My second year in the field with my NDM didn't start off too
well. Early reports from Sobrero Peak suggested that there wasn't as much
deer as there had been in years past thanks in part to a fairly active group of
Cougars that had more or less settled in the area. I had always heard that
Cougars were around the ranch, and the bunk house had a few pelts of them from
years past, but I had never actually seen one in person. Sure enough, when
we got there the deer population was really sparse. So much so that if
memory serves I only saw perhaps two that year --- both does. In
comparison, it was typical on other trips to see at least 25-30 a day; so even
if you didn't always have a shot at them, you knew they were there.
Further confounding our efforts afield was the ususually thick morning fog that
settled in on a couple of the nights making morning visibility 25 meters or
less. The last morning in particular was creepy because as the sun began
to come up and give us light, we found that where ever you were appeared to be
all that existed. The light was opaque, and the fog completely enveloped
us making navigation through terrain features impossible. In my life I
have experienced this phenomenon only one other time, and that was in the desert
of Saudi Arabia pulling LP/OP on the night before the ground offensive
started.....but I digress......
On our way in the second morning there the guide said that he wanted to stop and check a trap he had set for a cougar. Apparently, it was along the path that we'd be taking up to our ridge so it made sense. We approached the area which was along a fence line in a low area pock-marked by grease wood and other scrub brushes --- most under 5 feet tall, and once we got close he announced that a trap was missing. There was obvious signs of disturbed ground caused by the chain and treble hook that the trap was attached to, so we began to follow the trail figuring that the relatively thick brush would certainly tangle the cat up soon enough. After a couple of hundred yards, however, the ground had turned to mostly rocks and the trail was lost. It was obvious, however, that the cat was trying to get to higher ground, and up until the point where we lost the track he had been headed in a more or less straight path. There were six of us in the group so we fanned out and began walking on line figuring that we'd either find the cat layed up somewhere, find the empty trap, or possibly get a shot at him as he climbed the ridge line 150 yards away. The cat had different plans, however.
We were perhaps a minute or two into our slow walk when the bushes directly in front of the guide who was perhaps 15 feet to my left came alive. The guide let out a scream and tried in vain to pull out his pistol as he backed up quickly, but thankfully the cat bolted away towards the ridge line. I caught a blurr and heard the chain and hook clanging on the rocks, but thanks to the bush in front of me, I couldn't get a shot. I ran around the bush and saw that he was stopped, and facing me at perhaps 20 feet. I simply snapped the rifle up to my shoulder, saw fur in the reticle, and sent a 168gr Winchester silvertip through his shoulder. He dropped instantly, and expired after perhaps 5 seconds. A post mortem inspection revealed that the bullet performed exactly like a regular ball round passing through and through with an exit hole roughtly the size of the entry. It got the job done, and the extreme close range was probably a factor as well, but I never fielded that round again. I had previously used it in 1997 through a Ruger M77 on a 200 yard shot with similar results. That was on a deer, and it was an intentional neck shot so the effect was instant though the entry / exit holes were pretty much the same as with this cougar.