They were about one and a half hours up the trail across Wyo. 296 (Chief Joseph Highway) and Dead Indian campground when Payton, 5, wanted to climb a boulder the approximate size of a minivan. Payton was packing a BB gun he set aside for his ascent, Vining said.
As Payton began his climb, a mountain lion came out from the backside of the rock, Vining said.
Vining spotted the male lion when it was about 6 feet away.
“I saw the lion getting ready to lunge at me,” he said.
He grabbed for his .45 caliber revolver, but the tie down holding the handgun in the holster wouldn’t come loose. He did not have bear spray, Vining said.
Ryan was up the trail 40 or 50 yards and out of sight. Vining called for help, he said.
He had his Father’s Day gift: a set of walking sticks similar to ski poles.
“It was the first time I ever used these sticks. I swung at this lunging lion and hit it across the face and it was enough to back him off,” Vining said.
Fighting back was an instinctual reaction. “I’m going to do whatever I can to protect my family,” Vining said.
Although the lion withdrew 6 or 8 feet, he was poised to pounce again. But this time Vining had enough time to free his weapon and fire. Although he couldn’t see exactly where the bullet struck, Vining is sure he hit the lion, he said.
The lion retreated, but in the direction of Alisa, who was carrying 4-month-old Kanin, and Ryan, packing Kensi, 2 1/2. Kanin slept throughout the encounter, Vining said.
Ryan ran down the trail to Vining’s aid, he said.
When the lion saw the other people dashing down the trail, it fled. Ryan took a couple shots, but missed, Vining said.
Kensi sustained some scratches on her face from branches that slapped her while she rode on Ryan’s back as he ran to Vining, he said.
“After it was over, I was shaking,” Vining said.
Vining and his family hiked out. They tried the Dead Indian campground host’s telephone, but couldn’t get reception. As soon as he could, Vining called the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s office in Cody and left a message describing the incident, he said.
On Monday morning, he met with Chris Queen, Powell game warden, and Luke Ellsbury, bear conflict officer, from the Game and Fish office in Cody. Employing hounds, the lion was treed approximately 400 yards from the scene of the incident and destroyed, Vining said.
Vining did wound the animal.
“That lion didn’t go very far because it was injured,” said Dusty Lasseter, Game and Fish bear wise community coordinator in Cody.
Whenever a trophy game animal like a mountain lion is killed without a license out of season, an investigation follows, said Tara Teaschner, Game and Fish public information specialist in Cody.
The case remains under investigation, Queen said.
Lasseter transported the lion to the department’s Wildlife Forensic and Fish Health Lab at the University of Wyoming for necropsy (animal autopsy). The lab also will examine the lion, about 1-year-old, for any possible diseases, he said.
Vining and his uncle, Wes Vining, mentor local youth in the Polestar hunter mentor program. Both men strive to project a positive image to teenagers. On Monday, Vining took two teenagers fishing in the Beartooth Mountains. He will not be discouraged from recreating in the wilds, but he did pack along a pistol and shotgun, he said.
Since it appears they startled the cat and it was not actually stalking them, he harbors no grudge against mountain lions, Vining said.
Queen said people should be alert for bears in the backcountry, but they also should be aware of potential conflicts with mountain lions.