How Many Hunting Dogs do You Need to Hunt Mountain Lions?


Hunting a mountain lion is a large task.  These animals are rarely seen and inhabit the hardest, roughest and most remote country.  While taking a mountain lion without a dog can be done; consistently and repeatability harvesting lions without a dog is basically unheard of.  If you want to consistently get on lions, you will want to be using dogs to find them.  But how many hunting dogs do you need to hunt mountain lions?     

If you have a good experienced dog, you only need one dog.  I single dog is capable of tracking and treeing a mountain lion.  It’s more popular to hunt mountain lions with a pack of hounds.  The advantage of running more than one dog is there are more noses to stay on a tricky track, hunters can rotate dogs to keep them fresh for longer hunts, and if a cat decides to turn on the dogs, having multiple dogs in the fight decreases the chance of it becoming fatal for the dog.

Mountain lions go by many names we will be referencing them as cats, cougars, and lions. Dedicated mountain lion hunters are a rarity and tend to be a tight-lipped crew.  If you are interested in DIY mountain lion hunting you’re likely in for a hard road.  Let’s talk through the basics of how mountain lions are typically hunted and this will bring to light how the dogs are used and the advantage of multiple dogs while running mountain lions.

Typically, mountain lion hunts start by trying to locate tracks.  This can be done by driving mountain roads watching for tracks.  Frequently, hunters go out after a fresh snow to make it easier to find fresh tracks.  Once a track is located and it may take days or weeks to locate one, the dog or dogs are released to track the cat.  Dogs usually have GPS or radio tracking collars that allow the handler to keep track of the dogs as they trail the cat for miles.  Sometimes the cat will be able to give the dogs the slip but occasionally the dogs will be able to tree the cat.  Then it is up to the hunter to locate the dogs and treed mountain lion.  Usually, then the dogs are secured, and the lion is harvested. 

On a day where everything goes right.  Fresh snow in the morning and you cut a fresh lion track early.  You set your dog loose and the pup puts the lion after a decently short track.  On a day like this, you might be wondering why you would need more than one dog.

Let’s say things don’t go your way.  Conditions aren’t great, deep snow, that is not fresh, you are cutting old tracks that turn out to be unproductive after the dogs run them.  A few days of this and both you and the dogs are dead tired.  Finally, you cut fresh tracks it is nice to turn to your kennels and know you have a fresh dog.  You put your dogs down and you find out you have a weary cat on your hands.  Dogs get thrown off the track multiple times but one in the pack manages to pick it up each time.  Finally, you have a cat treed.  In this situation, with one dog you would likely not have got the mountain lion.

So, if you have one great dog in excellent condition you could successfully track and tree a mountain lion.  But, if your pup gets the slips on a few tracks you could have to limit your hunting because you have a worn-out dog.  With multiple dogs, you the pack might be able to keep the trail easier and you have the option to rotate dogs if you need to to keep hunting longer.

Where Can You Hunt Mountain Lions?

Mountain lions can be found from South America all the way up to the Yukon.  Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Colorado are popular states to hunt.

Nevada, Texas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Washington, Nebraska, and Oregon also have seasons. If you’re looking to hunt in Canada, Alberta and British Columbia have seasons as well. 

If you are planning to hunt with dogs, do your research as some states (like Oregon and Nebraska) don’t allow hunting mountain lions with dogs. 

When Can you Hunt Mountain Lions?

Each state sets its own season times and lengths.  In 2019-2020, for example, these are the season dates for the most popular states:

Arizona – Season opens in August.  The state is broken up into zones.  Each zone has a quota of mountain lions that can be harvested.  Once the quota is met the season closes.  Bag Limit: one mountain lion per hunter per year.

Colorado – Season opens November 18th.   The state is broken up into zones.  Each zone has a quota of mountain lions that can be harvested.  Once the quota is met the season closes.  If the quota is not met the season closes March 31st.  Colorado has a mandatory mountain lion hunting certificate.  If you are planning to hunt Colorado expect to have to complete the exam.

Idaho –  Season opens August 30th.  Hunting with dogs is closed October 1st – November 30th.  The season closes March 31st. The state has quotas in some zones for females and other zones for both males and females.  It is possible to get more than one tag per hunter in Idaho.  A hunter can harvest one mountain lion per tag in their possession. 

New Mexico – Season runs from April 1st to March 31st. Two cougars can be harvested per hunting season.  Cougar zones have quotas and will close when the quota has been met.

Montana – Season starts in September 7 for Archery without dogs.  October 26th the firearm season starts, still without dogs.  December 1st the season opens to hunt with dogs and it runs through April 14th. Montana is broke up into zones, each zone has a quota.  Once the quota is met the season closes on that zone.  Also, note some zones are male-only. 

Utah – Season opens November 6 and runs to May 31st.  Utah has limited entry hunts, where you apply for a permit in a drawing. If you draw the tag you have the full season to harvest a cougar, the season is not subject to a quota.  Utah also has harvest objective permits.  These permits allow you to harvest a cougar as long as the zone quota has not been met.  Once the quote has been met for the zone the season closes.  Lastly, Utah has a pursuit only permit, that allows hunters to pursue cougars but not harvest them.

Wyoming – The season starts September 1st.  The state is broken up into regions that each have quotas.  Once the quota has been met the season closes for that region.  Only one mountain lion can be taken per hunter per calendar year.

Most states actively manage their wildlife.  It is common for states to change season dates and durations year over year.  Your best bet is to phone ahead or check regulations online before you’re planning a trip. 

Best Dogs for Hunting Mountain Lions

Dogs have been hunting beside humans since before they were home companions. With their courage, intelligence and endurance they are able to perform fantastic feats – including hunting mountain lions.

There are many things to consider when finding the appropriate dog for hunting, so consider these aspects before making your decision.

Common Traits of Mountain Lion Hunting dogs 

All hunting dogs will have the following traits:

Intelligence:

You’ll need a dog that can take directions, and will be able to understand signals of when to approach and back off. A well trained dog is less likely to get hurt, and more likely to hunt successfully. 

Prey Drive:

High prey drive is needed to keep the dog focused and motivated to hunt over hard terrain and challenging tracks.

Endurance:

Hounds will track for miles through the mountains and have to be capable of running great distances in hard terrain day after day.  Its not uncommon to be running mountain lions in deep snow which is additionally taking on the dog’s endurance.

Socialization:

It’s typical to hunt mountain lions with multiple dogs.  The dogs must be able to hunt with each other.  Dogs getting distracted or in fights with each other will get you nowhere in mountain lion hunting.

Hounds are the Best Breed for Hunting Mountain Lions

Hounds, although cuddly in a home environment, are fierce when they hunt in packs. Their keen sense of smell and tracking ability will “tree” large prey – which is exactly where you want a cougar to be. 

Scent hounds, sighthounds and lurchers are all great options. Keep a scent hound and a sighthound specifically for cougar hunting.

Curs are Another Great Option

As Curs are used primarily for hunting large game like mountain lions and bears, keep one on hand as a member of the pack. They also drive animals into a tree and wait for you to arrive. Curs are rarely used as companion pets, so their prey drive is especially strong. 

Top 5 Breeds for Hunting Mountain Lions

Any of the following dog breeds are great options for hunting mountain lions. These dogs worry the cougar and will force them into tall trees for safety. All these dogs are both large enough and capable enough to track cougars for long distances and can handle a small and brief attack.

  1. Plott
  2. Mountain Curr
  3. Blue Tick Coonhounds
  4. Leopard Curs
  5. Redbone Hounds

Employing an Outfitter is a Great Way to Learn about Mountain Lion Hunting.

Get an outfitter, even if the state doesn’t mandate the use of one. Get a guide and an expert houndsman for this type of hunt. If you’re a new hunter, this can be a great way to jumpstart your knowledge and experience. 

Typically you book 5-day hunts which will cost anywhere from $4,000-$11,000.  This does not guarantee you will harvest a cat.  When choosing an outfitter, you’ll see numbers like 1-1 or 1-2 which indicates the number of hunters to a guide. Taking a friend with you will cut costs.

Can You Eat Mountain Lion?

Definitely!  Ryan Callaghan from the MeatEater crew suggests a Cat-fil-a.  A recipe for a breaded fried mountain lion sandwich which ends up being very similar to a chicken sandwich, an ode to the popular chick-fil-a sandwich.  Similar to eating pork or bear there is a risk of trichinosis if the mountain lion meat is undercooked.  This is NOT a meat to eat rare!

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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