Chasing Mountain Lions, Elk, and Wild Pigs across the USA


Montana’s film industry trends toward the wild – literally.

If we’re not setting up Western gunfight scenes, or filming bucking broncs, there’s a good chance the job includes fly fishing, elk hunting, or some kind of outdoor activity.

I’ve been fortunate enough to walk into Montana’s high country while filming various hunts, including whitetail deer, mountain lions, and pesky coyotes. Farther afield, I’ve traveled to Washington to film in turkey blinds, track rutting elk in Northern Idaho, and fight through the bitter Texas chaparral while searching for wild, invasive hogs.

As an outdoorsman who grew up in Minnesota, these filmmaking opportunities have been a dream come true. Most of the year, my free time is spent hiking, mountain biking, and keeping in shape for my other job as a backcountry skiing guide. That means setting aside the time to hunt is pretty hard to do.

Thankfully, my friends at MeatEater and Warm Springs Entertainment have hired me on to accompany some of their best, including noted author Steven Rinella, professional trout guide Alvin Dedeaux, and the Ruby Valley’s finest lion hunter, Jake Herak.

To be successful as a cameraman who films hunting, you need to be as silent as possible, anticipate the hunter, and travel with enough clothing, food, and water to cover your needs for the entirety of a day spent in the backcountry.

As we padded into a fall Elk hunt near Pagoda Springs, Colorado, I was given the following instructions by Steven Rinella. I’ll never forget what he said:

Make slow movements,” Rinella told me. “Pretend like your body is held together by huge, slow rubber bands.”

To be fair, Rinella’s tutelage was a response to my inexperience filming hunting at the time. I was focused on the artistic merits of the shot, and not the secrecy involved in camouflaging myself in the sagebrush.

But I got better, I got sneakier, and I got a lot tougher.

Fast forward to 2020, and I was accompanying hunter Jake Herak in Montana’s Ruby Valley. The job was to chase mountain lions with his pack of Treeing Walker coonhounds.

A polite, intuitive houndsman, Herak was also an absolute diehard. During the December lion hunting season, he’d often sleep late into the afternoon, then wake up at night and drive dozens of miles on local forest roads to search for mountain lion tracks by spotlight. After camping on a fresh track, he’d wake up at dawn and send his dogs out on the scent. What set him apart, in my mind, was his respect for the animals. He’d often pursue them, but it was extremely rare for Jake to actually harvest a cat. He had a cultivated selectivity, and never harvested a female or kittens, but always kept tabs on the large males in the territory.

It was the first day hunting with Jake in December 2020, and we’d sent his dogs into the remote Snowcrest Mountains on a track. As they launched from the back of his pickup truck, I snap zoomed with my camera and they disappeared across a freezing river. Minutes later the pack was lunging up an 8,000-foot peak and Jake cracked a huge smile.

“Now we gotta go find them.”

The athleticism and skill needed to use hounds while pursuing elusive game in Montana’s high country immediately sunk in. Wherever the dogs went, we’d have to follow. This certainly wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.



It wouldn’t be extremely safe, either.

That reality became clear a few weeks later, when we’d tracked a large, male lion into a dense grove of lodgepole pine, this time on the west slope of the Tobacco Root Mountains. It was a particularly dry December, and a dusting of snow made tracking possible, but hadn’t yet buried the dense underbrush. Jake’s dogs had treed this lion several times, and the mature cat was becoming tired of the game.

Like a 250-pound ball of tawny aggression, the lion muscled his way down the lodgepole and hit the ground with obvious strength and irritation. As the shaking boughs rained snow on the pack of baying hounds, the lion lashed out, and it was a swarming brawl of cat and dogs.

Moments later, the animals separated and with a yelp, one of Jake’s dogs limped over to him. She’d taken a claw to her back leg and was bleeding. The cat was nowhere to be seen. Score one for the kitty.

It was time to end the day’s hunt, and Jake carried the wounded hound out of the mountains and to the local veterinarian. Turns out a few stitches and a couple weeks bedrest would bring the coonhound back up to speed.

“She’s not going to like this,” Jake sighed. “These dogs absolutely live to hunt.”

And that’s the big takeaway for me as a cameraman. There’s sport and unpredictability in the best hunting. Being able to show the dirt, sweat, and determination that goes into tracking an animal, or the patience it takes to sit for hours in a freezing blind is part of the show.

A particularly frustrating feral pig hunt in Texas is a good example of how unpredictability plays well on TV.

I’d just spent five days getting scratched to pieces in the wild brambles and cactus of the Texas hill country. While we spotted plenty of whitetail deer and even a turkey our two, the quarry of our choice remained elusive.

We just couldn’t find the hogs.

All the ranchers nearby scratched their heads. The response was always the same. They’d seen them yesterday, or maybe this morning down by a different river, or potentially eating corn at night on the neighbor’s property.

Finally, within the last hour of daylight on the last day of the hunt it happened. I steadied the camera and watched MeatEater senior hunting editor Brody Henderson take aim at a large boar foraging in the bushes about 100 yards away from us.

He steadied his gun and I watched his finger slowly slip to the trigger. What happened next is detailed in the video below.