Handgun Hunting At Its Best.
When I opened my email early on a December morning, there was an email from Dwight Van Brunt: “Call me when you have a free minute, I have a hunt I want to talk to you about.” I was so excited I had a hard time dialing the number. Dwight told me I was the chosen one to go to northern Idaho and hunt Cougar and Bobcat with a handgun. My boss was the one originally slated to go, but due to health reasons he had to pull out. When he told me it would be at the beginning of February and we would be spending lots of time on snowmobile and following the hounds, I went into panic mode. SHOT Show was coming quickly and I only had a few weeks to compile the cold weather gear I would need for hunting only a few miles from the Canadian border.
I have lots of hunting gear, but nothing that would protect me in the potential freezing temps I could be facing. I live a little bit above sea level, in a place where I can wear shorts almost year round. With my thin blood I figured I’d be a human popsicle without the proper gear. But more on gear in a bit.
Dwight Van Brunt with his amazing trophy.
The gun chosen for this hunt, and specifically for the cougars, was a Kimber 1911 Stainless Target II chambered in the very potent 10mm; a Kimber .22 LR conversion kit was chosen for the bobcat. I’ve carried a 1911 for a lot of years now, but I’d never had the opportunity to hunt with one and was very much looking forward to it.
The Target IIs I have shot in the past were all chambered in .45 ACP and were some of the most accurate out-of-the-box 1911s I’ve ever shot, and the II in 10mm was no exception. I planned for having to take shots into the tree at distances of 75′ or possibly greater. At 25 yards I was able to keep all my shots in the black on the bull’s-eye targets. With some practice, I was getting most of the shots in there at the 50-yard line as well.
The 10mm was a bit stouter than my .45 ACP 1911s, but after some range time the felt recoil didn’t bother me at all. The ammunition used on this on hunt was Federal 180-grain trophy bonded; at 1,275 fps and hitting with 650 foot-pounds of muzzle energy I knew I was well armed while chasing dangerous game.
The Kimber .22 LR conversion kit consisted of a slide complete with barrel and recoil spring and a 10-round magazine. The kit was easily swapped with the 10mm top and ran smoothly with the CCI Small Game Bullet Ammunition. The SGB is a flatnose 40-grain bullet that moves at 1,235 fps. I’ve used it a lot on small varmints with devastating results.
If it weren’t for my friends at Cabela’s, Kryptek and Mountain Khaki, I would have had a miserable hunt. Since I had no idea what I was in for, I was in plan-for-the-worst mode.
Cabela’s ensured my feet and head would stay warm by providing the warmest Pac Boots I’ve ever worn. Two weeks in the snow and on snowmobiles and I never got cold feet once. Cabela’s also sent a rabbit fur-lined mad bomber hat. I’ll admit it looked goofy, but my head was never cold.
In the middle was all Kryptek. My intent was to get some of their merino wool underwear and a wind/waterproof shell. When I talked to Butch at Kryptek and told him what type of conditions my hunt could possible put me in, he said he would send me a
When the box arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes. Butch had sent pretty much the entire line of Kryptek gear. What amazed me was the box wasn’t very big but it held a lot of stuff. My first thought was “how could all this thin stuff keep me warm in freezing conditions?” Each part of the system plays a key part in the ever-important layering system. As I was soon going to find out, from base layer to shell I was never happier in cold weather climate in my life. I wish I had this stuff when I was growing up back east and during my time in the USMC. I used some of the gear to keep warm during the year’s spring turkey season. I was warm and the camo pattern works — I called a Jake into about 10′ he never saw us.
Mountain Kakai pants and shirts made up my hanging around in camp and traveling wardrobe, but I will say the best piece of MK clothing I used on the trip was the merino wool Lodge Zip Sweater. After some long hikes into places where the dogs had a cat treed we were sweating like crazy. I would throw the sweater on while my other gear dried out and I was toasty warm. The sweater got a lot of use this past winter (yes, it gets cold in San Diego sometimes, and my wife even told me it looks nice on me).
Decked out in Kryptek gear, Sammy stayed toasty warm even while riding snowmobiles.
Someone said getting there is half the fun. The flying part sucks, but that’s all part of the process. Now the driving part from Kalispell, Mo. to the Priest River area of Northern Idaho may have taken a while, but the view and company were worth it. I got to pick Dwight’s brain on not just mountain lion hunting but every other type of hunting you can think of, including Africa. I’ve only had the pleasure of hunting there once; Dwight on the other hand has been numerous times. Dwight is going to punch me for this, but for me, getting to spend time with one of my heroes was icing on the cake for this hunt. If I struck out on cats at least I would have bragging rights to say I hunted with Dwight Van Brunt.
I found out things happen very quickly when hunting cougar and bobcats. When I landed in Kalispell, the plan was to stay at Dwight’s house and drive over in the morning. When I landed, Dwight told me that Bruce Duncan had called and they found some really big cat tracks and we were driving there immediately. When we arrived at Bruce’s house I was so excited I could hardly sleep that night, but I prepped my gear as best I could and tried to anyway.
Sammy took this monster bobcat with Kimber’s .22 conversion
kit stoked with CCI’s 40-grain small-game bullet.
Handgun hunting cougar and bobcat with hounds is some serious adrenaline-pumping action, followed by calm, and then more adrenaline dumping. Bruce and the boys (son Travis and friend Curt) headed out before light to try and cut a track. Most times they let me tag along on my own snowmobile (did I mention I haven’t rode a snowmobile since 1986?). It took a few days to get comfortable, but I still have no idea how those boys ride them like a magic carpet.
Day one of hunting started out with call on the radio that the hounds were on a big bobcat and if they tree it I’d have to get to the tree pretty quick so the cat wouldn’t bail and the chase would be on again. After a short rodeo, including me flying off the back of the dog sled being towed behind a snowmobile and sinking up to my chest in the snow, we made it to the tree. Roy the hound kept up a continuous pace of barking, from the time I heard her barking till the cat was down she barked for 45 minutes straight and never lost steam. I couldn’t believe how loud she was, I had a hard time hearing anyone around me. The Kimber .22 conversion kit and the CCI Small Game Bullet did their part and I did mine, putting the 30-plus pound bobcat on the ground. After taking photos, the boys were beating me up about beginners luck and don’t expect a cougar to be as easy. In my mind I thought the rodeo was pretty tough and if it got worse I hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself by not being able to keep up. When we got back to the truck I realized I was soaking wet but not cold. The Kryptek gear really earned its stripes on day one.
Mid morning on day two Bruce called and said the dogs were on the track of a big cat. Travis looked at me and said, “You are one seriously lucky dude.” The GPS showed the dog had the cat treed and was only 400 yards from the trail. That’s 400 yards as the crow flies. It only took us an hour to cover the distance in snowshoes. The entire trip was pretty much straight down, in the back of my head I was thinking the hike back up was going to be hell — and it was!
The hounds did their part and Sammy did his with the Kimber 10mm.
Motivated hounds are awesome to watch work.
Seeing a cougar treed for the first time was something I won’t soon forget. The dogs were barking and the large cat was mostly hidden behind a tangle of branches about 60′ straight up. After an hour or so the cat moved so we could get a better look. It was a big cat but definitely a female, so I chose to pass on her for a bigger Tom. The walk/crawl up and out to the snowmobiles had my heart beating through my chest— mostly from the ass-kicking hike but also from the question of doubt on passing up such a big cat.
The next few days we saw zero signs of cats. We saw plenty of other tracks — wolves, deer, elk moose and coyote — but no cats. We were grabbing some lunch at the cabin when a call came in from a friend who was training some hounds. His dogs were on the track of a really big cat and were we interested? Not a word was spoken as we got dressed in record time while choking down lunch and ran to the trucks.
When the cat treed we were able to get the snowmobiles to within 100 yards. We still needed snowshoes, but at least the terrain was a little bit flatter getting in. When I saw the big cat in the tree I knew it was a trophy.
Bruce could tell by the look on my face when he asked if I wanted this one that I sure did. We talked for a while about strategy for taking the shot and what to do after the shot. Actually, we were yelling over the nonstop barking of the hounds. When the dogs were all tied up at a safe distance away I got in position at an angle under the tree. I had a very small window open through the branches where I could clearly see the vital zone. I jammed my ear pro into my ears and did a final press check of the Kimber 10mm. I felt the gun go off but didn’t hear a thing as I watched the big cat fall from the tree. The cat was motionless for a few second but started to roll over. Bruce told me to shoot again and the cat was through. Both 180-grain Trophy Bonded bullets exited, leaving large exit holes. I’m lucky in that I don’t get buck fever before the shot. When I see critters I’ve harvested on the ground is when I get the adrenaline dump. Seeing this beautiful apex predator on the ground really got my heart beating. After taking photos and getting back to the truck, I once again found I was soaked but still warm. I can’t thank the guys at Kryptek for the awesome stay-warm gear. I won’t be going anywhere cold without it ever again.
Timbeline Chui caper (top) and the Simba folding skinner
(bottom) are both Tim Wegner designed knives.
While it would not be much of a stretch to attribute my quick success to beginners luck, at least beyond that was due to the ability of Bruce Duncan and his magical dogs. The monster taken by Kimber’s Dwight Van Brunt was the result of a hunt spanning three decades.
After meeting at a gun show in Spokane 32 years ago, Dwight first hunted cougar with Bruce shortly thereafter. In fact, they chased a big Tom through an area not far from where I shot my bobcat on their very first morning together. That one ran long into the night and got away.
Over the years, both Dwight and members of his family have done well over Bruce’s hounds on both cougar and black bear. Mostly because of scheduling conflicts, however, they never managed to be in the right place at the right time to chase another outsized Tom … until this trip. While cougars were there for the taking, Dwight is a dedicated trophy hunter. He insisted on a very big Tom and Bruce was more than happy to oblige. I was fortunate to be with them when it finally came together.
Three days after I shot my cougar, Bruce found the kind of track they were looking for — about the size of a humongous hamburger patty — the kind a really hungry man tosses on a BBQ. It was near dark, so they had to leave it for the next morning. Long before light, we all split up to look for it again. Fittingly, Bruce found it and the chase was on as soon as it was light enough to release the dogs.
It was late morning before the cat went up a tree. After taking snowmobiles as far as we safely take them, we strapped on snowshoes, wobbled through some deep snow to the bottom of a drainage and then looked high up at the thing they had been chasing for more than half their lifetimes.
Dwight’s Kimber popped twice, once while the cat was in the tree and again just after it hit the ground to be sure. While my cougar was big, Dwight’s was HUGE. A very old Tom, it was just on the cusp of starting downhill. Bruce guessed its age at between 8 and 10 years, and its weight was 175 to 180 pounds with an empty stomach. After a good feed, it would have easily cracked 200. Once clean and dry, the skull will be a likely candidate for the Boone & Crockett Club’s all-time records.
While cougar of this size are far from normal, Bruce guided hunters to three other very large toms over the course of this past season. Things don’t always go this well, but imagine the thrill of standing under a huge pine in the gray light of Idaho’s winter and looking up at something like this with a tag in your pocket.
Hunting cougars and bobcats with Dwight and Bruce was the hunt of a lifetime for me, and its one I relive in my daydreams when I think of how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do for a living. I’m looking forward to the day when I can take my son on a trip to northern Idaho to hunt with Bruce and his magical hounds.
By Sammy Reese
Photos By Joeph Novelozo
STAINLESS TARGET II
Height 90° to barrel: 5.25″
Weight with empty magazine: 38 ounces
Magazine capacity: 7
Recoil spring (pounds): 16
Frame Material: Stainless steel
Frame Finish: Satin silver
Frame Width: 1.28″
Slide Material: Stainless steel
Slide Finish: Satin silver, serrations
Barrel Length: 5″
Barrel Material: Steel, match grade
Twist rate: 1:16″ LH
Sights: Kimber adjustable
Grips: Black synthetic, double diamond
Trigger: Aluminum, match grade
Trigger Factory Setting: 4 to 5 pounds
Caliber: .22 LR
Magazine capacity: 10
Slide Material: Aluminum
Slide Finish: Matte black, serrations
Barrel Length: 5″
Barrel Material: Steel, match grade
Twist Rate: 1:16″ LH
Sights: Kimber, adjustable
Trigger: Aluminum, match grade
Trigger Factory Setting: 4 to 5 pounds
For more info:
Bruce Duncan Selkirk Guiding and Outfitting