Rod Bradley got to experience the thrill of the hunt twice with the same animal.
The first was in 2007 when he bagged a record-book mountain lion.
The second came in June when he got a gold medal at the Boone and Crockett Club’s Big Game Awards in Reno.
“My wife turned to me and said, ‘This is a big deal, isn’t it?'” Bradley said.
Bradley’s cat was the largest taken in North America for the three-year period from 2007 to 2009 and the second largest ever measured in Idaho, according to Boone and Crockett, which certifies the largest big game animals.
Bradley’s cat is No. 10 in the club’s all-time records.
Bradley, 40, is a lifelong hunter with many trophy elk and mule deer to his credit. But taking a record mountain lion took him by surprise.
“In all my years of hunting, I’ve never seen one,” he said.
But Bradley was intrigued by the idea. He’d heard many stories about cat hunting from his friend, Tim Craig, the owner of Boulder Creek Outfitters in Peck.
When Craig offered to take him on a hunt, Bradley and his father, Bert, were in.
But there was a catch. There was no scheduling the hunt. They were basically on call when conditions were good.
That call came on a Monday evening in December 2007 with simple instructions: Be here tomorrow.
The Bradleys scrambled to gather their gear and get on the road. They arrived at Craig’s backcountry camp along the Lochsa River the next day.
Rod knew time was against him. He had to be home Thursday evening, which gave him precious little time to hunt.
But the weather worked in the group’s favor, piling fresh snow each day, which made it easier to spot fresh cat tracks. But “easy” should be put in perspective.
After two days of searching, they cut only one set of tracks – a female and a cub, which were legally off-limits.
On the final day, there was 6 inches of fresh snow and ideal tracking conditions when they set out. The morning was fruitless, but midday they crossed a fresh set of tracks. They released the hounds and the pack rocketed uphill.
About 15 minutes later, the sound of the baying hounds abruptly changed.
Even the guides looked a little puzzled, Bradley said. The pursuit usually lasts hours, sometimes longer.
They listened to the dogs for another 10 minutes with no change in their location or in the tone of their barking. It sounded like a cat was treed.
The hunters followed, scaling a steep hill coated with up to 18 inches of snow.
“Much of our climb was on all fours,” Bradley said.
The hounds had the cat, a huge male, treed and holding. When Bradley arrived, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw, and it wasn’t just the animal’s size.
“It was pretty eerie looking into the eyes of an ultimate predator,” he said. “I was intimidated.”
After aligning a perfect shot, he dropped the cat.
“The guides kept saying, ‘Look at the size of that cat,'” Bradley said.
It weighed about 160 pounds, he said, but weight means nothing in determining record-book status. Boone and Crockett scores a cat based on the length and width of its skull.
A taxidermist took rough measurements of the skull, and Bradley called his friend, Ryan Hatfield, an Idaho native who then worked for Boone and Crockett, and gave him the unofficial score.
“No way,” Hatfield said.
After the required 60-day drying period, Hatfield officially measured the skull at 15 14/16 inches.
It was largest cat killed (and measured) in Idaho since 1988 when Gene Alford took one that measured 16 3/16ths, which is Boone and Crockett’s No. 2 all-time for North America.
Bradley’s cat is now getting a full-body mount, and he said despite the odds of topping his first hunt, he’d like to do it again.
“It’s just cool,” he said. “It’s the chase and the atmosphere. It’s just electric.”
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