Bruce had received word of lion activity in the El Dorado National Forest. The next afternoon they arrived in Bruce's 1920 Maxwell touring car. After setting up camp, Bruce wanted my grandfather to try out the borrowed Colt revolver. Grandpa couldn't hit a fence post at 10 paces with the Colt .45, but he could hit it every time with his smoothbore .44 Game Getter. Bruce had Grandpa bury the Colt at the campsite and told him to use his Game Getter.
Bruce drove up Highway 50 to the area where a lion had been spotted. He soon found fresh tracks. Bruce put Eli on the lion track. Eli put his educated nose to the ground and took off on the trail. The other four dogs followed Eli, making sharp yelps and long bawling barks characteristic of hounds on a hot trail.
The dogs treed a big male lion at Little Soldier Creek. The hunters, hearing the excited yelps, hurried to the spot. The lion was perched on a large tree limb while the dogs circled the tree frantically barking. Bruce threw a handful of dirt and leaves at the lion's face to drive it higher up and into a better shooting position, then tied up the dogs and told Grandpa to shoot. The lion was facing Grandpa, just 40 feet above.
Grandpa held his Game Getter in both hands, took careful aim and squeezed off a shot that hit the lion in the chest. On impact the lion leaped out of the tree with a hiss and landed on the ground snarling and growling. After the dogs had a chance to maul the dead lion it was carried back to camp.
The next two weeks were spent tracking, treeing and shooting four more lions near Screech Owl Creek.
Bruce had many friends and family who hunted with him. His son and daughter, Jay Jr. and Katherine, would accompany him in their teens, camping out while Bruce hunted. George B. Henderson, a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, and movie producers Henry and Sidney Snow, who shot movies of Bruce's hunts, were others. All found that hunting lions on foot was grueling and hazardous, but quite stimulating when the lion was treed and killed.
During the summer of 1927 my grandfather went on his last lion hunts with Bruce and brought along my father, Beryl Blaisdell Smith. They hunted the headwaters of the Rubicon River near Uncle Tom's Cabin. The lion tracks were old and the dogs lost the scent. After a week's hunting my grandfather had to return home to pick up school football uniforms in San Francisco.
My grandfather always said that Bruce rarely failed to get his lion; in fact, in one 10-year period he averaged 33 kills a year-1927 was his best year, with 42 lions killed.
Bruce garnered attention because he was an excellent storyteller. When my grandfather related his stories to me I found them thrilling, especially this one: Bruce's pack of hounds trailed and treed a large male lion on a hillside. Bruce tied up all his dogs, except for Ranger. His pistol was a World War I German Luger that proved to be a good lion killer. On this occasion he took careful aim at the lion's head and fired. At the shot the lion fell from the tree as if dead. Ranger charged in and bit into the lion's hindquarter, while the other dogs barked feverishly and tugged at their leashes.
Apparently the bullet only stunned the lion. With blood flowing from a head wound the lion disregarded the hounds and started crawling up the hill after Bruce. Seeing the lion was still alive, the tied hounds broke free of their leashes and joined Ranger in mauling the lion's hindquarters. Bruce tried to shoot again but found the Luger had jammed. Bruce started backpedaling up the hill, slipped and fell back on his haunches.
While frantically trying to clear the jammed Luger, he kept pushing himself up the hill with his feet away from the lion. Bruce's hounds were barking, growling and biting. They held tight to the lion's hindquarters as it lunged toward Bruce. The lion's mouth was open and spitting as it swiped with its front paws at Bruce's feet. One of the lion's claws struck the front edge of Bruce's boot. The blow was so strong and swift it ripped the sole off his new Cutter boot from toe to heel. Bruce cleared the Luger's jam, then finished off the cougar just in time.
He was forever grateful to his pack of hounds, truly man's best friend.
Bruce had stopped hunting with a rifle due to his crippled left hand. He preferred a pistol carried in a shoulder holster. This left his good right hand free to negotiate terrain and to handle his dogs. He owned and used many types of pistols during his 31 years of lion hunting. After the Luger incident he used a Colt .38 revolver, but found it lacking in power. He switched to a Colt .45 automatic, but found it too heavy to carry. He also used a Colt single-action revolver presented to him by friends. This revolver was featured in The Gun Report magazine in January 1984 with a short story of Bruce's hunting career. Included were several photographs of the pistol with Bruce's name, and the initials of the gift-givers engraved on it. Included was a certified letter from Colt indicating the revolver had a 7½-inch barrel and was chambered in .32-20. It had been shipped to a San Francisco dealer on Jan. 6, 1920.
Bruce had another Colt single-action presented to him by the California Fish and Game Department. It was a 5½-inch-barreled model in .38-40 with black Gutta Percha grips. An engraved silver plaque indicating its presentation to Bruce was attached to the Colt's frame.
On June 27, 1928, Bruce lost sight in his left eye during a lion hunt with his son Jay Jr.; while pushing through heavy brush a branch flew back and punctured it. While recuperating at home he received an urgent phone call regarding a lion that needed to be dealt with. A man working a magnetite mine in the hills above Livermore found a lioness and her two cubs at his spring. He shot the two cubs, but the mother got away. Being too injured to hunt, Bruce called my grandfather and asked him if he would take his dogs and hunt the lioness.
Grandpa agreed and took my 17-year-old father with him. They stopped at Bruce's house to pick up the hounds Eli, Pete and Ranger. My father didn't have a suitable gun so Bruce loaned him his Colt .38-40 revolver. This was carried in a pouch shoulder holster.
On arrival at the last sighting place of the lioness, my grandfather put the hounds on the lion's tracks. While following the dogs they had to crawl through heavy brush. When they finally came to a clearing, my father found Bruce's Colt revolver missing from its holster. He was heartsick and started back on his hands and knees through the brush. A few hundred feet in he saw the sun shinning on the gun's silver plaque. He thanked God he'd found it. By then the dogs had lost the lion's trail. That was the last lion hunt Grandpa and my father did. By October Bruce had recovered and went back to lion hunting with one good right eye and one hand for the next 19 years.
He never hunted while it was raining or snowing, because these conditions killed the lions' scent, but he hunted after storms year-round by following his hounds on foot. The hardships and dangers were many. He hunted 31 years with only one good hand and the last 19 years with only one good eye. My grandfather said he suffered from severe headaches, which caused him to stop drinking coffee and to switch to Postum instead. Grandpa told me he saw Bruce scoop water out of a stream with his horn while taking aspirin constantly. He said Bruce knew lion habits and could think like them.
Bruce was respected throughout cougar country. During his retiring years he wrote the book Cougar Killer. It was published in 1953, and brought Bruce an honorary membership in the prestigious Mark Twain International Society. Bruce passed away in 1963, leaving a legacy unequaled and unsurpassed.
Bruce's hunting skills and record are amazing. After hunting California mountain lions for 31 years, 28 years as the state's official lion hunter, his career came to a close in 1947, with 668 lion kills. The New Mexico lion hunter Ben Lilly hunted mountain lions during the same time period. Lilly never kept a record, but it has been said he may have killed 500 to 600 mountain lions during his life. Bruce's lion kills are a matter of record. He is quite possibly the greatest mountain lion hunter of the 20th century, and has possibly killed more mountain lions than anyone else in history.