Seven years have past since my brother Cam and I moved our guiding services into the Chilcotan region of British Columbia. We for seen this land as a new adventure with many of the animals we love to hunt there for us to pursue. Mule Deer as good as anywhere in the province, colour phase black bear, cougars, bobcat and California bighorn sheep, pointed towards a bright future. What we did not realize was our future would become the hunting pursuit of fast flying lynx cats.
What differentiates them from other cats is their big feet act as snowshoes allowing them to live in Snow Belt country surviving on a mainstay of snowshoe hairs. This life style has evolved the development of their tremendous lung capacity. Lynx would give Lance Armstrong a run for his money! A true Tour De France cat!!! Cougar hunting is cutting a good Tom track then working the country a day or two until the track close enough to catch up to his travelling ways. Bobcat is crossing a fresh trail outside of rocky terrain and then the bobby is in trouble. Find a Lynx track anywhere in their terrain, no matter how fresh the track, they are not caught until they are shot. They are not even being chased unless the dogs can make them run.
I’ll define my meaning as I have experienced it. Lynx do not panic once they are jumped. They trot ahead of the dogs, circling with zigs and zags down lengths of logs and over any rubble terrain mixed with quick double backs. Soon you believe your dogs are chasing a ghost. Howling comes screaming back by your feet leaving you to wonder, “how did I not see that cat”? No sooner do you turn around and start following your dogs the other way and here they come again! Bullocks, that is impossible! But get ready because the impossibilities are just warming up. Off to your left you see the Lynx going the other way again and your dogs have over shot the double back and now the Lynx is gaining precious time! Bloody Bullocks! Time means a line out into a different peace ofterrain to once again resume the battle of wills. Doubles with zig zags over and up before coming by and going back in a circle. Momentarily the dogs will quit barking from a loose before waking up the forest with excited yips having popped the Lynx out of another thicket. Then total silence! What does it mean? Treed, lost trail, what? Do I run to where I last heard the dogs or wait? Will they come back at me in a minute or is the flea bitten bagger finally treed? Choices make the right one because it’s precious to your burning lungs! This is a process of actions and thoughts repeated many times during a serious chase.
The clock quickly has you one hour into your pursuit. Milling dogs look for an out track. This is a fifty-fifty situation. Why? Your eyes scan skiffs of snow under the trees, searching, always searching. The invisible hairy-footed Lynx print gets obliterated by over zealous dogs and their tracks. Blood spots from torn dog feet up and down rabbit trails and low hanging limbs demand keen attention. If you’re tracking ability succeeds the maze of overlapping prints, you achieve the quickly needed goal, an out track or the tree your faced flared little friend abides in. There is your fifty-fifty. If it is the out track, a quick helpful yell signals to the casting dogs their team mate has picked up an out trail. Noses down the hounds catch scent and sing trail music once more. “You’re not that lucky to have it treed”.
Suck in another big breath and run! Your left foot pushes down on a sagging Fir tree a foot and a half off the ground. Bending under your weight and momentum the tree gives an extra spring to your jogging stride. Limbs touched by snow are blocked and pushed aside by your shoulder and forearm. Flakes of snow find your face and melt with beads of sweat giving your red cheeks relief. You pause often to zero your ears towards the diminishing sound of trailing hounds. Got it!!! Away you race pulling your Swan Dry wool hood over your head as you go diving into another near impassable dog hair thicket. So tight you are sandwiched prying and pushing through the two-inch diameter pecker poles a foot apart. One hundred yards later you pop out the other side pausing to receive silence? You curse the pulse in your ears for making too much noise. Strain as you may no bellar is heard. The squeak of your rubber boot on cold snow builds anxiety. Damn! Everything seems to be making noise, the jet at thirty thousand feet, squirrel with nothing better to do but chatter, my breath! Bullocks anyway!!! There they are at the edge of earshot. “ Will this Lynx ever tree”? These are your thoughts as you take your tenth running stride. Your confidence is questioned to whether you will prevail. Reserves are dug deep into and asked to replenish, not your muscles, but the power of positive thinking.
Slug on as you may the dogs always seem just out of reach. Fir timber three feet at the butt tower overhead, dense canopy closes your view of the sky. What bit of sky you can see is bleak white leaving you with no idea of direction, especially after two hard hours of running with your head down. Your hand held radio is dying, bleeping every time you try to talk. Your fellow guide back at the truck or sled is doing their best to get the guided client and themselves within earshot of the dogs and desperately could use a few words of direction from your radio. This creates the clicking game, the truck guide asks the running guide a question and the going dead runner radio clicks once or twice for yes or no. Handhold’s going dead from the cold receive fine, but only send for a second or two. The truck circles around on roads to get as close as possible. The runner runs to keep as close to the dogs as possible, slugging to believe in a seemingly near miracle.
Afternoon light over takes a thicket of forest and once more you have gained the middle of the hound pack. A Frenzy of tracks leaves you and your sagging shoulders searching for an out track but this time you can’t find an out. One of your best ole dogs keeps circling back to the same area and whooping a couple yelps into the wind. You have been over in that spot twice already but you try one more time because your whole day has been about try. This is where your faith as a hound hunter, in the dog that you are following, comes in. You say, “alright old friend that bagger is up there”. Look as you may you don’t see the lynx at first then, “ there”! Not often is a whole cat what you spot but an ear or foot, camouflaged rump or belly hair. There that bagger is, fancy face flare and all! A couple’s taps at the tree stating what you found and the dogs lock on. That’s when your good ole fellow trots by and casts you a look like,’ you really think you found that lynx hey’, knowing the truth was spoken in a bellar.
Click; click signals that the cat is in the tree. Cooling of sweat creeps up your arm but adrenalin fights goose bumps back. You slump and stare at this wonder, “ a lynx”! Thinking, “how did we ever manage to catch up to you”? “The last three turned us inside out and left us in the dust”! But you notice something, the lynx is still panting! It ran the Tour De France but the dogs ran the race one leg quicker. You are wiped and happy having experienced another hard earned lynx victory. You know in your mind that every day alive is a success but not every lynx chase is! Thank you cat hunting crew and friends for running so hard. BART LANCASTER Note; People might not agree with radio use for hunting. Being soaked from sweat faced with a life threatening night out in the elements, they soon realize it prevents cases of hypothermia and saves lives. I thank the wise folks who approved the legal use of hand radios in BC. cheers Bart Lancaster