Along with the invitation I received for my first mountain lion hunt, came the encouraging words from my friend, “You better be prepared, lion hunting can be tough.” I assumed these words of caution were a result of the harsh terrain and weather conditions that are often a part of cat country. Nonetheless, I began to research lion hunting tactics, articles, and information. The first bit of wisdom I received came from a “How to Kill a Mountain Lion” guide I found on the internet. It went something like… Step 1) Search for mountain lion tracks in remote areas with large deer populations. This usually involves extensive searching and long rides on a truck, ATV or snowmobile. Step 2) Release the trained hunting dogs. If your dogs are not trained to hunt mountain lions, a hired guide can provide them. Follow the dogs as they follow the trail. Step 3) Arrive at the treed mountain lion. You will have to move quickly. The cat may decide to make a break for it after regaining strength. Step 4) Take aim and fire. Enjoy your trophy…
“Wow…that sounds easy enough,” I thought…
What I discovered on that first lion hunt proved that the pursuit of the “big cat” can provide hunters with the most challenging, exhilarating, and humbling experience of any critter in the woods. As my friend suggested…You better be prepared!
Photo from: Middlefork Outfitters
King of Cats
The mountain lion is called by more names than most any other mammal – cougar, puma, panther, catamount or just plain lion. Regardless of the name, they are known as one of nature’s most incredible beasts. Adult lions can be more than six feet long. Features include a long, 32+” tail, weights of 140 pounds or more, and colors ranging from grey to reddish-brown.
Lions are most active from dusk to dawn, although they will travel and hunt in daylight. Lions prefer to eat deer; however, they also kill elk, small mammals, livestock, and a variety of domestic animals such as pets. It’s been said that an adult lion will eat a single deer in two nights. Mountain lions prefer to kill their own prey. Like most cats, they take their prey by ambush rather than a long pursuit. Since hunting with hounds tends to be the most efficient way to find success on cats, locating a feeding sight can be the jackpot on a starting point to turn out the dogs when in pursuit of tough toms.
photo: Middlefork Outfitters
The mountain lion is known to have one of the largest geographic ranges of any American native mammal. It’s been said that a mature cat can cover 20 miles in a 24 hour period. With such an extensive range of travel and the remoteness of the land they call home, a lion hunt will no doubt test a hunter’s legs and endurance level. Lions live in some of the harshest terrain imaginable. Cat country can often consist of deep, steep canyon country. Thick, rugged terrain with near-vertical inclines are often the norm, making for the ultimate proving grounds for one’s resolve to encounter a cat in the tree.
Good friend, and avid houndsman, Dave Oligee, knows a thing or two about the use of dogs to put game up a tree. Dave owns and operates Simmons Sharks Broadheads (simmonssharks.com), but admits his true passion is to chase hounds around the country in an effort to put a cat…or coon…up a tree. I recently asked Dave about the current trend in lion hunting, particularly with the use of hounds. Dave was quick to admit that, like other aspects of hunting, the increasing wolf population has had an effect on mountain lion hunting as well. “The days of starting old tracks and letting the dogs run them up new, are over with,” says Oligee. “The population growth of wolves has hindered our ability to effectively free-cast the hounds like we used to. Nowadays, you need to stay close to the hounds for obvious reasons. The wolves can – and will – run the dogs down and kill them.”
Oligee says the ideal scenario is to hit the woods within 12 hours of a fresh snow. Hunting new snow allows the hunter to ensure they are on fresh tracks, says Oligee. “I also like to see a complete covering of snow on the ground as the dogs will often lose a track going across dry ground.”
Male/Female Lion Identification
Oligee also points out that aside from simply looking much larger, an adult male will often tree lower on the lower branches. They also tend to appear more at ease in the tree, with somewhat of a fearless attitude when approached. An adult male lion will have a much larger and rounder head than that of the female.
According to the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s Mountain Lion Identification Manual, the male adult and sub-adult lions have a conspicuous black spot of hair, behind the hind legs and about four-to-five inches below the anus.
Female adult and sub-adult lions have a black vulva spot about 1″ below the anus. Because the anus and vulva are up under the base of the tail, the vulva spot may not be evident, especially from a distance. *Always be sure to check local game laws for regulations on the killing of male and female lions.
Gear for Cat Hunting
SnowShoes – When the snow begins to pile up, snowshoes become a must to get into – and out of – cat country. The MSR Denali Ascent (cascadedesigns.com) snowshoes are hard to beat. Durable enough to tackle demanding winter ascents, these lightweight, technical snowshoes offer superior traction on ice and snow-covered landscapes. Based on MSR’s revolutionary Denali snowshoes, they feature the same modular tail system that allows you to adapt to variable loads and snow conditions.
Light-Weight Backpack – You’ll need a pack to carry food, water, survival gear, snowshoes when not in use, and other possible items. One of my favorites is the Badlands Diablo (badlandspacks.com). Its super light…in fact, it’s lighter than many packs that feature only half of the Diablo’s carrying capacity. By incorporating the newest, lightest, and strongest materials available the Diablo hit a ratio of 15x, meaning it weighs less than three pounds, yet is capable of sustaining loads of 45 pounds plus.
GPS – A reliable GPS unit can be a lifesaver when you’re in the backcountry and you’ve chased the dogs far past your comfort zone.
Other must-have gear items include: Energy bars, survival equipment, headlamp, quality boots, gaiters, and a layered system of clothing.
Don’t be fooled into thinking hunting season is over! The cold and snowy days of winter offer some of the best hunting opportunities of the year. And when it’s the king of cats that you’re after, the action can get hot in a hurry.
Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, and seminar speaker. Check out his website at www.BroOutdoors.com.