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Best States for Mountain Lion Hunting

Best States for Mountain Lion Hunting

Secretive, stealthy, and extremely wary, the mountain lion is perhaps the most elusive game in the Americas.

Also known as cougar, panther, puma, and many other names, and known among those of scientific mind as Puma concolor, mountain lions are the fourth largest of the cat species. Only tigers, African lions, and jaguars are larger — the leopard is, on average, smaller. Yet the cougar is qualified as part of the subfamily felinae rather than the subfamily pantherinae, as it lacks the ability to roar like other large cats. Vocally, the cougar is a quiet cat-until it screams at you in the night.

Animal rights activists bewail the cougar's fragility as a species and spout dire warnings about impending extinction. They couldn't be more wrong. In reality, cougars are admirably adaptable. With populations stretching from the southern Andes in South America to the Yukon in Canada, it has the widest range of any wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

To effectively hunt mountain lions, hounds are the answer. Cougars aren't baitable, and they can't be glassed up for spot-and-stalk hunting. They're territorial, but they roam such a broad circuit within their territory that sitting over water is futile. Calling occasionally turns up a cat, particularly at night, but in most states electronic calls and night hunting are illegal.

With a good pack of hounds, however, dedicated hunting often results in success. It's the purists' way of hunting cougars, too — few things are more stirring than the distant mournful bay of a good hound working lion scent.

Here's a list of the top states for mountain lions, including interesting notes on B&C trophy entries, season dates, tag fees, and so forth. But before you oil up the old saddle rifle and head out to test your mettle against the West's great cat, here are a few things to remember.

Spotted kittens and females with spotted kittens are protected in almost all states. Also in all states, proof of gender must remain attached to the skin. After harvesting a mountain lion, you'll need to call it in to the state division office ASAP and meet with a wildlife official to get it permanently tagged. A tip: Prop the mouth open before rigor mortis sets in to allow wildlife officers to extract a tooth.

Most hunters hire a guide with dogs, but it's important to note that the tag holder must be present when the dogs are released and present at all times during the chase.

Here's a look at several worthwhile destinations when in search of mountain lion hunting.


Nonresident tag: $75, plus $160 license

Tag type: OTC

Application deadline: N/A


Season dates: All year

Hounds legal: Yes, during legal seasons

B&C entries: 25

The Grand Canyon State has more lions than it knows what to do with. So many, in fact, that in some areas the bag limit is three cats (no more than one lion per day) until the quota is filled. The season runs year around. In certain units spotlights are legal as long as they're not attached to a vehicle.

Distribution occurs across the state, with particularly dense populations in units 39, 40A, 40B, 41, 42, 43A, 43B, 44A, and 44B.

High populations notwithstanding, Arizona isn't known for producing the large-skulled genetics like land cougars in the Boone & Crockett record book. Plus, most of the hunting is done on dry ground, requiring a very savvy pack of cold-nosed dogs and a houndsman that is part lion himself. That said, time spent in the company of a grizzled desert rat and his dogs can be extremely rewarding.

Mountain lion hunting is challenging, but opportunities are more available than you'd think.


Nonresident tag: $186, plus $154.75 license

Tag type: OTC

Application period: N/A

Season dates: Aug. 30-March 31/June 30 (Depending on unit)

Hounds legal: Yes, within specified season dates

B&C entries: 181

Historically, Idaho produced a tremendous number of Boone & Crockett cats. Until recently, it held the top spot on Boone & Crockett's records, but Montana has surged ahead over the past few years.

While it's legal to hunt lions with dogs in Idaho, the state does close certain periods to the use of hounds. For the most part, they coincide with big-game hunts in the area. However, the entire state is opened to hound hunting on December 1.

Certain units have a female quota. Harvest reporting is mandatory, and once the quota is filled the unit is closed to further hunting.

A boon for nonresident hunters on a budget, it should be noted that their deer or elk tag may be used on mountain lion, black bear, or gray wolf. So if you see a big, beautiful cat while stalking something hooved, feel free to change course and hunt it. Plus, electronic calls are legal for use in certain areas.

Nonresidents may purchase up to two reduced-price tags 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 plus shoot a second lion in one of the specified second-cat units.


Nonresident tag: $351, plus $10 habitat stamp

Tag type: OTC

Application period: N/A

Season dates: November 17-March 31, April 1-30

Hounds legal: Yes

B&C entries: 156

While several areas in this state have no gender recommendations, other units strongly suggest taking males only (although shooting a female isn't illegal). Colorado regs state that taking too many females from certain units can have an adverse effect on the health of the local population.

Focus your efforts in mountainous regions, where populations of deer and elk provide easy prey for lions. It's worth noting that Colorado is third in the states for producing Boone & Crockett cougars.

A Colorado permit allows the owner to take one lion between April 1 and March 31 of the following year. Yet the legal season runs until April 30, and unsuccessful hunters desiring to continue hunting after March 31 must buy another permit for the next calendar year.

In addition to a hunter education card and habitat stamp, you'll need to complete Colorado's online mountain lion course and test.


Nonresident tag: $320, plus $10 conservation stamp

Tag type: Special draw, plus OTC

Application period: Mid-August

Season dates: September 5-October 18 archery Only) Hounds legal: Yes, limited

B&C entries: 185

Perusing Boone & Crockett's recent record book shows that Montana stands supreme in sheer numbers of book cats. While cougars wander the better part of the state, hunting against the Canadian border is likely your best bet for a high-scoring lion. When hunting this border country, it behooves hunters to be proficient with snowshoes.

Several of the better areas provide tags via lottery, while OTC tags are available for the rest of the units in the state.

Hound hunting is allowed from December 1 through April 14, but not during the archery-only season or "fall season without dogs." However, hunters with the appropriate tags may take a cat encountered during the earlier seasons.

Most areas have harvest quotas. When a quota has been met, the area is closed with a 24-hour notice.

A mountain lion hunting purist prefers using hounds, but using them isn't legal in every state.

New Mexico

Nonresident tag: $290, plus $65 license

Tag type: OTC

Application period: N/A

Season dates: April 1-March 31

Hounds legal: Yes

B&C entries: 71

Your New Mexico cougar tag allows you to harvest two cats. Plus, the state has a respectable reputation for producing B&C-grade lions.

Electronic calls are legal, so bring along your FoxPro. But be warned: Listening to cougar mating calls will give you nightmares.

While the season runs year around (certain areas close when quotas are met), your tag will expire March 31. So if you purchase a tag before then-say, in February-you'll need to pony up for another tag on April 1.

For the best trophy potential, look to the northwest part of the state, particularly Rio Arriba County, much of which is part of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. Hunters must hire a Native American guide to hunt the Reservation.


Nonresident tag: $258, plus $65 hunting license

Tag type: Special draw or OTC

Application deadline: Early October

Season dates: November 12-May 31

Hounds legal: Yes

B&C entries: 125

The Beehive State offers limited draw tags and OTC tags. The first provide a low-pressure opportunity that begins earlier in the year; the second enable hunters unlucky in the draw to purchase a tag and still hunt until harvest objectives are met.

Once a certain amount of cats has been taken in a harvest objective unit, it is closed, but the OTC tag is good for all remaining open units. During these harvest objective seasons, hunters must call in early morning before hunting to ensure that the unit they plan to hunt is still open.

While the legal season opens in mid November, the quality of hunting really heats up when the first snowfall dusts the Rockies with white.


Nonresident tag: $362, plus $12.50 conservation stamp

Tag type: OTC

Application period: N/A

Season dates: September 1-August 31 (Depending on Area)

Hounds legal: Yes

B&C entries: 46

Once you've purchased a full-price cougar tag in Wyoming, you may add a second, reduced-price tag for $92. However, the second tag is good only in hunt areas 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 19, 24, 25, 27, and 31. Even though the second tag is for limited units, it is cool you can get two tags at all. This puts Wyoming as one of the few states where taking multiple lions in a single season is possible.

Border country shared with Colorado produces some of the state's bigger cats, as do areas in the far northwest part of the state, adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Interestingly, although a lot of cougars are hunted and harvested in the Cowboy State, Wyoming sits low on the B&C totem pole. But don't discount it entirely-it did produce the fourth largest cat recorded by Boone & Crockett of all time.

A Wyoming cougar tag is good for either sex. However, females with kittens at their sides are illegal to take. While some areas are open year around, most seasons run September 1 through March. Hunting with hounds is legal, but only during "open hours", which the state defines as from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.

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