The dichotomy of extreme physical exertion while hiking behind hounds make hunting mountain lions so exciting for houndsmen yet so confusing for hunters who don’t hunt with dogs. It also brings out the skeptics who challenge the skills of hound hunting sportsmen.
Hunting mountain lions is the wildest and most unique experience hunters will ever have but it’s also the most misunderstood. There’s almost no way any lion hunter can avoid pushing through deep snow, steep hills and blown down trees. The sound of hard working hounds echoing off rocky cliffs and ice is almost necessary to be consistently successful. On the flip side people who only focus on the big dead cat in the photo might scoff at the use of dogs as if the hunter somehow appeared at the tree having done nothing to “earn” the animal.
About a year and a half ago I bought two – 10 week old hound pups from another hunter with the idea that if I was going to hunt and shoot a lion it would be with my own hounds. Since that time I have trained the two pups, Action and Flora, to track and trail by using scent drags and hiking them along lion tracks.
Since they were four months old they have been following the tracks of older hounds to lion trees and released along side veteran hounds to learn how to hunt. Good hounds aren’t just found, they’re made. I’ve had to watch closely for bad habits and find ways to correct them without impacting their enthusiasm for the hunt. Training hounds isn’t easy and hounds come with big responsibility. Action and Flora don’t just live with me during hunting season, they need food and water no matter the time of year.
So there I was standing in the middle of a forest service road staring at a big mountain lion track in fresh snow. A good friend of mine had found it three hours before sunrise from his snowmobile. Getting up at 2 am and driving up roads in the bitter cold isn’t appealing for most hunters. Doing this dozens of times in a row is even less appealing.
I held Flora’s leash and whispered “Do good today girl” and pressed the clip that prevented her from turning the lion track into a lion tree. Minutes later three more hounds were released including Action, Yota and Huckleberry. Soon the sound of working hounds filled the air. Tracks in the snow showed that the hounds were working the track well and that this old lion was working hard to give them the slip.
Finally, the tell tale sound of hounds barking along a track changed to that of hounds who just caught a glimpse of the lion and soon the baying that announces to the world that the quarry has run up a tree reached our ears. This lion marked the 16th lion tree of the season for the old hounds in the group and the 7th of the season for Action and Flora. After pushing through knee deep snow we found all the hounds glued to the based of a big blown down fir tree barking triumphantly at the big tom lion. I felt like a proud parent watching his kids win a state championship.
Mountain lion hunting is about the dogs at the tree. It’s about scent drags during summer months. It’s about cold nights and long days. It’s about listening to the hounds work a track or running through the woods trying to find a pup that decided chasing squirrels was more fun that day and putting them back on the right track and making them work until they finally get it.
Staring up at a lion in a tree isn’t about the lion. It’s about all the days leading up to that moment. It’s about all the things you just can’t capture in a photo of a dead cat. Maybe that’s the reason why hound hunting is so confusing for those who don’t hunt with hounds. Then again, maybe that’s the reason that hound hunting is so special in the eyes of those who do.