Photo Credit: Chris Auch

Last week the internet exploded with photos from Franchesca Esplin’s mountain lion hunt. Unfortunately, the conversation was largely directed by an anti-hunting group and news outlets eager to vilify mountain lion hunters. We had the opportunity to sit down with Mrs. Esplin and talk about that hunt, why she is a hunter, and how the backlash has changed her life.

EHUNTR – Let’s start by talking about mountain lion hunting in Colorado. Many people seem to be under the impression that these cats are endangered when in fact there is a healthy population in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates we have around 3,000-7,000 mountain lions.

What steps do you need to take to be able to hunt mountain lions?

Franchesca – All hunters that want to hunt in this state are required to have a Hunter’s Education Card prior to hunting at all. In order to hunt a mountain lion, you have to take a mountain lion education course online, because without that you can’t purchase a license for mountain lions. As long as there are still areas open you may purchase a license. You have to call or go online after 5 pm the night before you go to make sure there’s an open quota in the unit you’re going to hunt.

EHUNTR – So now that we’ve cleared up how regulated mountain lion hunting is, let’s talk about the hunt itself.

Tell me the story.

Photo Credits: Franchesca Esplin

Franchesca – First of all, I want to say that this hunt has been at the top of my list for at least the last 10 years, and I was finally able to make it happen. The hunt was in Southwest Colorado. After several trips over and cutting only female tracks, we finally turned up a decent tom track. As lion hunters, we try not to harvest the females so that they continue to reproduce and survive. When we found the tom track, it was smoking hot fresh. When we dumped the dogs from the dog box, there was no denying that the track was HOT.  We were able to video the dogs when they were dumped, and they picked it up and went to work. It didn’t take very long before they jumped the cat, and from there they were able to tree him right away, within 6/10th’s of a mile.

With us and our friends knowing the country, we were able to drive our vehicles within 600 yards (around 700 yards or so of actual walking distance). Of course, with all of that going on you can only imagine my face, excitement, and adrenaline I had running through me, as I probably could’ve jump-started a vehicle with my energy. I’m pretty sure everyone was teasing me silently because some of them have never been able to witness me and my adrenaline. After making our way through the snow and little ravines my excitement grew as the sounds of the dogs baying at the tree grew closer.

When we finally made it to the tree we began to gather up the dogs, that way none of them got hurt, and we stood there and took in the view of this beautiful cat lying there in the tree. As we stood there, we made sure that it was indeed a mature tom, since we didn’t want to harvest a female or young cat. After establishing that this was indeed a mature tom, we walked around to make sure we could get a safe angle to shoot where I could make a clean shot. Mind you during all this I’m still on an adrenaline rush, and marveling in the beauty of these animals. I’m certain I took a hundred pictures trying to capture his beauty and remember this hunt of a lifetime.

MOUNTAIN LIONS HUNTING DEATH THREATSAfter looking around to determine the best spot they finally found a rock for me to sit on, which since I was a female hunting they were kind enough to clear the snow off of it first before having me sit down. As I sat down I asked Bobby, my husband, if he had remembered to bring the shooting sticks for more stability. Of course, we couldn’t remember if we did or not and if we had brought them they were probably at the bottom of the pack, so I told him I could shoot free handed. Naturally again, because I am a female, the guys went to work to find me an old branch that’d work to rest my .243 on. With my rest, I was able to get settled into the gun and focus nice and clearly in the scope. My first shot, he didn’t fall out of the tree so we elected it’d be best to shoot again to make sure that he expired quickly and didn’t suffer. When we got to investigating we realized that the first shot did indeed work, but I was grateful that I shot again so I had that peace of mind knowing that he passed quickly.

Now comes the funny part, the cat was dead in the tree still, since he had his arm wrapped around a branch. As everyone was thinking of who had to climb the tree, we all realized something, Bobby is a firefighter of 15 years so far, and we decided he was the most trained to climb a tree and retrieve the cat. Bobby was a great sport and agreed to climb the tree, as he climbed and got close to him, I had to be a smart alec and ask him if the cat was dead (even though we all knew it was). You should have seen his eyes get big and quickly poke the cat with his pistol…HAHA! As the cat fell down the tree I know I shed a few tears and thanked the Lord for this opportunity and for the meat to feed my family.

My kids were in awe seeing him in the tree, and most of all my 7-year-old son was proud of his mama getting her first lion. We were able to get some pictures taken and then the guys helped me pack out the gun and our backpack. I provided moral support as Bobby carried the lion back to the truck so we could get him home. The next day I was able to bring him down to the Colorado Division of Wildlife Office to get checked in, sealed and a tooth taken out so they could determine the age. This hunt taught me several things, lion hunting isn’t always this easy, I admire hounds men and the training that goes into their dogs, and that girls can hunt too. Lastly, I’m excited to see how he looks when we are able to put him together and take him to a taxidermy show.

Anti's are at it again. This time attacking a woman and her family who legally harvested a mountain lion. The group…

Posted by on Thursday, February 28, 2019

EHUNTR – You just led perfectly into my next question. Why do you hunt?

Franchesca – I hunt to provide food for my family, but the main part is being outdoors. The outdoors is a place where our family goes to spend time together, we enjoy watching the wildlife, marveling in God’s country and it’s a place where we go to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and clear our minds. To be honest, most of the time we go to the mountains isn’t to hunt, but it’s to take in the sights, animals, and the beauty that we live amongst. I love that when we do go hunting, we usually do it as a family. My family is my main focus in life, and having my husband and me to show them how to hunt and survive in the wilderness is something they can’t be taught elsewhere.

As hunters and being outdoors, we are able to see the importance of bringing awareness to conservation efforts. Conservation is something that us hunters understand. There needs to be a balance of the animals that are harvested, while also making sure that they continue to have places to be safe and continue reproducing. Most people view hunters as these heartless, sadistic, inhumane, etc. people, but in reality, the money that we spend in hunting/fishing licenses goes back to help the wildlife, mountain trails, campgrounds, etc.

EHUNTR – So how did you find yourself in Prairie Protection Colorado’s crosshairs?

Franchesca – I can honestly say that I am not positive how I became their target to “attack”. I know that when I posted pictures of my hunt, I tagged those that were with us I had no idea that some of them had public profiles and friends that were against hunting.  With them having friends that weren’t fans of hunting they apparently were disgusted and felt that they had to take a few of the pictures and my post and turn it into something that it never should’ve been blown into. While I value people’s opinions and views, I think there are things that people need to be educated on and be respectful of the way others live their lives and opinions

EHUNTR – How has this affected your life?

MOUNTAIN LIONS HUNTING DEATH THREATSFranchesca – There are several things. My husband and I own and run our own taxidermy business, Esplin’s Wildlife Studio, here in Delta, Colorado. People have posted negative reviews, made us take down our business page, and went as far as constantly making death threats, harassing us, making vulgar comments and calling us non-stop on our personal/business phones. It has put a huge stress on my marriage. My dear husband has seen his wife go from being a self-confident woman to being someone that breaks down in tears, tosses and turns in my sleep, open carrying a gun and being watchful of anyone that drives up or is walking around in fear of someone hurting us or our children.

EHUNTR – A lot of people want to know why you didn’t just ask Facebook to take the post down.

Franchesca – We did ask. I know the post has gotten a TON of reports on the page and their posts, but they sit back and are allowing them to harass, bully, and threaten me. Every response that I’ve gotten has been that it doesn’t go against their “Community Standards” even though their posts/pictures degrade my appearance and character, as well as targeting me with threats.

They won’t take this down, but people post hunting pictures/videos, memes, and other ridiculous things and they get reported, taken down, and put in Facebook jail. I’m not sure how they can allow for something to stay up even though it clearly violates what they’ve said they won’t allow.

EHUNTR – What do you wish you could say to this group and the anti-hunting community?

Franchesca – I think the biggest thing is that they need to become more educated and learn more fact of what they are protesting. To me, they are spreading a false awareness of these animals and are doing more harm than good to them, and showing a huge amount of hate flowing through them. How can someone sit there and advocate for the love, well-being, and safety of these animals but turn around and wish harm, death, ill wishes and threaten to shoot my family in front of me, rip my kids to shreds and spew hate to another human being? Something that I have grown up with, and that Bobby and I have tried to instill in our kids, is to love one another. It doesn’t matter where people come from but if you’re in a position to help someone, do it. This world is filled with so much hate, it’s time that we all start being kind to one another.

EHUNTR – Is there anything else you want to share?

Franchesca – I absolutely love hunting, the outdoors and spending time with my family, friends and loved ones in God’s country. I will NEVER apologize for being a hunter, being able to help with conservation of the land we hunt, and being able to help provide food for my family. If anything, this entire situation, while being extremely hard, has taught me to stand firm for what I believe and to try to be an advocate for female hunters everywhere. This has fueled my fire on wanting to help people become educated in the hunting world, bring awareness to female hunters that seem to get the brunt of this since people feel we are weak and defenseless, and most of all to continue to be a hunter and be a part of conservation efforts around our state for the wildlife.

No matter how controversial this lion hunt has turned out to be, nobody will ever take the excitement from my hunt away. This is a memory that I will proudly share and remember my entire life. A special word for female hunters everywhere, never let anyone make you feel like you are less because you are a female and never be ashamed to stand up for what you believe in.

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  1. Sorry, but this is not hunting.

    Someone drives you near a tree where a terrified mountain lion is escaping a pack of hounds.

    Then from a few metres away you take your time and calmly shoot it in the head.

    There is no skill, honour or anything right about this, it is like you visited the equivalent of disneyland for hunters. This is just gratuitous murder or execution.