point, I am cramping; hamstrings, forearms, ribs. . . I’m gassed, sucking air, pouring sweat and I’m all cut up. I’m getting my a$$ kicked!
But I hollered back, “Okay, I’m coming.”
I get into this cut in the mountainside, and I just start crawling real slow all the way up through there, up to 9,600 feet. I finally get to Alex, and I just lay down for a second to regain some composure. I look up, and the lion is right above me, staring right in my face. That’s all it took, I got myself together. I train for these kinds of moments where my heart rate is jacked, not from adrenaline, but from pure exhaustion. I take shots with my bow during my workouts, so I was ready for this situation.
It was a frontal shot from below. I gathered myself as best I could, drew my bow, tried to steady the pins between heaving breaths and pulled through the shot. When it broke, I remember watching the arrow zip through the big tom, and he dropped out of the tree instantly, hit the ground and just rolled down the mountain a little bit. He was dead before he hit the ground. I was in shock. The adrenaline dump and the massive exertion made me woozy. I just fell over and laid down.
Alex took off after the lion, recovering it quickly.
“It’s a giant; wait till you see how big this thing is!” he starts hollering. “Dude, you’re never gonna believe how big this cat is.”
“All right, I’m coming.”
But I just sat there for like, 20 minutes, gathering myself, trying to get it together. Then I made my way down there, crawling because I couldn’t walk. I got down to Alex and the cat finally, and I was in awe. I hadn’t really taken the time to look closely at the lion before I shot. Alex told me it was tom and it was big; that’s all I needed to know.
“You got to pick him up, man. He is huge.”
I’m 6’6” and weigh 285. Most of the animals that I have harvested don’t look as big as they were in pictures with me, but this lion, listen. . . I tackled a lot of running backs in the NFL—Derrick Henry, for one—and this lion was the most solid, muscular thing I’ve ever wrapped my arms around, simply massive! I lifted it up, Alex took the picture and I dropped it. I had to take another 20 minutes to recover from just doing that.
I didn’t know how I was going to get off that mountain with that enormous cat on my back. We gutted it and loaded it on my pack the best we could, and Alex rounded up the dogs and headed down. I was still cramping and couldn’t really walk, so I just started sliding down. I hit this rock slide area and lost my footing. I tumbled about 20 feet down the mountainside with that huge cat on my back. Alex heard the commotion and hollered to see if I was okay. I took a moment to make sure everything was in working order and yelled back that I was fine.
We finally got down off the mountain and loaded up in Alex’s rig. I’d never been so spent in all my life! Nothing could compare, not NFL workouts, nothing. . . I had zero gas in the tank and melted into the pickup seat. It was time to check my lion in with CPW. We had done everything by the book and that was the final step.
When we checked the lion in, the folks at CPW couldn’t believe how big the cat was. They all said it was the biggest lion they’d ever seen. Most of the lions they check in are around 120 pounds. My cat, gutted, weighed over 178 pounds.
I’m super excited to have this lion mounted for my house, but I think I might be just as stoked to eat him, too. I’ve never had lion meat, but everyone I’ve talked to says it’s delicious, and Alex assured me that this big boy would eat very well.
Since I killed this cat, I’ve gotten a lot of attention. The reaction from the hunting community has been very positive and supportive, but I’ve gotten lots of angry messages and feedback from anti-hunters and folks who don’t understand why I legally hunted and harvested this lion. The anti’s don’t care and won’t listen to anything we hunters have to say, but the folks who don’t understand don’t have the knowledge about how conservation works; those are people that I feel I can reach and educate on just how important it is to manage all wildlife, especially predators. This was a problem cat, and it was only a matter of time before he nabbed something more precious than a pet. When we don’t manage predators through legal, controlled hunting, they overpopulate, and that’s a recipe for disaster; just ask the folks in that Colorado neighborhood this big boy called home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Derek Wolfe is a former Super Bowl champion with the Denver Broncos. Since his retirement, he has turned his full attention to his passion of bowhunting and hunter advocacy. In his words… “If the anti’s want a fight, I’ll give ’em a fight.” He has a YouTube channel (Wolfe Untamed) to promote hunting and encourage all hunters to stand together in the face of the anti-hunting movement. Instagram | @derekwolfe_95 Twitter | @Derek_Wolfe95
OUTFITTER INFO: Alex Nestor | PH #719-760-2960 | Website Eastern Colorado Outdoors
GEAR LIST: Bow Hoyt Highline | Broadheads SEVR | Rest Hamskea | Release Carter | Binoculars Leupold 10×42 | Clothing King’s Camo | Boots Kenetrek Mountain Extreme | Pack Kifaru Stryker XL | Rangefinder Leupold FullDraw 5 | Knife MKC Speedgoat