Elusive, formidable, and possessing unparalleled stealth, Puma concolor is one of America’s most lethal predators. Commonly referred to as mountain lions or cougars, these large cats are more abundant than many people realize. You might have never seen a mountain lion, because they tend to be shy… but rest assured, if you’ve ever ventured into the vast wilderness of the West for activities like hunting, fishing, or hiking, rest assured—they’ve seen you.
Given their secretive behavior, the question arises: how does one go about hunting them? And what equipment is suitable for such an endeavor? What’s more, cougars can be deadly when wounded, so the choice of weaponry becomes crucial. Finally, because cougars are so elusive, where can they be hunted?
The Basics Of Hunting Mountain Lions
From a scientific perspective, cougars boast the widest range of any wild, land-inhabiting mammal north of the equator. Spanning from the Yukon to the southern Andes, these majestic creatures exhibit remarkable physical characteristics. Adult males, standing nearly three feet tall and measuring up to eight feet from nose to tail-tip, typically weigh between 125 to 175 pounds, occasionally surpassing the 200-pound mark. The heaviest recorded specimen weighed an impressive 232 pounds.
Intriguingly, the mountain lion is one of only two large cat species with a category in the Boone & Crockett records book, the other being the jaguar. Anecdotal evidence from a biological survey in Utah during the ’90s suggests that adult cougars average a staggering 60 mule deer kills per year, disproving the notion that predators primarily target weak, old, or sick prey. Mountain lions display a preference for stalking solitary deer, especially big bucks, resulting in a significant impact on mule deer populations.
Hunting Methods For Mountain Lions
Hunting methods for mountain lions generally fall into two categories. The most successful approach involves using hounds. During winter, when snow blankets the Rocky Mountains and temperatures plummet, cougars actively roam the ridgelines, making them easier to track. A skilled pack of hounds, comprising breeds like redbone, bluetick, walker, and possibly a touch of a bloodhound, can effectively follow lion tracks in fresh snow, increasing the chances of treeing the cat.
The second method is incidental, commonly employed in states where using hounds is prohibited, such as Oregon. In such areas, hunters may purchase over-the-counter mountain lion tags, and the season typically coincides with deer season. While not a high-probability hunt, the opportunity arises when a high local population of cougars is present.
For hunters with a cougar tag, shot opportunities vary depending on the method employed. When hunting with hounds, the challenges include dropping a lion from a tree, with shot angles ranging from simple to extremely challenging. Alternatively, when stalking lions without hounds, the shot is likely to be from a distance. In both cases, precision is crucial, given the stealthy nature and smaller vitals of mountain lions compared to deer.
When hunting without hounds, any accurate deer or elk rifle and cartridge will suffice, with an emphasis on quick and precise shots. For hound hunters, the choice of a firearm becomes critical when facing close encounters with cats in awkward positions. A light, fast-expanding bullet is recommended, and shooters must ensure a remote and uninhabited backdrop before taking the shot.
Shot angles, especially when hunting without hounds, can be challenging, requiring quick and accurate action. In contrast, hunting with hounds provides opportunities to drop lions from trees, presenting different challenges in shot placement. For archery enthusiasts, any setup appropriate for deer is suitable for mountain lions, making it an ideal pursuit for traditional bowhunters.
Amidst the chaos and excitement of hunting apex predators, maintaining composure is essential. Despite the potential for errors, the likelihood of losing a cougar is low, thanks to the tracking capabilities of hounds. Additionally, mountain lion meat, though often overlooked due to their predatory nature, is prized by some as a lean, pork-like delicacy, providing a unique culinary experience for those adventurous enough to try it.
Have you ever hunted a mountain lion? Ever wanted to hunt cougars but weren’t sure where to start? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.