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Chasing prey with hounds, driving it up a tree, and shooting it is a different type of hunting adventure. From 1st December to 14th April, you stand a chance to round up one of North America’s most elusive big-cat, tracking them through the snow. But can you hunt mountain lions in Montana?
Montana has large enough mountain lion populations, also called cougars, to sustain seasonal hunting. You can get an over-the-counter tag as this is one of the top trophy lion states, and it’s easy to get a license for nonresidents. However, season lengths depend on whether harvest quotas, often based on sex, have been met.
Hunting mountain lions is challenging, as the big cats are smart and distrust human activity. They can move fast, especially when you’re pursuing them, and that’s why hunting is done with the help of dogs. If you’re planning to hunt cougars in Montana, keep reading to learn the best methods and what to expect during your expedition.
How Do You Hunt Mountain Lions in Montana?
In Montana, you can hunt mountain lions or cougars, sometimes called pumas, with a rifle, bow, handgun, or muzzleloader. According to the Boone and Crockett record book, this state has more premier lion hunting opportunities than any other. It’s an excellent cat hunting country, while experienced hound men and their dogs stand by for nonresidents.
When you or your guide spots tracks on the ground, the dogs are let loose. Sometimes, the track is merely the swash of the lion’s thick tail on the powdery snow. Other times the more experienced hunter will spot a set of perfect paw tracks. All the while, you’ll keep your eye out for touches if a cat’s Felis concolor or tawny coat.
In Montana, mountain lion hunting is the only big game hunt to allow dogs. Once the hounds are set loose, you can track their location using radio signals from devices on their collar. Others use mercury switches triggered when a dog’s head is raised when a cat goes up a tree. That can take hours, and the hunt is called off by early afternoon; if not, the cat’s been tried yet.
Therefore, your success at bagging a cat depends on how early you hit the trail, the skill of your dogs, hound men, and the quality of the area you’ll have rights to hunt in. Mountain lion hunting, which takes place in the winter months, means you can add various activities to your hunt’s front or back end. In Montana, you can enjoy cross country or downhill skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, snowshoeing, and fishing.
Can You Get a Permit or License to Hunt Mountain Lions in Montana?
Most mountain lion hunting in Montana is done with the help of tracking dogs. The big cougars are stealthy and don’t leave widely discernible tracks, but hounds track by scent. Once a cat is treed or cornered at the edge of a mountain cliff, it’s your turn to take the shot. That’s why it’s challenging to hunt lions in this state without specially trained hounds and their expert hound men.
Montana uses a draw permit system for specified regions that are prolific with mountain lions or cougars. In the Swan Valley and west of Kalispell, hunts occur on the state’s US Forest Service, leased private timberland, and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation or DNRC areas. A special permit is required to hunt in these Hunting Districts and general over-the-counter winter licenses.
Some districts are still harvesting below quota, offering out-of-state residents a chance at a mountain lion besides waiting years to draw a special permit. When a hunting district hasn’t hit its quotas yet, it takes a limited number of hunters on licenses and guided hunt regulations. That’s especially essential, seeing as cat terrain is challenging, covered in thick, wild forests, and susceptible to harsh elements.
You must be physically fit to get to a treed mountain lion before it can escape. Montana weather plays a monumental role in cat hunting, seeing as guides look for tracks in the snow. Professional, seasoned, and safety-conscious guides will assist you to spot your cat, cover more ground and increase chances of a kill shot.
Does Montana Use Permit Draw or General Licenses for Mountain Lion Hunting?
A few years ago, Montana’s mountain lion hunts were a niche sport that involved a few hardy residents. After that, a tag system allowed any out-of-state hunter to buy a big-cat tag, which saw everyone clamoring for a kill. Hunting seasons based on the quota for cougar kills in each district across the state soon became unmanageable. Sometimes, a quota is filled within 24 hours, and wildlife managers will close the season.
The only problem was with the quota filled and season over; many widespread hunters in remote terrain never got the message on time. In the extreme northwest of Montana, with radio-collared hounds in tow, quota overruns were regular. A drawing system was introduced to eliminate this confusion and the strain on mountain lion populations.