A small girl catches a large lion while hunting.

13-year-old Aspen proudly shows off her first mountain lion, a 121-pound tom. Her twin sister Jaden, who shares Aspen’s passion for hunting, was right there by her side throughout the entire hunt on February 4. (Photo courtesy of Dawn Rush)

One chilly morning on February 4th, a gunshot rang out in the woods near Ashley Lake. Soon after, you could hear branches breaking as a big mountain lion fell to the ground.

After Aspen Rush, a 13-year-old from West Valley Elementary School, took a shot, she stood with the pink rifle she got for Christmas. The 121-pound tom curled up, finding its final resting spot.

Aspen caught her first mountain lion, and it was only half the size of what she was expecting.

I was super happy when I caught one,” she said. “I aimed and hit it in the armpit. After we brought it down, I was really thrilled. I got to pull it for a hundred yards, and then my dad helped me drag it the rest of the way.

Aspen, who is 13 years old, and her twin sister, Jaden, spent a lot of time doing something special. Almost every weekend, they would wake up super early at 5 a.m., get ready, and then go with their dad from their home near Kalispell and Kila. What did they do? They spent the day tracking lions in the snow with a guide and five dogs.

The mom, Dawn Rush, says her daughters are really close. They’ve been hunting for the second time this season, but they’ve been good at shooting even before this.

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She mentioned that her twin sister, Jaden, was there for her all the time. Both of them are skilled at shooting, and they both successfully hunted deer this season.

Jaden said, “We do almost everything together. We’ve seen big mountain lions before, but this year was the first time I saw one.

A few months ago, her sister got really lucky and won the lottery. She got one of the few permits given out for the mountain lion hunting season in the western part of Montana. There were over a hundred people who wanted one, but only about a dozen permits were available.

Neil Anderson, who manages wildlife in the region, doesn’t have the latest stats for this season, but he mentioned that normally, there’s about a 1 in 10 chance of getting picked for a special mountain lion license.

Female mountain lions are usually around 70 to 80 pounds, while males are about 100 pounds on average. Aspen, the mentioned mountain lion, should feel proud as she weighs 121 pounds, which is considered a good and mature size for an animal like her.

The girls tried a few times to use the tag but couldn’t succeed. Dawn explained that the school allowed them to go hunting on a special weekday, February 4th, because their dad had the day off. Aspen shared that they hiked two miles up and then two miles down. Their guide noticed fresh tracks, and that’s when they released the dogs for the hunt.

We noticed some footprints, then released all five dogs. About half an hour later, the dogs halted. That’s when we spotted the mountain lion, and I fired a shot before setting the dogs free.

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Her mom said the shot was almost perfect, hitting the cat just right and keeping the back parts good. She mentioned that the girls always eat wild game, and they had tasty fried steaks later that week.

After visiting the game warden like they had to, the girls went to West Valley School to proudly talk about their achievements.

Aspen told everyone in our class and some teachers about it. They were super happy for me. One of my friends even wanted to touch the paws. Her brother got really excited and proud too.

Jaden really enjoyed sharing their big achievement, showing off the trophy they won at school.

At first, they didn’t want to touch it. But when Aspen showed them the teeth, everyone wanted to touch them. When Aspen squeezed the paw, claws would come out, and everyone would get surprised and excited.

They made their classmates scared enough, and then they brought the mountain lion, which was chilling in their dad’s pickup truck, to where Dawn works at a nearby dentist’s office.

Aspen said, ‘My mom had an exciting day at work. Someone was so interested that they wanted to touch the head and check out the teeth.

When they asked Aspen what she wants to focus on next, she answered quickly without hesitation.

I want to hunt a large elk.

Right now, they’re concentrating on dealing with the large cat. They want to turn the remaining meat into jerky and make a rug from its hide. The girls aim to showcase the rug on their room’s wall. Even though winning the tags again seems unlikely, Aspen wasn’t discouraged.

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Sure, we’ll give it another shot next year,” she mentioned.

You can contact reporter Samuel Wilson by calling 758-4407 or emailing him at swilson@dailyinterlake.com for any recent headlines.


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