“I have 6 days open from Dec 5-11 if you want to come chase a lion” the text read. After more than 3 years of trying to sync schedules I gritted my teeth and replied “I doubt it… work”. A few days later, much to my chagrin, my schedule opened up and I eagerly called Byron who informed me that another resident had just booked most of the days that had just come available. “We can still do Mon-Tuesday and don’t dismiss it, if things go right that may be all we will need. We will make it work”. A little dejected that I had so narrowly missed out on the full 5 days I had available, I remained hopeful the other hunter would kill a cat early and free up some more time. Late Sunday evening , the day before I was scheduled to hunt, I received a text “We just got back to the truck. We killed a cat but he took us way back in there and we still have a long drive home, I will pick you up in the morning but will be a couple hours late”. I congratulated Byron and happily agreed, after all I had been waiting 3 years to hunt with him, what would a few more hours hurt. The next morning as I sat, gear in a heap by the door, anticipating the arrival of Byron and his crew. I received a call “Derek, I hate to tell you but we have had some truck troubles and don’t want to risk going out in the hills with it, I like to keep my equipment in top shape. We are at the mechanic now and will be a few hours later than we thought. Don’t worry we will make it work”. The words came as no surprise as my cat curse was strong and stubborn, even for Alberta’s most renowned cat guide. Having failed to bag any species of cat on several previous hunts I had gotten used to my curse and had accepted it. 2PM rolled around and finally the word came, the truck was road worthy once again, and we were ready to go cat hunting! In December days are short in the north, it would be dark by 5 so the decision was made to look locally and make a plan for the following day after the fast approaching veil of darkness had consumed the landscape. The snow which had fallen more than 2 weeks earlier was peppered with game tracks and crusted hard, far from ideal conditions. To add to the challenge the weather forecast was grim at best. The following day was to be well above freezing with no sign of fresh snow or even an overnight freeze. Still Byron was cautiously optimistic “We have caught cats in these conditions before” he said. Still, the cat curse persisted. The last rays of light revealed a set of large pock marks punched through the crusted snow, a fortunate turn of events, could this needle in a haystack be the turning point for me? Quickly driving the grid of oil roads, looping further and further ahead, determined where the cat had gone and given us a starting point for morning. We were, however, still several days behind him. Morning came early, this was the last day before I had to return to work. After a quick breakfast we headed out arriving at first light to resume the search. 2 trucks made easy work, following the cat as he crossed back and forth across a deep creek valley. The last tracks we could follow still appeared fairly old but Byron knew that the melting snow was playing tricks on us, we unloaded 4 dogs and the chase was on. Byron’s dogs are of mixed breed, he has bred the best dogs of his favorite breeds to produce what he feels are the best cat dogs around. I can neither confirm nor deny this but I can say that the 2 older dogs had little trouble picking up the cold trail. They relentlessly followed the cat at a steady and manageable pace. The cat was on the move covering many miles without slowing, we hoped the cat would turn before he crossed into a closed zone. We listened as the dogs raced well ahead of us along the ridge through the tough snow and hills then turned and ran down into the creek valley. “If they cross the creek we have to catch them up and hope the cat crosses back further up.” Byron said “There are some cliffs on the far side though so he should stay over here”. With that, the dogs ran straight down across the creek and bayed treed on the far bank. Byron was quick to state ”The gun stays on this side of the creek while we gather the dogs”. The cat curse was my first thought but I was wrong. The dogs had stumbled across an old carcass with lion, wolf and coyote tracks looping and leaving in all directions. Before we could get there to catch them up, off they went, back on the cats trail. Once again they were heading the right direction, straight back into the open zone. We were back in the game! Now the cat’s path straightened out, still covering tremendous ground without stopping. This path led into leased bush pasture, a call to the lease holder produced 2 results, first we had permission but second, the lease holder’s brother learned we were chasing a cat in there and, knowing Byron only turns the dogs out if it is a big cat, called his cat hunting buddy. We had to get this cat and fast or we would have company in the morning. Unfortunately the cat had now emerged onto the heavily melted road and the dogs were unable to scent along its wet puddled surface. We walked and searched ditches for track, trying to find where the cat had returned to the forest. A track was located and the dogs were once again released. A short loop and they were back on the road. Once again we put the dogs on the track and again they returned to the road. Having not seen the track returning to the road we assumed the dogs had somehow lost the track or the cat had treed out of sight and gone unnoticed. A thorough search revealed the first clear track we had seen, confirming his size, but no cat was found, he had vanished. Again we scoured the ditches in the fading light but to no avail. We discussed the situation but no one could figure where he had gone, once on the road the cat could go for miles if he chose. With no light left and scheduled to work in the morning, my hunt was over. I planned to return when our schedules once again aligned as is Byron’s policy for resident hunters. As we drove out Byron couldn’t believe we had lost him, he was bothered since he has only lost a couple cats before, but with the tracking conditions were lucky to have gotten this far. As we discussed where the cat could have gone Byron, on a long shot, decided to loop deeper into the agriculture just for a look. We slowly crept along through a large block of timber scanning the ditches looking for track. We passed the timber which was the only big block close to where we had lost the trail and saw no sign of the cat. We started for home and while passing a farmyard Byron noticed large tracks in the snow but assuming a dog we kept moving. Immediately, not checking them bothered Byron so he called Jeff in the other truck and a few minutes later he replied “its him”. Upon inspection, the badly melted out tracks looked 3 weeks old but Byron insisted that they must be his from the previous night. The problem, or at least the newest one, was where the cat was headed, straight into the agriculture. Byron does not usually chase cats on private land, getting permission from a string of landowners and the potential of losing the cat to a property that will not give permission stacks the odds against you. The other problem was that I was out of time. This was a very big track so we made a game plan. I first contacted my boss who granted me an additional day off, I had waited long enough to do this hunt and the chess match and then many miles we had already invested made me take the gamble though chances were slim. We would return in the morning. Once again we rose early and headed out to try to outwit our cat. Google earth had revealed 2 likely routes that he might have taken cutting across to the next timbered valley. We circled ahead and found nothing, the combination of melted out roads and melted out tracks made the task very difficult. After waiting long enough for the locals to awaken we secured the required permission and the dogs raced off down the track. We caught up to them at yet another melted out road and once again lost the trail. All the ditches we had permission to access were checked and rechecked with no luck, there was one short lease road nearby that he could have walked down but unable to locate the land owner we could not follow. and again scoured the ditches, looping ahead once again until a fresh track was found, undoubtedly made that morning or the previous night. There were also human tracks there and our fear was confirmed, the other outfitter had been called and was searching for our cat. Despite being fresh the tracks were somewhat melted out and must have been brushed off as old. We scoured the road again and found running tracks, the first we had seen, heading into the trees and straight to another farmyard. This cat had visited every farmyard along his route, presumably hunting pets. Once again we had come to a place where we could not circle ahead of the cat so with fresh track and permission Byron decided to put the dogs on the track once again and the dogs dug straight in and raced off down the track. The cat had to continue along the creek for if he headed north he would cross into land owned by another houndsman who we were told would likely deny permission and take up the chase himself. Jeff, in the second rig, went ahead to monitor the chase from the far side. The other outfitter drove up and casually engaged him in conversation. As they talked the dogs neared and when he heard them he said “you are already turned loose?” in a shocked tone then drove off. ½ mile in the dogs treed the cat. The moment my great grandfather’s 105 year old 250-3000 savage went off the cat fell and moved only a short distance before the chase came to its conclusion. After photos and skinning we were met at the truck by a local woman, she had heard we were after the cat, no doubt from one of the many landowners we had spoken with. She showed us pictures of her sons miniature horse the cat had killed. She thanked us and inquired how far back the carcass was because she wanted to go kick it. LOL Thanks to Byron Stewart and his crew at TNT Outfitting, my cat curse has been lifted! I am quite relieved, now look out Caracal!!! Just another monster Alberta Tom Note the 105 year old rifle leaning against the tree in the background.