Alyssa Caldwell and her father had been hunting all day. The weather had been nasty; cloudy skies with snow and rain alternating. They had seen a few elk, much too far away to try a shot. They left their makeshift blind to see if they could spot another elk before the end of the day. It was the middle of the afternoon . . .
At 12, Alyssa Caldwell was already an experienced huntress. She had started shooting at five-years-old. On this day, Alyssa had a new rifle: a stainless Howa 1500.
Alyssa and her father had only gone a few hundred yards from the blind when her father remembered that he’d left the shooting sticks behind. He told Alyssa to wait while he went back to retrieve them. It sounds like the start of a horror movie. A young blond girl, left alone in the wilderness by circumstance, the weather cloudy and rainy and cold, darkness only a couple of hours away . . .
Less than a minute later, she saw it. A cat. A big cat, stalking her, only a car length away. The cat crouched, ready to spring. Alyssa shouldered her rifle and fired. Point blank. It was too close to use the scope. She worked the bolt, ready to fire again. But one shot from the 30-06 was enough. The 165 grain Accubond Nosler projectile had skinned the cheek, hitting the lion facing her at the junction of neck and shoulder, traveling the length of its body, killing it instantly. From Alyssa:
“I saw him first,” Alyssa said. “I didn’t hear him or see him until he was really close. I didn’t know exactly what it was but I knew it wasn’t a bobcat. I raised my gun when he crouched down.
The lion appears to have been in classic predatory mode, stalking the smaller prey in the opportune moment that the larger animal had left the young unprotected. The big cat did not know how deadly an armed human girl could be.
Joshua Caldwell returned to Alyssa at the shot, thinking his daughter had downed an elk. The mountain lion demanded immediate action, so they returned to their family to report it. The shooting sticks remained behind.
It took a day for New Mexico officials to reach the remote hunting spot on San Antonio Mountain. It’s a rugged area north of Albuquerque near the Colorado border. Once there, the officials investigated and ruled the shooting a case of self defense. They took the cat and left the family to continue their hunt.
Twenty-four hours were enough for Alyssa to recover from her close call with the lion and continue her elk hunt. Two days later, Alyssa shot a trophy bull elk at 375 yards, using the bipod on her rifle to steady her aim.
The whole Caldwell family, Alyssa, her mother Valerie, her father Joshua, and her younger brother Padon were all on the hunt with her. It took all of them another 24 hours to pack out the elk to the closest point that could be reached with their Jeep. Valerie shot her own elk a couple of years ago on her anniversary, but Alyssa is the first in the family to take a trophy bull.
A number of young hunters have shot elk, even trophy bulls. But only one is known to have had to shoot a mountain lion on the way to harvesting their elk. Alyssa has earned her place in hunting history.
Valerie Caldwell said that she has learned from the incident. Before this, they would explore the mountain in the summer, unarmed, looking for antlers. Now she will pack her personal defensive sidearm with her, a Springfield XD compact .45.
Since the elk hunt, Alyssa has used her rifle to harvest a whitetail buck. I suspect that this will be a rifle that she will keep. Even older rifles with ordinary steel and wooden stocks have lasted a hundred and fifty years. Stainless steel and composite stocks will last even longer.
Alyssa’s story should give pause to the disarmists who say that no one should be allowed to own a gun before they are 18. Foreign enemies of the United States will note that in America, 12-year-old girls have the skills and equipment to kill lions at five meters and elk at nearly 400 with equal aplomb.
Photographs supplied by Valerie Caldwell
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.