By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Glen Rose’s Wes Monk is going to have a hard time topping his December 6, hunting trip, but, then again, he has the story of a lifetime. Few hunters ever see a mountain lion, especially in Erath County, Texas, much less bag one.
“I’m still so stoked up about it,” Monk admitted, three days after taking the animal near the Chalk Mountain area. “I still pretty much can’t believe it happened, but it did.”
Monk was hunting on private property and had not been seeing any deer since before Thanksgiving. He had been wondering what was going on as he watched corn continue to pile up under his feeder. He soon found out.
Monk, along with his wife and son, had been seeing various varmint tracks, including those belonging to coyotes and bobcats. They had also spotted a large cat’s tracks, but were not sure if they were actually dealing with mountain lion.
“We had seen lots of tracks, and you never know for certain about actual size. I did not see any claw marks, which you probably won’t with a big cat,” Monk said. “But, we knew we had something going on with no deer showing up.”
Monk is life-long hunter, who was taught the tactics of hunting and fishing by his uncle, John Deaton. He said he has experienced problems with predators causing havoc in his deer hunting area in the past.
Sunday morning, Monk headed out to hunt by himself and was sitting in an elevated box blind daydreaming of a nice buck when he heard the calls of a large number of crows up the hill from him.
“I’ve heard crows go off in the woods before. Usually they sound off for a little while and then move to another area, but this was totally different than anything I had heard or seen before,” Monk said.
The crows (30-40 according to Monk) were moving from tree top to tree top, making an awful racket. It was so odd that Monk pulled out his cell phone so he could record what was happening.
“I was recording for maybe five to six seconds and noticed a “deer” color out of the corner of my eye. Then I saw that long tail,” he said.
Monk doesn’t remember whether he dropped his phone or just let it go on purpose because he admits he was really nervous.
“I knew without a doubt I was looking at a mountain lion and I had never seen one in the wild,” he said with excitement still in his voice days later. “But I knew this wasn’t a bobcat I was looking at. It was something else.”
The cat was angling down the mountain along a heavily wooded creek and appeared to be on the prowl as it moved cautiously along. The crows that alerted Monk to the lion’s presence probably also helped him avoid the cat’s attention.
“It was deafening,” Monk said. “I have never experienced anything like it. They were really going off and they were all you could hear.”
With his heart pumping in his throat Monk had to control himself and wait for the cat to begin moving toward the spot where he would have a small window between trees to make a clean shot. With the animal moving from right to left across his field of view, Monk slipped off the safety and set up his shot as the cat kept picking its movements down the slope.
Picking his spot, Monk waited for the cat to clear a large tree and give him the exposure he needed. Once the animal’s head and shoulder were past the tree, he had his mark cross-haired in his sights and squeezed off the 40-yard shot with his .243 rifle (100 grain).
“I fired and he went down an embankment, not landing on his feet but kind of on his side, real hard. He did get up and moved into the nearby brush. I could tell I had a pretty solid shot on him,” Monk said. “I was taught to always watch through the scope to see where you hit. I was excited and I jerked my head up, but I saw where he was headed.”
Monk didn’t wait in the stand, but instead went in the opposite direction so he could obtain some help from the property owner retrieving the animal. He laughed when describing his antics as he explained to his friend that he needed help with a mountain lion, puma, panther — it was a really BIG CAT.
The news came as no surprise to the property owner’s mother, who said there have been mountain lions in the area since she was a child. Or others in the area who claim to have seen this and another large cat in the area.
“We went down together and, man, were we being watchful,” Monk said.
About 20-30 minutes had passed when Monk made his way back to the kill site and discovered the animal was no more than 15-yards from where he had shot it. He said, taking in all the evidence, the cat had expired almost immediately after being shot.
“It was pretty surreal for a little bit,” Monk added. laughing. “I was so excited and pumped up. I was trying to call my wife and son to let them know and nobody was answering. I mean nobody I knew would answer their phone!”
Monk may not have had much attention at first, but all of that changed after a friend suggested he contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Parks and Wildlife Department likes to keep track of harvested lions. Flagging down a Glen Rose police officer got the ball rolling, and the attention too, as word quickly spread like wildfire.
“One person heard about it, and then the next and suddenly there was a whole string of people checking it out,” Monk said.
A biologist from the TPWD appeared at Hooves and Horns Taxidermy, owned by Steve Leech, in Glen Rose. Monk gladly allowed him to take information, tissue samples and a tooth so everything from the animal’s size to its DNA could be recorded.
“They checked the cat out and my license to make sure it was all in order, which it all was,” Monk said. “I wanted them to be able to get everything they needed so everyone can benefit from the knowledge.”
Monk has not decided yet as to what type of mount he wants and is seeking advice from Leech.
“Steve is a hand-shake kind of a guy who always works a person a square deal. He is extremely talented,” Monk said. “We were mainly concerned with preserving the hide.”
So has the attention started to die down?
“It’s been pretty much nonstop with my friends and coworkers,” Monk laughed. “I am still getting calls and texts about it. It was the hunt of a lifetime, something that will stay with me forever.”
So how do you top the hunt of a lifetime?
“I don’t know if I will ever be able to top taking a mountain lion,” Monk said. “But hunting is for a lifetime. It’s something I was taught and it’s something I have passed on to my son. Keep your kids in the creeks and off the streets. I didn’t coin that phrase, but I sure live by it.”