We recently went on a big hunting adventure in the remote wilderness of Montana. It was incredible, especially because we were hunting for something not everyone gets the chance to see in their lifetime: mountain lions, or cougars as they are also called.
These huge felines are a sight to behold, and a formidable foe even for experienced hunters. Here’s what we took away from our exhilarating hunting experience and learned about hunting mountain lions with dogs.
Is Mountain Lion Hunting Still a Thing?
If you haven’t heard much about mountain lion hunting, you’re not alone. A lot of people don’t realize it’s a legitimate form of hunting, which makes sense considering it’s heavily regulated and even outlawed in some areas.
While mountain lions have been hunted for centuries, the rise of conservation efforts and regulations have made hunting them less common.
Even so, plenty of outdoorsmen and women still try their hand at tagging one of these big cats with their trusted canine companions by their side.
As with any form of hunting, it’s important to check with the DNR to ensure you’re across all the restrictions and regulations in your state or intended hunting destination.
We made sure we were good to go in Montana, which has a full winter season from December to April, plus earlier periods where you can hunt without dogs.
Where to Hunt Mountain Lions
In addition to Montana, you can also hunt mountain lions with dogs in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
If you’re headed over the border, keep in mind there’s mountain lion hunting in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, as well as in Mexico and Argentina.
One thing we were careful to check was the restrictions in state and national parks. While Colorado and California have the most mountain lions, there are significant restrictions in the Rocky Mountain region.
In 1990, the California Wildlife Protection Act made it unlawful to hunt mountain lions, unless a specific permit is approved for a specific lion that harmed pets or livestock.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) require a certificate of completion for the Mountain Lion Education and Identification Course for anyone wishing to hunt mountain lions.
For the most open and free mountain lion hunting, you may want to head down south to Texas. The Lone Star State also has a considerable mountain lion population, but unlike other states, these animals are not protected but rather labeled nuisance wildlife.
This means you can use dogs to hunt them at any time, so long as you have a hunting/trapping permit. Hunters can hunt as many mountain lions as they can get without restrictions on the animal’s age or sex.
Does Mountain Lion Hunting Affect Deer and Other Prey?
Mountain lions prey on deer throughout their brushland, forest, and mountainous habitats.
Other common mountain lion prey includes bighorn sheep, elk, raccoons, and rodents. Mountain lions are opportunists and will usually hunt alone from dusk to dawn, looking for smaller animals to sink their teeth into.
As apex predators, mountain lions are tough to take down, other than the occasional bear attack or territory fights with other lions.
With this in mind, the more mountain lions that are hunted, the more deer there may be in a certain area.
It really depends on where you’re hunting and how active mountain lions are in that region. Their feeding activities may indicate their presence, such as partially eaten kill that’s covered with dirt and brush.
When searching for mountain lions, we also looked out for 3-5 inch wide tracks with no claw marks, plus marks on the trees and logs.
These felines move fast and can cover a lot of ground, so looking for signs of lions while relying on the dog’s incredible nose is your best bet.
Do Mountain Lion Hunters Eat Their Kill
Typically, a lot of mountain lion hunters pass on eating their kill. From the 1600s-1800s, it was much more common to eat all hunted animals as a source of food, but the modern era has made mountain lion meals quite rare.
That doesn’t mean it’s not good to eat mountain lions. In fact, this meat can be delicious when done right. It has a mild flavor, almost bland compared to other game meat, with a meaty texture much like lean pork loin. Mountain lion can be seasoned and barbecued for burgers, steaks, or sandwiches.
We gave it a try after finally scoring our first lion, and it was so worth the wait. We marinated the mountain lion steaks for a few hours before grilling, and it tasted so much like pork — absolutely delicious and even better knowing we got the lion ourselves.
Best Dogs for Hunting Mountain Lions
Dogs are a trusted hunting buddy for a lot of game, but mountain lions especially. These large felines are hard to track down without a powerful canine nose, and the bigger the dog, the better.
Just due to the sheer size of mountain lions, it’s best to use a larger breed for tracking and treeing. Here are the best choices for mountain lion hunting dogs:
This family-friendly breed with the speckled black and blue coloring truly impresses in the hunting field, whether it’s something small like raccoons or a much bigger target like mountain lions.
What they lack in speed compared to other Coonhounds they make up for with a phenomenal cold nose that tracks mountain lions for hours and even days after they left the area.
Bluetick Coonhounds also have fantastic eyesight for hunting any time of day, and once they track a mountain lion to its hiding spot in a tree, their persistence pays off.
As the Coonhound with the most balanced temperament, Redbones are solid and stable for mountain lion hunting. They are usually laidback and easygoing as long as they get ample exercise and have the chance to fulfill their natural hunting instincts.
They are hardworking dogs who will follow the lion’s trail for miles until they finally corner it. One of the telltale signs of a Redbone is the excited bark after the mountain lion mission is complete.
Even with all the hunting activity and exercise from chasing mountain lions and other prey, Redbones can put on weight if not fed a proper diet.
Their mental maturation is also delayed, so it’s best to train hard and then get the dog involved in the mountain lion chase once it’s a bit older.
Treeing Walker Coonhound
Treeing Walkers have fast speed and strong endurance, which helps them pursue mountain lions until they are treed and you can get in position for the final shot.
While other Coonhounds struggle to climb, Treeing Walkers can make their way up small trees, pushing prey even further up the tree.
For big game like mountain lions, it’s especially hard to escape from a determined and tireless Treeing Walker.
While their climbing ability is great while out hunting, just keep in mind these Coonhounds need tall walls and fencing to prevent them from escaping at home.
Oftentimes a fearless mountain lion meets its match with Plott Coonhounds. As one of the most aggressive hunting dog breeds, Plotts are good for big game like mountain lions and bears.
Related to boar-hunting dogs from Germany rather than the traditional English foxhounds, Plotts have distinctive baying with a high pitch that speeds up the treeing process.
These relentless watchdogs are great when hot on the heels of a mountain lion, but you have to watch out for their homing instincts and boredom. Most Plotts aren’t interested in lions that go far off their old trails.
Black and Tan Coonhound
The Black and Tan Coonhound never abandons a hunt, thanks to determined cold noses that track mountain lions from significant distances.
These mellow hunting dogs are great, except they do have a mind of their own and need to be trained closely to ensure they don’t wander off during a hunt.
Even though these independent dogs may misbehave from time to time, their persistent attitude on the hunt makes them a popular choice for mountain lion hunting.
The mixed hound breed has terrier ancestors, and they were bred as herding, hunting, and guard dogs. Mountain Curs began with rabbits and other small prey, but are great for mountain lions thanks to their tree-climbing abilities.
When coupled with the normal hound agility and strength, it makes sense how Mountain Curs can gain the upper hand.
Just remember to check their droopy ears for wax buildup and skin infections that could cause deafness if left unnoticed.
Final Thoughts on Mountain Lion Hunting With Dogs
Dogs are a great resource when hunting mountain lions, due to the game’s size and agility. Hunting hounds track and tree mountain lions with their cold noses, setting you up for the perfect shot.
Without hunting dogs by your side, you have to rely on tracks and signs of mountain lion activity to find the big cats and take aim.
Whatever you plan to do, just remember to check the state regulations for mountain lion hunting to make sure you’re in season and following the law.
We timed our Montana trip to match with the full winter season, so we could take our dogs out on the trail with us, and they did exactly what they are trained to do, even though it was a new and exciting hunting adventure.
We’re glad to say we’ve seen firsthand how coonhounds can make a huge difference to your mountain lion hunting efforts.