An Empty Quiver

Judy B

I awoke at 4:15 a.m. It was Wednesday, the first day of a six-day hunt with Ambler’s Big Horn Country Guiding in Clinton, British Columbia. After coffee and breakfast, my husband, Scott, and I assembled our bows, attaching our quivers and adding broadheads to our arrows. 

We had six tags between us, and we’d brought our rifles as well as our bows. But our main goal was big cats. Scott had his mind set on a cougar. He would be working with Tyler, the outfitter’s houndsman. 

The plan was that as soon as Scott harvested his cat, I’d get a chance to team up with Tyler to pursue a bobcat. Not just any bobcat but one harvested with my Mathews Passion bow. On a 2017 trip to BC, I’d gotten my cougar and my lynx. A bobcat taken by bow would complete my archery “cat slam.” I was beyond excited. 

It was thirty degrees and calm when Bruce and I left the lodge at 6:30 a.m. Bruce is the owner of Ambler’s, and he was working as my guide. Today we were after moose and mule deer. 

We’d heard there was snow at the higher elevations, which was good news. Tyler and Scott needed fresh snow to help them spot cat tracks. Sure enough, Bruce and I started seeing more and more snow as our truck made its way up the mountain. 

Near the top, we parked and got out to walk. I was soon huffing and puffing from the combination of the altitude, the incline, and the reality of being sixty-one years old. Not to mention, I’d just replaced my right knee in April and was looking forward to having my left done as soon as we returned home. I refused to let a bad knee keep me from my lifelong passion for hunting, and I always pushed myself as far as I could. But it was only day one, and those BC mountains were already putting me and my knee to the test. I knew I had a special challenge ahead of me. 

Once we crested the mountain, the sunrise was incredible. We could see forever. The mountains provided a beautiful backdrop with the treeline and bush in front of us. The view was so perfect that I couldn’t help but think we should see an animal. I no sooner had that thought than a mule deer doe appeared at the treeline, then disappeared back into the bush. 

Bruce and I glassed the area for over an hour but saw nothing more. We decided to head back to the truck. At least going down the mountain was easier than going up. We spent the rest of the day checking the roads but didn’t have much excitement other than spotting a little mule deer buck. Still, I was upbeat and content when we arrived back at the lodge at 5:00 p.m. It had been a great day out in the mountains. 

The next morning, I turned the coffee pot on at 4:45 a.m. It was now Thursday, Day 2. Bruce and I set out once again for moose and mule deer. After a bit of a drive, Bruce parked the truck, then pointed. “Let’s go up there,” he said. 

What? 

“Up there” was a hill that challenged my lungs in the first thirty steps. I’d take a few steps, pant, then take a few more steps. The incline was also doing a number on my bad knee. Every step was extremely painful. At one point, I tried to take another step but simply couldn’t. 

Bruce was ahead of me, already at the top. He looked back and motioned for me to follow. 

“I can’t,” I replied.  

With a sympathetic smile, he came back down the hill. “Let’s head back for the truck,” he said. 

After a slow descent, we drove to the spot where we’d seen the sunrise the morning before. I’d made it up that hill once, and I was determined to do it again. By the time I reached the top, my lungs were burning, and my knee was throbbing, but I’d made it.  

And I was so thankful. At the top of that hill was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. There was a stillness, a quiet like I’d never experienced before.  

Looking out at the valley, I realized we were above the clouds—as close to heaven as one could be. There’s a country song titled “I Saw God Today.” And though I did not see Him, I felt Him. I had to take a moment to draw it all in. It was life changing. Eventually, we glassed the valley but spotted nothing. After fifteen minutes, we began our descent. We were just pulling back onto the road when Bruce received a text from Scott reporting that Tyler’s dogs had treed a cougar.  

“He wants to know if you’d like to come watch,” Bruce said, reading the text.  

“Heck, yeah!” I answered.  

We headed off in their direction, only to switch directions when we got word that the cat had jumped out of the tree and was back on the run. It wasn’t long, though, before the dogs had the cat treed once again. 

“Here we are, Judy,” Bruce finally announced as he parked the truck. “They’re four hundred yards straight up.”  

I could only laugh. 

Bruce loaned me a walking stick, which helped for a while. I was excited, too, as I could hear the barks. But the hill was brutally steep. Every step felt like ten. Bruce patiently walked behind me, but I was making very little progress.  

Then I heard the first raven. 

“Here they come,” I said, right out loud. 

“They always seem to know what’s going on when the dogs bark,” Bruce commented. 

But these weren’t just ravens. These were special visitors—visitors who found their way to me on every hunt. These were my mother, my father, and my dear friend Harold. From somewhere deep inside came a flood of emotion, and along with that came the tears.  

“I need a minute,” I told Bruce.  

Before he stepped away, Bruce put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said, “I get it.”  

I let the tears flow. I missed Mom, Dad, and Harold so much. Mom and Dad, especially. Dad had been gone for nearly a decade, but Mom had been gone only two years. In fact, she’d passed only a few days after I’d returned home from my last hunt here in BC. Being up in these mountains, looking for cats, made those memories as fresh as a skiff of snow.  

But as I gazed at those ravens, I knew my loved ones were here with me now, lifting me up. 

I did my best to make one more push up that steep hill, but I didn’t get much farther. I finally texted Scott to go ahead with the harvest. Although I wanted to celebrate it with him, I didn’t want to give the cat enough time to escape the tree and I just wasn’t going to be able to make it there. 

A second after I sent the text, I looked up to see a cougar running less than twenty yards away, with a flurry of dogs close behind. 

Several moments later, a lone dog came lumbering through the area. It was Kacy, Tyler’s six-year-old dog. She’d fallen behind and had such a sad face. 

“I know how you feel,” I told her.  

I, too, wanted to keep up with the others, but just couldn’t do it. Not at this age. And certainly not with a bad knee. Getting old isn’t for sissies! We have to go at our own pace, do what we can do, and be happy to just be a part of the hunt.  

Soon, the dogs had the cat treed again and thankfully, it was on the way back down the hill! I was able to be there for Scott’s big moment after all.  

Scott’s first shot with his Mathews bow was a swing and a miss. The cat jumped out of the tree, but the dogs were on it quickly, sending it up another tree. Scott’s next shot was well placed and the cat fell to the ground. Scott had his BC cougar. I was so happy for him.  

Not to mention, I was so happy for myself! It was now my turn to team up with Tyler and go after my bobby. 

Without much time left to hunt, Tyler and I ended the day by searching for bobcat tracks we could possibly follow the next morning. I broke a sweat or two, traveling up and down all those giant hills. By the time we returned to the truck, I was so cold that even the heater on high couldn’t warm me up. I was happy to arrive back at the lodge, wanting nothing more than a hot shower. 

As we chatted over supper that evening, Scott mentioned the sunrise. Like me, he’d needed a moment to look out over the clouds and take it all in. It had been incredible—we’d both had the same life-changing experience on different mountaintops. 

After a bit, I realized I could barely keep my eyes open. The clock on the wall said only 7:15 p.m., yet I was ready to tuck my happy heart into bed. 

In a blink, it was Friday morning—Day 3. My first full day hunting with Tyler and the dogs, Scott would be joining us.  

When we left the lodge, it was 23 degrees Fahrenheit and clear. There hadn’t been any much-needed snow, but at least a heavy frost had set in overnight.  

The plan was to check the roads for tracks, then let the dogs loose on Bobby Cat Ridge. I was already worried about the walk and the steep hills, but thankful that Scott was along. Having him there to carry my bow would be a tremendous help.  

It was a very pretty ride up the mountain, the air cold and foggy. We came across an old track, and Tyler walked his dogs along it. In the end, though, the trail went cold. Tyler kept the dogs going out on the ridge, hoping to come across something.  

At 10:20 a.m., he texted us—the dogs were on “a track of some sort.” Scott and I waited patiently but a little over two hours later, Tyler and the dogs were back. Once again, they’d had no luck. The track was just too old. 

“Dang it!” I said right out loud. 

We decided to split up again. Tyler and I went in one direction, still working to find my cat, while Scott and Bruce went the other, looking for mule deer. We were all empty handed when we met up back at the lodge that evening.  

As I lay in bed that night, I thought about how badly we needed snow. Although it wasn’t in the forecast, nothing changes more than the weather, so I remained hopeful. 

My hope didn’t help much. Saturday, Day 4, came and went without snow or a cat.  

By then, it seemed that getting a bobcat would take a stroke of pure luck, but I was not ready to give up. I had an army of people helping me and fell asleep praying for snow. Overnight, I heard it pouring rain and hoped that rain at the lodge meant snow in the mountains. 

Tyler and I left at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. It was now Sunday, Day 5. Although we occasionally found some fresh snow up high, we did not find tracks. After a full day of searching, we arrived back at the lodge to find Ned preparing mountain lion for supper. It was delicious.  

That night, I once again fell asleep praying for a slight skiff of snow. The next day would be it—the last day of my hunt. I had spent many days up in the mountains and had traveled many miles. I had no moose, no mule deer, and no bobcat. Dang it! But I’d still loved every minute of it. 

Monday morning we awoke to 24 degrees, clear skies… and snow! Tyler and I rode the roads in one area while Scott and Bruce checked other areas for us.  

At 9:15, Scott and Bruce found a bobcat track. We quickly headed their way, and Tyler turned the dogs out at 9:30.  

Bruce, Scott, and I waited in anticipation. The minutes ticked by as we listened to the dogs barking in the distance. An excited chill ran down my spine. I was hopeful—more than I’d been all week. I felt like my bobcat hunt was finally coming together. 

When I next checked my watch, it was 10:10. I could still hear barks, but not as often. The bobby was treed! The chill I’d felt was now a full-body shiver. I couldn’t have been more excited!  

We got back in the truck and started down a two-track road littered with potholes, washouts, and giant rocks. It was a road rarely traveled, and it showed. At last, we parked. Bruce and Scott jumped out of the truck and immediately started toward the bush. I stayed in the backseat, unsure whether I was supposed to follow or whether I should hang back until they needed me. But then Bruce turned around and walked up to my window. “C’mon, Judy—let’s go get your cat!” Now I was 100 percent sure it was game time.  

As we headed for the bush, my excitement level peaked over the top. My mind was a whirlwind, swirling with the anticipation of seeing the cat in the tree and being able to harvest it with my bow. But first, I had to focus on just getting to the tree. I had quite the hike ahead of me. We traveled down a small ravine, climbed over a barbed-wire fence, and, yes, climbed a hill. But thankfully, it was an easier hill than some.  

At last, I looked ahead and spotted the guys standing at the foot of a fir, looking up at a bobby. I swear, that tree was the thickest and nastiest in the entire bush. I readied my bow and searched for my mark. I moved left, then right, then back again. All I needed was one little opening, but it was nearly impossible. The tangled canopy made the cat hard to see, and the commotion of talking and barking didn’t help either. 

Finally, I picked a spot, released my Beman arrow…and watched the pink fletches fly far into the Canadian bush.  

Again, I nocked an arrow. Again, I looked for an opening. Again, I released. Again, I watched the arrow fly deep in the bush.  

I was really frustrated by then, and my head was cluttered with all the noise. I backed up the hill and went from one side of the tree to the other, but there just wasn’t a clear view. Finding what I thought to be the best shot possible, I released an arrow. Miss. I released another. Miss.  

I had only one arrow left. I let it fly. Miss. My quiver was now empty.  

I was flooded with disappointment. We’d all worked hard to find this cat. We’d spent countless hours driving, walking, and searching. But then something broke through the disappointment: determination. I’d come to the mountains for a bobcat…and a bobcat I would get!  

It was then that a rifle was handed to me. But even the rifle had trouble seeing the cat through that thick fir. My first three shots were misses. With the fourth shot, though, the bobby fell to the ground, and I had my BC bobcat. 

It wasn’t an archery cat slam, of course. The archer in me was disappointed. But the hunter in me was satisfied. And thankful. 

Empty Quiver. Fall 2023 Issue. Vol. 34 Issue 3

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