Lions, Horses and Poker

February 21st, 2019
Back Lions, Horses and Poker

"Have you ever gone mountain lion hunting on horseback?"


The question was posed to me by Ed Hughes who owned a ranch between Tucumcari, N.M. and Amarillo, TX. The 20,000-acre cattle ranch had everything an Eastern dude like myself could appreciate: horses, cattle, jackrabbits, and a weekly poker game that drew everybody from cowboys to police officers who enjoyed Ed's excellent steaks and beans, his strong coffee, and his western hospitality.

"No, Ed, can't say I have," I responded as I threw away my hand.

Ed smiled:

"Well, I know you like adventures so you can write about them. I'm organizing a hunt this weekend and you're invited. I even have a horse reserved for you. Bucky's never been on a hunt before so I have no idea what he'll do when he hears a gunshot."

Sonny, a rawboned cowboy in his 30s, guffawed as he raised the pot: "That horse will probably deposit you in a barrel cactus plant and hightail it for the rocks," he said.

I ignored Sonny. "Tell me what time to show up and I'll be there," I promised.

Back at the Tucumcari Daily News...

...I told my editor Jess Price about my plans for the weekend. He told me if I wrote a story about it, the newspaper would cover my expenses and toss in an added $10 for gas!

"I appreciate your generosity," I said.

Jess, a 280-pound New Yorker who walked with a limp because of a childhood bout with polio, said, "Don't mention it. Just bring me back a good story. There's a lot of mountain lions in this country and you guys should get some action."

I showed up at Ed's ranch before sunup and parked in front of the sprawling ranch house. Half a dozen cars and pickups had already arrived and were in the dining room sharing strong cowboy coffee from a battered pot. Ed's wife, Marie, clad in a robe served me a cup and said:

"I'm headed for bed. Don't none of you hunters shoot any of my cows." Ed gave her a kiss and we headed out the door.


Bucky was a red roan with a light colored mane -- my kind of horse! He had a small well-shaped head and pawed the ground impatiently as I swung into the saddle. Ed had loaned me a .30.30 Winchester, and I was wearing my .22 Ruger in a leather holster.

Riding a big buckskin, Ed rode around the group giving last minute instructions.

"The lion caves are about 30 minutes from here," he said. "Just keep up with the riders and you'll be fine. We should get back early enough forĀ a poker game."

He kicked his horse into a gallop and we fell in line behind him. Ed slowed to a fast trot, and we headed toward low mesa about 20 miles away.

Horses are the best form of exercise I know. When a horse is trotting, you can fill the motion in every part of your body and it does all the organs a lot of good. There were seven riders in our group including Ed's son, Eric, who worked for the Quay County Sheriff's office as a deputy.

Eric rode up to me with a smile.

"Bet I get a mountain lion before you do," he said, smirking.

"You're on. No rancher's son is gonna outshoot me."

He laughed, slapped me on the shoulder, and spurred his horse into a gallop.


As we neared the mesa, Eric yanked his rifle out of the scabbard and said softly, "I think I see one." He didn't wait for a response. He jabbed his spurs into the horse's flank and raced toward the mesa. Out of the corner of my eye...

...I saw a tawny shape streaking toward the safety of the mesa. Eric threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired. He reined his horse to a dusty stop, levered another shell into his rifle and fired again.

Disappointed, he rode back to our group, ejecting the shell.

"Missed," he said. "I'm a lousy shot. That was a big one."

We hunted for mountain lions all morning and well into the afternoon. We saw two more lions and Ed nailed one of them, a good sized cat, with a 300-yard shot. As he bound the lion to his horse, the animal reared.

"Horses don't like mountain lions, dead or alive," he said, throwing himself into the saddle.

Around 4 p.m., we headed back to the ranch. I hadn't fired a shot.

Eric rode up to me.

"Did you get a good story, reporter?" he said.

"Well, I didn't get in any shooting, but the ride has been great," I said.

Ed pointed in front of us. "There's one," he whispered.

The lion was slinking through the prairie grass. I yanked my horse to a halt, slid out of the saddle, and tried to catch the cat in my sights. I managed to get off two shots before it vanished in the rocks.

Disappointed and shaking with excitement, I climbed back into the saddle.

"We're even," I told Eric. "Now let's play some poker."

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