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Mountain Lion

Estimated reading time: 6 min

For addicted cat hunters in the western United States, Canada, Mexico, and even South America, the game is about following the hounds. Whether in snow covered mountains, across desert plateaus, or even in thick tropical cover mountain lion hunting is about the thrill of the chase.

Outfitters who hunt mountain lions all have stories about especially difficult cats. Some were tough just because they were so crafty in eluding the dogs. Others took them through the most treacherous terrain to end up bayed on a sheer face. And still others had to be pulled from narrow caves after hand to claw battles.

Dyed-in-the-wool mountain lion hunters will often tell you that before they tried hunting the cats, they really didn’t think much about it or of it. But as soon as they heard the first hound bay and then saw a treed cat only after hours of chasing and lung-searing climbing, they knew they were hooked.

Acquiring, training, and maintaining a pack of hounds is a year round commitment, and one that’s not easy for the non-resident, urban- or suburban-bound hunter. That makes mountain lion hunting a natural for enlisting the services of an experienced, highly-rated mountain lion outfitter.

Mountain Lion Facts

The mountain lion is known by many names including: cougar, puma, panther, American lion, and catamount. Yet, allowing for some slight size and color variance for region, they are all the same animal throughout their range.

And a huge range it is. Originally, mountain lions were native to what are now most of the southern provinces of Canada, all of the Lower 48 states, Mexico, central America and all of South America. That encompasses most of the landmass in the western hemisphere.

Today, mountain lions are found in Canada in southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta. They have growing populations in most of the western United States including: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. They continue to thrive in Mexico, central America, and throughout most of South America.

Despite their wide distribution in a variety of habitats, mountain lions are extremely shy and reclusive animals. Many people who spend their lives outdoors like ranchers, foresters, outfitters, guides, etc. can count on a single hand the number of times they’ve actually seen a mountain lion – and those encounters are usually by chance in the lights of a vehicle.

A large, adult tom stands about 24-30 inches high at the shoulder and is approximately six to eight feet long, of which 2-3 feet is tail. They weigh in the neighborhood of 100 pounds, ranging up to 150 or sometimes significantly more. Toms killed by hunters have been verified to weigh close to 300 pounds, but these are exceedingly rare. The females are generally about half the size of males. The mountain lion is second only to the jaguar of central and South America as the largest feline species in the western hemisphere.

Mountain lions are incredibly athletic animals. They are known to jump as high as 18 feet straight up into the air, cover more than 25 feet in a bound from a crouched position, and run at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Slow motion video captured by nature photographers reveals the remarkable strength and agility of mountain lions as they pursue both large game, like deer, and small animals, such as rabbits.

Like all felines, the diet of the mountain lion is 100 percent meat. They will pretty much eat anything they can catch and kill from insects up to ungulates the size of elk, cattle, and even moose. Mountain lions are solitary hunters, though females will hunt in the company of their young when training them. Over most of the mountain lion’s range, deer of various species are the preferred prey.

Mating season for mountain lions is winter, with cubs born about 90 days after mating occurs. Anyone who has been in the mountains on a dark winter night and heard the ruminations of a female mountain lion seeking a mate does not soon forget the sound. Many describe it as a human woman’s scream or a baby wailing for its mother. Litter size is commonly two to three cubs, though they have been recorded as large as six.

Other than humans, mountain lions have no substantial predators. In an increasing portion of their range, lions now compete with the wolf for prey. With both wolf and mountain lion populations on the rise because of decades of limited hunting, many Rocky Mountain states are experiencing serious decline in ungulate game species herds such as elk, mule deer, and even white-tailed deer.

Hunting Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are commonly hunted in the Rocky Mountain west of the United States as well as in British Columbia and western Alberta. The only state with a complete ban on mountain lion hunting is California. Subsequently, it is also the only state documenting serious increases in confrontations between humans and the cats, including fatal attacks.

Mountain lions are a protected game species everywhere in their current, accepted range except Texas. There they are considered a varmint and can be killed by licensed hunters or trappers year round with no season or bag limit.

Some states with limited, but growing mountain lion populations, like the Black Hills region of South Dakota, permit hunting of the cats by residents only on a quota basis and without the aid of dogs. The idea is that hunters will encounter mountain lions incidentally to hunting elk, deer, and other game species; shoot them; and register them. Then once the quota of male and female cats has been reached, the season is closed on 48 hours notice. Game departments believe this is a more effective management tool than opening seasons to non-residents and not controlling the number of licenses distributed.

In most places, lions are hunted with packs of specially bred and trained hounds. Most of these hunts are conducted in mid- to late-winter. After a fresh snowfall, guides patrol trails and logging roads on snowmobiles to find fresh tracks of sufficient size and spacing to determine if the cat is a large tom. They then return to base to get the dogs and hunter. Returning to the track as quickly as possible, they turn out the dogs, and the chase is on!

Mountain lions are built for covering ground in rugged terrain and snowy conditions, so chases are normally long and arduous. They frequently end without a cat being treed. And even when the dogs are baying “treed,” the trek for the hunters to reach them is usually very strenuous as well.

Arriving where the cat is at bay, the guides and the hunter assess whether the cat is truly a tom and of trophy quality. If it is, the cat is killed and the hunt is over. If it’s a female or an immature cat, the group will gather up the dogs and head back down the mountain to do it all over again. For all these reasons, many chases end up not resulting in a lion to mount or a rug for the wall.

It’s not commonly known, but those who have tried eating mountain lion report that it is some of the finest game meat ever to grace a plate.

Another method that can be effective in hunting mountain lions is varmint calling. While not nearly as high percentage as hounding, calling cats is a hair-raising form of hunting because any lion that does come in is hunting you as its prey! Shots can come at close quarters, but are frequently on split-second opportunities. This does not permit judging the sex and trophy quality of the mountain lion as does treeing the cat with hounds.

As in any type of hound hunting resulting in treed game, the type and size of the hunting tool is truly secondary. A magnum .22 rimfire is sufficient in most cases since you can maneuver for a well-placed shot, though something like a .30-30 Win. offers more margin for error. Bows are also used to take mountain lion, however, there can be complications when a cat with a broadhead in it drops from a tree or cliff and the dogs encounter those exposed blades. In choosing a firearm, keep size and weight in mind more than any other consideration. Shots will be very close and you’ll likely have to carry that gun a l-o-n-g way over rough terrain and through deep snow to reach the treed lion.

Successful mountain lion hunting demands that you be in very good shape. Snow is frequently thigh-deep or deeper, and you’ll likely be called upon to climb for long distances through it. Elevations can reach tree line, or even above, so it’s critical to have your lungs and legs in excellent shape. If you go on a lion hunt, consider trying to arrive a couple of days early to acclimate to the altitude. You’ll enjoy the hunt much more if you’re not fighting dizziness and headaches. Even in the winter, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Mountain Lion Outfitters

Many outfitters in the Rocky Mountain states and western Canada offer mountain lion hunting. Some are dedicated houndsmen who travel far and wide, hunting lion and bear with their dogs. Other highly-rated outfitters offer mountain lion hunting as a sidelight after the big game seasons are closed.

Since mountain lions have large territories, experienced outfitters know not to focus too intensively on any area if they want to consistently produce big toms for their clients. So don’t be surprised if your mountain lion outfitter is based one place, but you end up hunting with him in a different portion of his state, another state, or another region entirely.

Some mountain lion hunters offer the service of putting you on a tentative hunt list. Then when the track of a large tom is located, the outfitter will contact you and give you 24 hours to get to their location to make the hunt. This type of hunting is not as exciting as participating fully in the hunt by scouting and hunting everyday to locate the track, then making the chase. However, for some hunters, it’s the only way that experiencing a mountain lion hunt can fit into their hectic day-to-day life.

Whatever style of hunting you wish to employ, if your dream is of a mountain lion hunt, has a long list of experienced, trustworthy, highly-rated outfitters looking forward to meeting your needs.

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