DARBY – Taylor Wohlers was 3 years old when she experienced her first mountain lion hunt. It was something she never forgot.
The excitement of the chase through snow, over rocks and up steep mountains. The sound of the dogs baying at the base of the tree. And then finally, the sight of a snarling mountain lion high up in the tree.
From that first hunt seen from a backpack carried by her father, Wohlers has been on well over 20 mountain lion hunts in the past decade.
All through those years, she counted the days until she would actually be old enough to have a hunting license.
She turned 12 on Feb. 12 and bought her first license that very day.
Montana state law required that she wait another five days to actually use her mountain lion tag. By then, the state-set quota for mountain lions in the southern Bitterroot was down to one female.
Her dad, Ben Wohlers, was determined to do his best to help his daughter fill her first tag.
On Wednesday – exactly two weeks after she turned 12 – Taylor was called into the school office and told to grab her snow gear.
Her dad had found a mountain lion near Sula.
“It had come down and crossed in my tire tracks,” Ben Wohlers said. “I knew it was close. When I turned the dogs out, they were on it right away. She’s been on a lot longer chases than this one.”
The longest chase the father and daughter enjoyed covered close to 11 miles as they walked from the lookout tower at Gird Creek to the bottom of the mountain.
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After the much shorter hike Wednesday, Taylor remembers seeing the lion snarling up in the tree.
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“I stood there and looked at it for a little while,” Taylor said. “And then I used my dad as a rest to take aim.”
Her father sat down on the ground and she placed the barrel of the AR-15 .223-caliber rifle across his shoulder.
A short time later, the mountain lion hunting season in the Bitterroot officially came to an end.
“Ideally, we would have looked for a big tom, but that part of the season was closed,” Ben Wohlers said. “This was the last one in the valley for this year.”
Taylor had only been legally old enough to hunt in Montana for two weeks.
This wasn’t the first time that she’s hunted. In the summer of 2012, she traveled to Alaska to shoot a black bear while being filmed by the Skull Bound TV production company.
She used a .300 Winchester Magnum to kill the bear at 168 yards.
Her dad took her to Canada last year in search of a mountain lion, but they couldn’t find the right one there.
Last week’s hunt was one that neither father nor daughter will ever forget.
“I want a life-size mount,” Taylor told her dad inside his taxidermy shop filled with life-size mounts of a wide variety of critters.
Wohlers looked at his daughter and smiled.
“That’s probably what we’ll do then,” he said. “We’ll probably do a life-size mount for you.”