Mountain lion hunting is not at the top of many hunters’ hunt lists, but I think it should be. Many hunters are misinformed about how mountain lion hunts are conducted. There is a lot more to it than just walking up to a tree and shooting a cat. A hunt for these majestic animals is one of the most physical and mental hunts the lower 48 offers. I have hunted and guided dozens of lion hunts and can honestly say that every one is a different experience. You never know if a cat will tree within minutes or hours or if it will even tree at all. Be prepared for an exciting hunt that can have many ups and downs.
Mountain lions can be legally hunted in 13 states: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Lion hunts in these states are open to residents and non-residents, except for South Dakota which only allows residents to hunt cats. Oregon and Washington do not allow hunters to pursue lions with hounds, but all of the other states allow it. Each year, there are hunters who are lucky enough to harvest mature cats without hounds.
Most of the time, this happens by hunters being in the right place at the right time. To effectively hunt mountain lions, hounds are the answer. Most hunters will hire a guide with dogs to harvest a mature tom. Weather also plays a big factor in having a successful hunt. Snowy conditions make it easy to find tracks that can easily be followed by a good pack of dogs. If you are serious about adding a mountain lion to your list, look at the states that allow the use of hounds.
In all of the states that allow mountain lion hunting, you have to call a local biologist or wildlife official to check in your cat and have it permanently tagged after harvest. Evidence of sex must remain attached to the hide when you present it to an official. Remember to check each individual state’s regulations and season dates before planning a hunt.
In this article, you will find information on some of the better areas to hunt mountain lions in the lower 48. Canada offers spectacular cat hunting opportunities, but you will pay a premium price for the experience.
The Grand Canyon State has more lions than it knows what to do with. Arizona Game and Fish estimates there are 2,500-2,700 cats scattered throughout the state, with particularly dense populations in units 39, 40A, 40B, 41, 42, 43A, 43B, 44A, and 44B. Arizona has an unlimited number of tags with a bag limit of one cat per hunter per year, with exceptions in some areas where hunters may harvest up to three cats, but only one per day, until the quota is filled. Any lion may be harvested except for spotted kittens or females with spotted kittens.
Arizona isn’t known for producing a high number of Boone & Crockett sized cats with only five book cats being harvested in the past 10 years. Unlike many other states, most of the hunting is done on dry ground, requiring a very good pack of coldnosed dogs. Driving roads while looking for tracks is difficult, so relying on your hounds to strike on a scent trail is key. Hunting the desert for cats can be difficult, but it is a stand-alone experience.
Colorado continually produces a high number of big cats. A healthy population of lions has allowed for great hunting over the years. Rio Blanco County has recently and historically produced the most Boone & Crockett cats in the state. As the snow gets deeper in the high country, the cats will follow deer and elk to their wintering grounds. This makes it a little easier for hunters to target a mature tom.
Before purchasing a permit, hunters must complete Colorado’s certified mountain lion course and test. Hunters with a permit may harvest one lion from November 21, 2016 to March 31, 2017 and one lion (with purchase of a new license) from April 1 to April 30, 2017 or November 20, 2017 to March 31, 2018. Colorado is one of the few states that allows hunters to harvest more than one cat.
Hunters may harvest a male or female lion without kittens. In some areas in the state, it is strongly recommend that hunters only harvest males to ensure that females aren’t overharvested and that the quality of the hunt remains high. All units have a harvest quota, so be sure to check that the season is still open. All harvests must be reported to an official within 48 hours. Hounds may be used to pursue cats, but no more than eight dogs can be turned out at one time.
Historically, Idaho has produced the highest number of Boone & Crockett cats, but it was recently passed up by Montana which now holds the top spot for the highest number of B&C cats harvested. Idaho lion populations are doing well, and hunters can expect to find good cats scattered throughout the state. However, the best area for large cats is the Panhandle. This area shares borders with Montana and Canada, so the genetics are very good. Being heavily timbered and mountainous, it can be a pretty physical hunt.
Hound hunting is allowed from December 1st to March 31st, but it is not allowed during the archery only season or the fall season. Hunters who have a permit are allowed to hunt cats without hounds during the seasons when hounds are not allowed. Hunters are also allowed to harvest a mountain lion with their deer or elk permit if they do not have a mountain lion tag.
Non-residents may purchase up to two reduced price tags that are good for certain units for $41.75 or one full price tag and one reduced price tag, giving them the option to hunt anywhere in the state and to shoot a second lion in one of the specified second cat units. Certain units have a female quota, so be sure you know how to tell a male and female apart. Harvest reporting is mandatory, and once the quota is filled, the unit is closed.
Montana has always been close to the top for the number of record book cats harvested, and in recent years, it has made it to the top with the most Boone & Crockett cats ever harvested. In the past 10 years, there have been 53 cats harvested that have been entered into Boone & Crockett. Overall, numbers in Montana are doing very well, and it shows. Cats can be found throughout the state, but if you are willing to wait to draw a tag for a big tom, you will want to hunt the northwest in regions 1 and 2. Genetics from Canada have filtered down into this portion of Montana, allowing for some big cats.
Tags for several of the better units are conducted through a draw system, and some of these areas will take five or more years to draw. In region two, located on the western part of the state, most units are a draw, but they open up to over-the-counter permits after February 1st if the quotas in those units haven’t been met. In the central and eastern parts of the state, tags can be purchased over-the-counter.
If you don’t want to use hounds to pursue a cat, then a general tag may be purchased and used during the general season, which closes the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Most areas have harvest quotas. When a quota has been met, the area is closed with a 24-hour notice.
Hound hunting is allowed from December 1st to April 14th, but it is not allowed during the archery only season or the general season. If you want to look over multiple cats and have the opportunity at a possible “Booner,” then hiring a guide with a good pack of hounds that knows the area will be your best option.
New Mexico allows hunters with a cougar tag to harvest two cats. Though the hunting can be good throughout the state, the best place to look for a big cat is in Rio Arriba County along the Colorado border.
An identification test is required in order to purchase a cat permit in New Mexico. The season runs year-round with some areas having a harvest quota. Your tag will expire on March 31st, but you are allowed to purchase another one after that if you want to continue hunting. Hunters are allowed to use hounds to hunt mountain lions. Once you harvest, you must report it and check it in with a wildlife official.
Much like Montana, Utah offers limited draw tags and overthe- counter tags. Limited draw permits offer a lower pressure opportunity that begins earlier in the year and allows hunters to find a big cat. The over-the-counter hunts allow those who did not draw a limited-entry permit to purchase a tag and hunt specific units until harvest objectives are met. Every year, big cats are harvested on the overthe- counter hunts.
Hunters can find good lion populations throughout the state. Utah County, which is located in the center of the state just south of Salt Lake City, has produced the most book cats in the past 10 years, but big cats can be found anywhere in the state. Once a certain number of cats have been harvested in a harvest-objective unit, it is closed. However, the overthe- counter tag is good for any remaining open units. Be sure to regularly check to make sure quotas have not been met.
Dogs may be used to hunt mountain lions in Utah, so waiting for a fresh snow and locating a big track to turn the hounds out on can help you be more successful. Permits are valid for male lions or female lions without kittens. Any lion that is harvested must be checked by a Fish and Game official within 48 hours of harvest.
Wyoming isn’t known for a high number of record book cats, but it is a great state for an over-the-counter cat hunt. Hunters may purchase one full priced mountain lion permit and one reduced price permit for $92. Reduced price permits are only good in hunt areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 19, 24, 25, 27, and 31. Wyoming is one of the few states that allows hunters to harvest more than one lion per year. All units are on a mortality quota, which is separate for residents and nonresidents, so be sure to check daily to ensure the unit is still open.
Some of the bigger cats in the Cowboy State can be found in the northwest portion along the Yellowstone border and in southern Wyoming along the Colorado border. Carbon County, which sits along the Colorado border, has produced more record book cats than any other county in the state in the past 10 years. The southern part of the state provides a less physical hunt than the mountainous country in the northwest.
Mountain lion permits are good for either sex unless the female has kittens and then it is illegal to harvest. Some hunt areas are open year-round, but most seasons run September through March. Hunters may use hounds to pursue cats but only during legal hunting hours. All harvests must be reported to Wyoming Fish and Game.