One of the most elusive animals you’ll find in the backcountry is a mountain lion. They often see you before you even know they’re in the vicinity. Hunting one of these animals is a challenge, to say the least. It is usually done by having dogs find the cat and push it up a tree so the hunter can then have an easier shot. Dogs have a tremendous smell and when trained correctly can track down a cat in no time. What though, if you want to go on the ultimate adventure of hunting a mountain lion without dogs?
Although it can be very difficult it can be done. In this article, we will go over the best way to hunt mountain lions without dogs as well as what gear you may need.
The hunt doesn’t start when you’re hot on the tracks of a mountain lion. It begins before you even get your boots on the ground. You will need to understand a few things about what you’re up against.
You first need to realize that most mountain lions are harvested with dogs and your chance of success is less if you’re not using dogs. Now, this shouldn’t scare you away or make you doubt the hunt altogether. This is just to mentally prepare yourself for how difficult this could be. So when you can’t seem to find a cat you don’t just give up because it’s too hard. You’ll be able to remind yourself that you knew how difficult this was going to be and keep pushing forward.
You will also need to be ready mentally for the work you’re about to put in. Mountain lions live in some pretty remote areas. In order to get to these areas, you’re going to have to push yourself to continue. You may hike mile after mile only to never see a mountain lion or lose its tracks. It could be very easy to just give up and think that you wasted your time. Every day in the mountains though you are learning something even if you don’t see the animal you’re after. This hunt can be tough so prepare yourself mentally.
We briefly discussed the country you will be in as you pursue a mountain lion. The country is unforgiving and can be treacherous. You will need to prepare yourself physically for what’s ahead. This isn’t a hunt you can jump off the couch and do. You will hike for miles per day. You will want to get some prior exercise in and build up your cardio for the hunt. Fill your backpack with the items you will be carrying for your hunt and start hiking around your local area or trail system. There’s nothing worse than getting to the top of the first ridge and you’re already out of breath. To make the hike a little easier, fill your backpack with more weight than you will take on your hunt as you start exercising. That way when you get to the actual hunt the backpack will seem lighter and you’ll be able to go farther.
I’m also a big fan of weightlifting. Building your muscles will help prevent injury while you’re hunting. You do not want to have an injury while you’re miles back in the hills. Weightlifting will also help build the endurance of your muscles so you can hike longer and faster.
Scouting The Land
Scouting the land is very important when it comes to finding a mountain lion. As with most hunts I like to find a high point that you can then glass and search. However, you’re not going to be just glassing the land looking for mountain lions. Your chance of spotting one that way is low, but if you can find one that will make it that much easier to start your hunt off on the right foot. Rather what you’re looking for are areas where a mountain lion may be hunting. You want to look for game trail where you can see elk or deer travel frequently. Mountain lion’s main food source is deer and elk so you want to put yourself in the lion’s mind and try to think where that lion would be hunting the deer and elk.
Look for small canyons where deer and elk travel and it is easy for a mountain lion to ambush them. Cliffs and overhangs are great spots for mountain lions to attack their prey. If you can spot a herd of deer or elk this will also play into your favor. Watch the herd and see where they travel and find water. Mountain lions will follow these herds around and pick from them as they need to find food.
The more you put yourself in the mindset of the lion and look for hunting spots as well as prey the better chance you will have of finding a lion.
What Conditions Are Best?
Every type of hunting benefits from certain conditions. Conditions play an important role in mountain lion hunting. You need to be able to track this lion in the most efficient way. The best conditions to do so are right after a snow. Preferably the morning after a light dusting. If you have snow on the ground but it has been there for quite some time then the tracks you find could be harder to read. It is harder for the lion’s paws to make imprints on the snow if it is old and hard. The same can be said about hunting a lion without any snow at all. The earth can be hard and the rocky terrain where the lion lives and hunts will make it very hard to find tracks and follow them.
Before your hunt begins look at the weather forecast to see when you may be getting some snow. Plan your trip around the snow so you can make sure you have the best chance of tracking the lion.
Tracking The Lion
Once you have a fresh blanket of snow and have scouted some land where there may be a mountain lion. Its time to look for tracks. Mountain lion tracks can many times be confused with a dog track. The way to tell the difference is my noticing how the tracks are made. Have you ever watched a dog go from one place to another? A dog typically tries to get where it’s going as fast as possible or with some kind of pace to it. Now a cat, on the other hand, is very agile and moves from one point to another in a very silky way. Wild cats and dogs are no different. You can tell the difference between a mountain lion and a wolf or coyote by examining the pace at which the animal was moving. You can tell an animal was trotting by the impression the track makes on the snow. It will be less defined and snow will be higher on one side due to the momentum of the animal pushing the snow in front of the paw. A lions track will be very defined and moving at a leisurely pace as it winds through the forest.
Once you’ve found some tracks its time to start following them. Have a bullet chambered but remember to leave your safety on! As you begin to track the animal take notice of where the tracks are heading and if there are any signs that giveaway it is certainly a mountain lion. Look for what they call “scrapes”. These scrapes will look exactly how they sound. It is just a place on the ground where a mountain lion has scraped the ground with its paws. They do this to mark their territory and communicate with other lions in the vicinity. While you are following tracks you may come across a few of these scrapes the mountain lion has made. This is a good sign!
You may also want to bring a tape measure with you. This can help you determine the size and possibly the sex of the cat you’re hunting. What you want to do is measure the distance between the tracks. You want to measure the distance between the same paw on each side. So you want to measure from the rear right track to the front right track. Never from the left rear track to the right front track for example. The measurement you’re looking for is around 42″. With this type of stride, you know you’ve found a good size Tomcat.
What happens if you come to a place where there is no snow and you start to lose the tracks? The hunt isn’t over! What you’ll want to do is cross the dry patch of ground and get to where the snow starts again. Then start walking parallel to the patch of ground with no snow. What this will enable you to do is cover all of the ground where the mountain lion could have passed over and will make it much easier to pick up the tracks again.
Look for bedding where the lion may have taken a rest. Often times you’ll jump a lion that was taking a rest so be aware and look forward as you’re following the tracks.
You’ll know you’re getting close to the cat when the tracks start to corkscrew or wind in circles. A cat does this because it knows it’s being tracked. It will try and throw you off course by doing this so be aware of where the tracks are going and if they seem to be taking you to the same landmarks.
The Most Successful Way Of Killing A Lion Without Dogs
One of the best ways to hunt mountain lions without dogs is to find a kill that the mountain lion has made. Every week to week and a half a mountain lion will kill prey in order to feed itself. It will then come back to the animal to feed on it over the next couple of days. The main way you can tell it was a lion kill is the wounds on the animal. The wounds will be on the neck, throat, and head of the animal mainly. Since they ambush their prey they will often attack animals from above and will try and make the kill as easy and quick as possible so they avoid injury.
A dead giveaway of a mountain lion kill will be the way the kill was left. A lion will attempt to bury its kill with sticks, leaves, and dirt. It knows there are other predators in the area that will try and take his food so they bury it to hide it from them. If you can find one of these kills and it looks fresh you will have a great opportunity of finding the lion if you sit and watch the kill from a distance. You very well could find the lion coming back to feed on the kill if it wasn’t finished.
Another way to hunt lions without dogs is by using calls. This can be quite exciting and can be effective as well. The best types of calls for this are a rabbit squall or fawn distress call. Again, what will make this have a higher chance of success is setting yourself up in a place where you’ve found a kill site, a herd of deer, or a great place where a lion can ambush its prey.
The best way to do this is by setting up a caller in some thick brush at the bottom of a canyon. The shooter will be up the mountain from him in a place that he is able to observe a lion approaching the canyon from a ridge.
Once You Find The Lion
Once you have successfully tracked or called a lion and have him in eyesight then it is time to put your marksmanship to work. Cats can be quick so make sure you don’t delay in drawing a bead on him. You’re going to want to aim just behind the shoulder.
With a lot of hard work and determination, it is possible to hunt a mountain lion without dogs. You first need to mentally and physically prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Then plan your hunt around days where there is some snow so it makes it easier to track the mountain lions. Scout the land and make sure it is a good place for mountain lions to hunt. Find a herd of deer that the lion may be picking from. If you can find a fresh kill site then you’re in luck! Sit there and watch the kill site to hopefully catch the lion coming back for seconds. If you come upon some tracks make sure to keep your head up and be aware of your surroundings. If the tracks you found start to corkscrew then you may be getting close and the lion is trying to throw you off of his location.