Bob and I beached at the mouth of a draw, miles upriver from most other hunters. Above, clematis choked the draw and pines dotted the rims high above the river. Beyond them, deer were wintering on mosaics of sagebrush and dry-land wheat. Deer draw cougars.
Cougar hunting without dogs used to be as pointless as canoeing without a paddle. Then lawmakers bowed to environmentalists howling for cougar protection. Hounds were subsequently pulled from the field in Oregon, Washington and California. Ironically, the resulting lion boom prompted Washington to issue two tags per hunter and Idaho to legalize electronic predator calls for cougar hunting.
You still, however, need luck to find a mountain lion. Bob and I were lucky. We cut tracks in fresh snow and followed them up-slope through brush and jumped a cougar from its bed. A mature cat, it streaked up-canyon with a fluid grace that left us gaping. Danny did better. Last winter, he tracked a cougar from dawn until noon, up into rimrocks. Rather than enter the rocks, Danny stationed himself above just as the curious cat padded into view on his track. A .25/06 bullet claimed Danny’s second cougar of the season.
These cats are territorial, so when numbers climb, youngsters must move out of places dominated by mature males. You’ll now find cougars near towns, where you can call or track them. Tracking takes a fresh snow. Start early and carry lunch. Snowshoes help if an animal draws you into higher country or deep powder. Use your binoculars-even in open areas lions can be very hard to see. They move low to the ground and vanish in the sparsest cover.
-Wayne Van Zwoll