THE LION STING

GAME AND FISH INVESTIGATORS STALKED THE MOST NOTORIOUS MOUNTAIN LION HUNTER IN THE STATE. HE TURNED OUT TO BE A HIRED GUN FOR RANCHERS, AND HE'D KILLED 18 CATS.

"I still get pissed off about that," Cunningham says.
Above all, Hendrix had an uncanny feel for animals. He could ride a mule from daylight to dark in places where most ranchers would get off and lead. And he doted on his lion dogs.

His diary is full of entries about the hounds. They have names like Snuff and Yankee. He writes about the day Alkali learns to swim, about Bronca's first lion. A week's entries fret about how one Saturday Bronca got lost on the trail and how he spent the next four days tracking before he found her.

As a hunter, Hendrix is highly skilled and intuitive. Mountain lions are extremely hard to find. Of the 200-some lions legally killed every year in Arizona, almost all are taken by sport hunters. And if 200 seems a large number, consider that the Game and Fish Department issues 3,000 to 8,000 lion tags to hunters each year. Fewer than 7 percent actually shoot one lion, let alone 20.

Hunting with dogs is far and away the most efficient way to track lions, but it requires that the hunter build a dog pack, putting together those dogs that can best find a scent with those that can best tree a lion.

The hunter, of course, is the pack's alpha male. He takes the dogs through the terrain lions like best; they sniff silently until they strike a scent, then bark information to each other as they follow it.

"A lion can move out faster than a pack of hounds can trail them," says Ron Day, who was a lion research biologist before he was a law enforcement officer for the Game and Fish Department. "But by their nature, they're curious, and they're arrogant. They'll sit on a bluff or underneath a tree and watch the dogs down below them."

Curiosity kills big cats, too.
The Aravaipa study that centered on Gordon Whiting's ranch--the results of which have not yet been released--tracked 29 lions over 1,500 square miles. What Stan Cunningham learned, he claims, will lose him friends among both ranchers and environmentalists.

"From a strict biological point of view, predator control doesn't work," he says. "They have been killing lions in that valley since 1890, 15 to 20 lions--a third to half of the lion population in the valley--for at least the last 40 years. What we found in Aravaipa was almost immediate replacement of that individual by another lion."

From a short-term economic point of view, however, it does work. If a rancher can kill enough lions right before calving season, he might buy enough time to allow more of those calves to grow large enough that lions won't take them. One of the Beeline ranchers had been telling his friends that Hendrix's work there had tripled his calf crop.

But does the world exist to make money for ranchers? Larry Hendrix thought so. Once over a campfire, he expressed his doubts to Stan Cunningham that anyone really cared if they killed every single lion in the state.

Cunningham shot back, "Larry, you don't spend enough time in Phoenix or Tucson. Ninety percent of the state lives in those two cities, and I guarantee you, most of those people give a shit if you kill any."

Hendrix refused to believe him.

Who can say how long Larry Hendrix may have been illegally killing lions on behalf of ranchers?

Ron Day, the Game and Fish undercover investigator, first heard that Hendrix might be bounty hunting in the Globe area in March 1989, when he received an anonymous tip through the department's Operation Game Thief program. The informer said that Hendrix was living on a ranch, that he had shot eight lions for $300 each, and that in the two years prior, he had shot another 30.

"I just couldn't prove it at the time," Day says.
Then, that fall, Hendrix turned up on the Beeline.
Game warden Carl Lutch was driving down the Beeline Highway into town when he noticed a hunter unloading dogs from a trailer, figured he was lion hunting and stopped to check his tags. It was Hendrix.

"He was real cooperative and friendly," Lutch remembers, and all his papers seemed to be in order.

According to Hendrix's diary and to statements made by the ranchers after he'd been arrested, Hendrix had met with several ranchers in December 1993 to discuss lion problems and what Hendrix could do about them.

Although it is unclear exactly who attended the meeting, the three ranchers named as conspirators in Hendrix's indictment apparently did. Together, they control all of the national forest land between Scottsdale and Four Peaks and from Saguaro Lake to the Mazatzal Mountains, an area that comprises 42,000 acres.

Bill Guilliam had recently obtained grazing rights for one allotment along the Beeline, which he bought from John Whitney III. Whitney and his cousin Kelly Hughes had raised the eyebrows of environmentalists on earlier occasions, Hughes for killing bears illegally, and Whitney for his poor stewardship of the land.

It is on Whitney's land that the Forest Service wants to build the fence. A 1994 environmental assessment of Whitney's allotments done by the Forest Service showed much overgrazing and severe cattle damage to Sycamore Creek. Forest Service plans call for approximately $261,000 in improvements to keep Whitney's cattle out of the riparian area. Whitney will have to pick up part of that tab, but the Forest Service's clemency has angered environmentalists.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Phoenix Concert Tickets

Around The Web

Loading...