Cougar Hunting Tips: A Practical Guide to Hunting Mountain Lions

The cougar also referred to as the catamount, mountain lion, panther, or puma, is a popular wildcat in the U.S. Once regarded an irritating animal to be shot on sight, the mountain lion has since been raised to its splendidly deserved status as trophy big game.

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This animal may be elusive, shy, and quiet, but it has an essence of stealth as well as mystery in the wild. This is a surprise attack marauder that chases after a wide variety of prey. Its main food sources include but are not limited to livestock, deer, and ungulates.

A feature unique to a cougar is the fact that it is the largest of the small cats. You can best hunt this animal if you equip yourself with the correct cougar hunting tips.

Cougar Facts

To begin with, a number of Western States have named the mountain lion a game animal. It is the hope of every hunter that more states will follow. Your success as a cougar hunter depends entirely on what you know about them. For starters, you need to know the following: habitat, life span, food, height, length, and weight.

  • Cougars live in almost any environment, including wetlands, plains, deserts, and forests.
  • They have a lifespan of approximately twelve years in the wilderness.
  • Their main food source includes deer, birds, raccoons, coyotes, bighorn sheep, moose, wild hogs, and porcupines.
  • Their height ranges from 2.2 to 2.5 feet at the shoulder.
  • They are 3.5 to 5.5 feet long minus the tail, and 8 feet including the tail.
  • As far as the weight is concerned, adult males weigh 110 to 180 pounds; while females weigh 80 to 130 pounds.

Cougar Habitat

Cougars have an amazing ability to adapt to almost any type of habitat. They can climb trees, swim, and jump up to fifteen feet high. In addition to these skills, cougar sharp eyesight, as well as profound hearing, make them exceptional predators that can adapt to life in wetlands, plains, deserts, forests, and mountains.

They once existed in large numbers in the Western Hemisphere, even though they have been driven out in most of their natural surroundings. Only western cougars still dwell in large numbers to keep breeding, and they dwell on wetlands in Canada and the United States. On the other hand, eastern cougars are safeguarded by the Endangered Species Act, regardless of the fact that they are presumed nonexistent in the wild.

The numbers of mountain lions are actually dependent on the numbers of deer. This is so since deer are the main food source for cougars. This simply means that habitats that favor deer should maintain as well as increase cougar numbers.

Most western states along with provinces visualize mountain lion as a game animal, and have come up with regulations that have effectively increased their population. Actually, quotas are utilized by most management agencies to control as well as direct hunting pressure. Statistically, female cougars are given more protection than the males.

How to Hunt Cougars

Mountain lion hunting, like any other outdoor expedition, requires a great deal of planning. You have to intellectually walk yourself through all aspects of cougar hunting.

You need to have your own personal list of gear and accessories to take along. As much as many of these items are based on personal needs, preferences, and hunting techniques, there are a number of basic items that you must have.

Man wearing a cougar "scarf"

Usually, there is a multitude of gear that you need, regardless of whether you hunt from a lavish vehicle or backpack into a remote wilderness area. The following checklist will give you a reliable guideline to follow for assembling gear, and hopefully keep you from overlooking those small but significant items. A successful hunt is determined the following steps.

Step 1 – Hunting Requirements

You need a lion license, and you must carry it with you when going hunting. Most state will require you to have a hunter’s education so as to be allowed to apply for a license. However, you need to check with the local authorities to learn the specific requirements.

Generally, it is illegal for you to slay a kitten or an adult cougar in the company of one or more kittens. Handheld calls are certainly allowed, but electronic calls and devices are illegal. Bait is unlawful but dogs no more than eight are permitted. As a cougar hunter, your presence is mandatory whenever you release a dog or dogs, and you must be an active partaker until you end the hunt.

Step 2 – Hunting Gear

There are several methods of takedown that are considered legal. The first one is the use of handguns/ center fire rifles. As far as these two weapons are concerned, you are required to use ammunitions that weigh a minimum of 45 grains, as well as deliver no less than four hundred foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.

hunter with a gun and mountain lion

The second one is the use of smoothbore muskets and muzzle-loading rifles, which should use a caliber of at least .40 and propellants that weigh a minimum of 170 grains. The third one is the use of 20 gauge shotguns that fire single slug. The fourth method involves the use of archery equipment, such as hand-held bows and crossbows.

Step 3 – Identifying Cougars

The law requires that you know how to identify mountain lions, as far as males and females are concerned. This particular task will require you to have binoculars, even though you can distinguish the sex with the naked eye at close range. See our piece on how to select the best binoculars for hunting. Definitely a must-read!

Usually, males have three spots found below the base of their tail. The anal opening is situated just beneath the tail. An inch below is the scrotum, which is an oval shaped area of white, light brown and silver fur. A few inches below the scrotum is a black spot that encompasses the penis sheath opening.

On the other hand, the female cougar has two spots beneath the base of its tail. Its anal opening is hidden below the base of its tail. The vaginal opening is situated directly beneath the anus. The rest of the behind is covered with white fur.

cougar in a tree close up

Always check for the darkest spot and its position. The mountain lion will always be a female if the darkest spot is close to the tail or impossible to visualize. The probability of the lion being male is high when the spot is about five inches below the tail.

Step 4 – Spot & Stalk

If you are new to cougar hunting, then consider spotting and stalking cougar as your first action when out in the field. However, you should know that success rate is limited when spotting and stalking. This is so since cats are well-known for their stalking and spotting abilities. You need to exercise patience in order to be successful.

Step 5 – Hound Hunting

Hounding is the most successful method of hunting mountain lions. Though, it is a challenging method, because it requires a lot of time, money, and work. At times you may need to hire the services of a professional hound guide. Your odds of taking down a cougar are good when you make the hounds loose on the trail.

Hound Hunting Cougars

What you need for a successful hound hunt are basics, which include: a well-populated cougar habitat; a resourceful pack of expert hounds; and a strong hunter. It is always your job to keep up with the hounds once they are on a trail. Hounds can trail cougars on dry ground, but it’s always easy to trail after a short rain.

Types of Hounds

  • Black & Tan Coonhound
  • Blue Tick Coonhound
  • Redbone Coonhound
  • Treeing Tennessee Brindle
  • Treeing Walker Coonhound
  • Basset hound
  • Beagle
  • Dachshund
  • Bloodhound
  • Greyhound
  • American Foxhound
  • English Foxhound
  • Estonian hound
  • Silken windhound
  • Finnish hound
  • Bavarian mountain hound
  • Artois hound
  • Polish greyhound
  • Welsh hound

Choosing a Hunting Hound

As you have seen from the list, there are many types of hounds. When choosing the desired hound, you must consider the fact that you are hunting a cat. There are two major categories of hounds: sight and scent. Like the names suggest, scent types are for tracking the trail of mountain lions; while sound are for tracking the sound. Sight dogs are effective at trailing fast animals; while scent dogs are reliable at slow tracking.

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Your residence plays a big role when choosing a hunting dog. Usually, sight hounds are calm and quiet when not in action. With adequate exercise, they will do just fine in a home setting. On the other hand, scent dogs have a lot of energy, and they normally need plenty of space. They are the best when living in the country.

Dogs treeing lion

Hunting cougars with hounds is not as complicated as a novice hunter would imagine. Usually, you have to move around the cat until you locate a fresh trail. Once you have located a trail, you then have to release the hounds. The current position of the mountain lion depends entirely on the age of the trail.

A trail may be fresh, but the cat may have developed a relatively wide gap between you and its current geographical spot. The remaining job is supposed to be completed by the dogs by doing what they are trained to do. The main challenge is keeping up with the hounds once they are loose. You can follow your hounds by their barking.

See also: Hunting Dog Breeds: 5 Reliable Friends to Count On

You can control their speed with dog leashes, but you must be one hell of a runner. You can also opt to use radio collars, which is more effective and reliable. Regardless of the tracking method you choose, you should expect a rough run that will extend through real estate, thickets, and hard miles. The hounding may sound exceptionally easy, but it involves a lot of hard work and vigorous exercise.

Step 6 – Calling Cougars & Walking the Cat

Calling cougars is a bit challenging because of their low numbers. A single male mountain lion may be hundreds of miles away. Therefore, you may create as many stands as possible, but the cat may never hear you calling. Alternatively, you need a more industrious way of calling, and you will easily discover them.

If you have done big game calling, then this should not be a problem, but it will definitely take you a considerable amount of time. Stick with deer calls, since they are cougars’ favorite prey. Statistically, a single mountain lion is known to prey on two to three deer every week. The next method is walking the cats.

cougar tracks

This technique has gained popularity among cougar hunters, especially in states that hound hunting is not allowed. It is certainly a productive way of hunting cats, but success depends on the right conditions. It is one of the most reliable methods if you do not own hounds. You actually have to journey around known cougar retreats after a fresh snow.

Experts suggest that the best time for waking cougars is at down after a night of snow. The tracks left behind will be fresh. You will be basically trailing the cats without the assistance of dogs. You should spot the cougars ahead of you after a bit of trailing. The main challenge of this method is the weather. You must live in the proximity of mountain lions, and you must correctly time the weather.

Step 7 – Choose an Outfitter

You should seriously consider hiring an outfitter if you are new to cougar hunting. Apart from the expertise you require, the decision to hire an outfitter depends entirely on your budget and personal preference. Outfitters will provide you with land access to the hunting grounds, accommodations, food, guides, and transportation to and from the hunting grounds.

However, the decision is not as easy as it sounds. It requires you to do some research, especially if you want to pair yourself with a competent outdoorsman who will improve your odds. If you do not take your time to carefully choose a reliable outfitter, then you may end up with dissatisfying outcome. You can look for outfitters from adverts, get recommendations from friends and family, or join a Safari club.

man holding a cougars head

You can find reliable suggestions from geographical and hunting magazines. Quality journals are usually full of ideas. If your pockets are thick, then you can visit conventions and converse directly with professional guides. You should be careful, though. Most outfitting services may sound reputable from an advert, but this is a new world where the coolest individuals can develop a striking advert, and even pay for it to appear in any publication.

Rip-offs are everywhere, and they are ready to spend in order to con you. With that said, make sure your outfitter/guide is able to offer you information regarding what you do not know about cougar hunting. He should be well-acquainted with the trail network in his region, and aware of mountain lion movement patterns.

Step 8 – Equip Yourself with Important Info

You should always equip yourself with necessary info, especially if you will be hunting without the expertise of an outfitter. Having the license and the correct gear is not enough, you need to have what it takes to complete the hunt or else you will just be going for a trek.

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You need to know the standard hunting regulations as well as limits that apply to all mountain lion management units. Then know the hunting season (fall season ranges from November to March, and the April season). In addition, try to gather a considerable amount of info.

Woman posing with a cougar

Mountain Lion Hunting Tips

  • Always buy the correct hunting license by ensuring that you are buying a license for a specific hunting season.
  • Mountain lions’ population is being monitored, so always confirm whether or not there are open units. This is so since units that have hit the limit are normally closed to hunting.
  • Be aware of fake outfitters before you invest your money on the wrong person. Always consider registering with Safari clubs because they have well-equipped outfitters.
  • Only resort to spotting and stalking, if the other methods are too expensive or difficult to use.
  • Always remember that it is against the law to kill kittens or female cougars in the company of one or more kittens.
  • Choose the correct hounds, and always be present when releasing the hounds on a trail.
  • Avoid using weapons within fifty feet on either side of country roads, municipal roads, or centerline of state highways.
  • Always follow all the rules of hunting mountain lions in the state you are in to avoid any shortcomings.

In Conclusion

Cougars are not easy to hunt, but you can improve your odds by doing everything right. The most successful hunting method is hounding. However, this is an expensive and time-consuming method, because it takes time and money to train the dogs to do what they are intended to.

mountain lion jumping

The alternatives are no better, but you can opt to use them if you have a limited budget and manpower, which include stalking, spotting, and walking the lions. Skill is everything when hunting mountain lions. Therefore, you need to learn as much as possible before engaging this unique outdoor adventure. Do you think we have missed any important tips? If so, please let us know in comments.

Don’t forget to check out our review of the best hunting gear to keep you protected and ready when on a hunt.


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.