Few predators captivate and mystify the public as the mountain lion. It’s easy to see why. Today, mountain lions are found coast to coast with an increasingly confrontational history occurring between felines and humans. It may also have something to do with a cat’s size. A large male may exceed 200 pounds in excess of more than 8 feet in length from head to tail. Size matters, but it is the invisible, stealth-fighter mode that captivates most. Existing almost entirely on a diet of deer, mountain lions are capable of cleanly killing large prey with no advance warning and with relative ease. It’s that simple fact that creates an aura of chills and why these large cats deserve our utmost respect.
Mountain lions took a different evolutionary path than most North American predators. Their shortened face increased the power of their bite, but it also decreased their olfactory abilities. To make up for the scent loss mountain lions have exceptional sight and rely on it as a priority for stalking success.
Adaptable, mountains lions inhabit a variety of environments including deserts, mountains, foothills and rain forests, plus suburbia. They’ve been documented at sea level and at elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. In fact, they are the largest and most widely distributed cat in the Americas. A male may have a home range as small as 25 square miles or as large as 500 square miles. A female’s range is slightly less, but both are solidly set in top deer country.
As a highly evolved and efficient predator mountain lion numbers remain low for one simple reason: they’d eat themselves out of house and home. This dispersion ensures the survival of the species and why you normally don’t see mountain lions traveling in groups except for a female with young. Small densities coupled with a large home range make them a challenge for today’s predator hunter. You also have to consider their sneaky nature. In short, they are a tough predator to corral.
If you’re up to the challenge, calling a mountain lion in to shooting range is certainly a top predator-hunting feat. You’ll need to scout for high-density areas, particularly states with limited or restricted laws regarding the use of hounds. New hotspots like South Dakota’s Black Hills hold merit for callers, as do many urban centers that attract lions due to abnormally high deer populations. Contact biologists and predator control officers in the state of your choice to query them on mountain lion densities before you depart.
Most experts agree that calling a cat in a typical area is difficult, but if you research high-density areas and scout for patterns such as winter areas harboring large populations of big game, then the odds increase for success. Firsthand observations of tracks, scratching’s and droppings increase the likelihood of a lion being in the neighborhood, but the real gold is a fresh deer kill. Lions oftentimes feed on a kill for two to four days and may stay close by while resting between feedings. Tracks can determine if a lion made a kill, but also check for the telltale sign of covering the carcass with forest debris.
As with all predators, chose a downwind location with a high vantage point as a set-up site. Downwind of where you expect a lion to appear is best, but remember the importance of a lion’s sight? They don’t always circle downwind. Like bobcats, lions often take their own time when approaching a call. A 45-minute setup should be the norm with nearly constant calling. To save your lungs think electronic where legal. Fawn and rodent sounds work equally well.
Asking a partner to join you helps with surveillance in case the big cat decides to come from behind. You don’t want to experience the surprise of a 120-pound cat pouncing on your lap. Also like bobcats, lions will peer through brush to verify the prey and if they smell a rat they may give you one last look, but expect them to depart with certainty.
Larger, coyote-taking calibers work best with the .243 Winchester being a top choice. The 6.5 Creedmoor and other 6mm variants also provide lion-stopping power.
Lastly, don’t give up. Calling in a mountain lion won’t be easy, but it will be a memory that will flicker to the very end of your predator-calling career. Stay tuned for future articles and other strategies to tag the big cats of America.