Cougar Hunt: March 2018
On the opening day of the over-the-counter Cougar season in southwestern Utah, two clients (one being my Father) and I all tagged out on the elusive Mountain Lion for the very first time. In just one day! Two days later, another client tagged out on his very first day of hunting. Another two days later, our client tagged out on his first day! Five Cougars in four days of hunting!
The state of Utah has ever increasing populations of Cougar, with a current sustained growth of 3% annually. Yes, even with around 400 Cougar taken each year in the state, the population is still rising. The state has designed a quota system to limit the total number of Lions taken in specific areas, and those quotas are based on the total estimated number of adult Cougar, factoring in both age and sex. This system ensures that hunting does not have a detrimental effect to the Cougar populations, yet keeps them in balance with prey species like our ever-so valued Deer and Elk. Balance is necessary with both predator and prey. You can’t hunt one without the other also being hunted.
I am very grateful and appreciative to have yielded the third of three Mountain Lion on the very first day of our hosted hunt in Utah last week. Even more special to have used my grandfather’s 1952 lever-action Marlin .30-30. The Cougar is a very special animal to say the least. The apex predator of the North American continent, the Mountain Lion is one of those animals that made you awe as a youngster when you saw a photo or video of one. At least for me, I never would have dreamt to see one alive (outside of a zoo), much less hold one in my own arms. A mythical creature if you will. A lot of inconsiderate people (including those that claim themselves as hunters) case that a Cougar hunt with Hounds is not really a hunt, and an unfair pursuit. Well, that’s where I strongly oppose and I would invite anyone who feels that way to experience the hunt for themselves, if not with a friend. It’s not until you witness the challenge with your own eyes that you understand the only way to successfully hunt Mountain Lion is with the assistance of Hounds. Whether it be the Bluetick Coonhound, Redtick Coonhound, Plott Hound or a mix, these breeds specialize in following a smell or scent to hunt. These breeds were created exactly for that purpose, and every feature about them attributes to their ability to track. But all of that is on the surface and you can read it in books. What you discover behind Hounds after actually experiencing the HUNT, is their devotion and determination.
Our outfitter’s pack of Hounds tracked their tom for just over 21 miles across rough, crusty snow and dramatic rocky canyons before successfully treeing him in a pinyon pine. I carefully used the words “their tom” as is rightfully so. Yes, the hike can be strenuous and you do sometimes have to work hard to get to the spot the Hounds treed or bayed the Cougar, but in the end, it was the Hounds that “instinctively” put their work before their lives. I do not think it’s inaccurate to say that the actual action of shooting the Lion is a bit anticlimactic. It should feel that way if you really care. The most climatic part of the entire hunt is when you’ve finally hiked close enough to begin hearing the Hounds barking and howling in the distance. The anticipation of seeing one of the most elusive predators in the western hemisphere builds and builds as the howling in the distance gets louder and louder. That’s the crest of the experience. After it’s all said and done, you (or at least I) wish there was a better way to thank each and every Hound for their work besides scratching their heads. Then, you quickly realize that nobody feels a stronger level of appreciation for the Hounds than the Houndsmen themselves. The Hounds are their tools, but they love them all deep-down. From the shots, stitches, dog food, kennel maintenance, mileage, etc., the Houndsmen deserve nearly as much credit for their unmatched level of hard work and dedication. In conclusion, the pursuit of Cougar is a HUNT, and an incredible one at that.