Keys to Successful Predator Calling
By Major L. Boddicker
Key #10: Mountain Lions—Key Strategies
And More Tall-Tales about the Mysterious Mountain Lion
Several years ago, I was hunting arrowheads about 100 miles east of Denver, out on the Colorado plains, in wheat country. On Colorado’s vast plains there are tiny islands of rough rocky country to break the monotony. Indians used to camp at these spots because there was wood and protection from weather.
I spotted a small petrified wood flake and bent over to pick it up. A very large lion track was imprinted in the dust right beside it.
My rancher friend tries to raise sheep in the area. Last year, he lost over 135 ewes to coyotes and lion. His four guard dogs (Greater Pyrenees) cornered and killed a yearling lion. One of his guard dogs disappeared and was likely killed by the adult lion.
The presence of lions in the area makes calling there a lot more exciting!
Most western states have seasons for mountain lions which run from October to March. Depending on the state, there are opportunities for calling by big game unit with quotas, so it is necessary to check with the local wildlife agency to see where the calling can be done.
After a general hunting area is selected, locate the specific hunting sites by scouting and asking agency people for advice. Look for rocks, trees, and deer. If any of those things are missing, keep driving; there are few lions there.
A day or so after a fresh snow, drive from the top of the mountain to the bottom, from one side of a drainage to the other, and look for lion tracks which cross the road. Lions have trails which show roughly when they are using them and what size lions are present. Above and below the cap-rock, at saddles between mountain peaks, at the base of cliffs, under bridges, and both sides of the dry washes where they go over and under roads, are good spots to check.
You can increase your probabilities for success considerably by such pre-call scouting. Lay out a route and a series of choice calling stands in the best of the lion habitat and deer foraging areas. Call these stands once per month until you get your lion. The same route will be good year after year. While you are at it you will get coyotes, bobcats, and gray foxes too. That’s hard-to-beat fun.
Ranchers living in lion country often have excellent advice on locations where lions are occasionally seen traveling or resting for the day. Sometimes the rancher or you will stumble across a fresh lion kill: deer, elk, or livestock. Often the lion will come back to a fresh kill to feed again. That means it is resting nearby and might respond to a call. Or, set up on the carcass and use it as bait with or without using a call.
Hand-held calls or electronic calls work. Lions respond to rabbit sounds, deer and antelope distress calls, elk cow/calf calls, and small cat sounds. Lion sounds are very effective for calling other lions.
Mountain lions generally are not very social and defend their territories vigorously. They kill bobcats frequently when they can get to them. Lion females may have kittens any month of the year, but the primary period for having kittens is April through June. They have one to four kittens per litter, with two being the most common. The kittens will stay with the female for up to a year and often get nearly as big as the female before they leave. Occasionally, a female with two or three kittens will show up for a caller.
The males generally are solitary, socializing only for breeding. Sometimes, several kittens or young male and female lions will be found together.
Mountain lions have many vocalizations in the form of purrs, bird-like chirps, growls, spits, coughs, and caterwauls that really put the hair up on the back of your neck. Steve Craig, a long-time trapper friend from Arizona uses digitally copied lion calls to successfully bring in lions. He has called scores of them over the past five years. It is easy to copy most lion sounds on the Crit'R·Calls also. Strange cats in their territories definitely interest lions as is obvious when bobcat gland lures, scats, and urine are put into their territories for trapping. Lions often trip bobcat sets lured with oil of rhodium, catnip, bobcat glands, scats, urine, housecat litter, etc.
A caller can locate lions and get a fair idea of when they are coming through on a trail by setting up tracking station scent posts. Rake three, 1½-yard diameter circles in sand or dust on or near a lion trail. Put a Q-tip full of Carman’s Canine Call lure, Pro’s Choice, or Bobcat Gland lure in the middle of each circle. Check these circles every 2nd or 3rd day for 20 days. If there is a lion around, it will track on those circles, giving the hunter its relative size, whether it is a female with kittens, and a rough idea of when it passes through the area. That can help a caller plan a lion calling schedule and locations of stands.
Motion-detector-activated cameras like the CamTrakker™ can be used to confirm the lion's presence, size, and the time and date it travels through on a trail. Set the camera so that it overlooks the scent post and lion trail. When the lion poses at the bobcat gland lure, you get a picture.
The cost of a resident lion licenses is generally fairly reasonable, and seasons are long, so if you are calling in lion country, it pays out eventually. If you are a nonresident, a license is a lot more expensive, and the chances of success are very low. Hiring an experienced outfitter might be a better way to go. Trained dogs are the way to consistent lion hunting success.
Lion meat is very light colored and has an excellent flavor and texture. The old mountain men used to save it for their meals to honor guests or for special occasions. There is a very low probability of trichinosis worms in lion meat. Trichinosis is much more common in bear meat.
Occasionally, you hear on TV that lions are wilderness animals, shy and chased by humans into the most isolated pockets of wilderness, in severe danger of extinction. That is pure poppy-cock. Mountain lions are so abundant in their traditional ranges that they are pioneering out into country in which they have been absent from for 150 years.
South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and other Midwest states have had recent verified sightings, road kills, or depredations records. There is good reason to think that lions will re-establish themselves in suitable habitat in these states during the next 25 years.
In 1983, the Colorado Trappers Association and Furtakers of America put on a Trappers College at Colorado State University’s Pingree Park. The Park is about 9000 feet up in beautiful picturesque country. Elk, deer, bear, and lions are common in the forests around it. Our teaching locations were out in the forest at strategic points we chose, to demonstrate where to set to catch the most fur. One of the spots was in Jack’s Gulch, a saddle where an old logging and mining trail ran between two rocky high points. Several deer and elk trails, a long ridge, the old road, and edges of old clearcuts intersected in the area. It was a great place to set traps for red fox, coyotes, and bobcats. My group spent most of an afternoon choosing set locations, demonstrating how the area should be set up for multiple catches on several species. There was lots of coyote sign, some bobcat sign, and marten in the vicinity.
Trappers, mainly from western states, spread out over about 30 acres and made sets to catch fur. Most of them set #1½ coil springs and #3 double long spring traps in flat and dirt-hole sets for coyote, red fox, and bobcats, using a large variety of predator lures.
The electronic squeakers had just become available, so we set up one in each general trapping area to see what they would do. The next morning, after a great breakfast at Pingree campus, we drove to Jack’s Gulch to check our sets. Shortly after we parked the van, it was obvious that some significant action had taken place there.
“Hey, there’s a dead elk over here!” one of the trappers exclaimed. “I wonder what killed it.”
“Hey guys, let’s stay together and have a look,” I suggested. The ten of us carefully walked up to the still warm elk. It was a yearling cow, killed right in the center of our trapping area. The carcass was lying up against a log which some of the guys sat on the afternoon before.
“Wow! It took some kind of power to do this,” one of the guys said. The elk had been killed and dragged about 35 yards. It weighed about 300 pounds.
“It has to be a lion kill, but let’s take a careful look,” I suggested. The guys circled the elk, and I commented on the carcass and indicators.
“Lions usually jump on the back or sides, dig their front claws into the shoulders and sides, bite over the top of the neck, just behind the head, then twist, breaking the neck. Here are the claw marks, here are the fang marks,” I said as I pointed them out.
“Lift the head to see if it is detached from the spine. Bingo, this one is. This is a dead-ringer lion kill,” I instructed.
“The carcass is warm; it’s been dead maybe four hours. Usually the lion eats muscle meat of the shoulders or thighs. This one chose the hams.”
“It’s typical to drag the carcass to a place that is advantageous to hide it and to eat in safety, so it dragged the carcass from the open over here into cover,” I added.
The guys looked the carcass over and took a lot of pictures, amazed at the power of the cat. They pulled on the 300-pound carcass, and it took three or four of them to do what the lion did by itself.
“Do you suppose the lion is still around here?” someone asked.
“Sure, it’s within a mile or less and will probably be back to feed on the elk,” I replied.
“Heads up, it’s possible one of you caught it. The #3 long springs occasionally hold lions, so approach your traps carefully so a lion doesn’t surprise you, especially if you have the trap on a drag,” I cautioned.
The trappers fanned out to check their sets.
“I had it!” yelled one of the guys. We went over for a look. The lion had come in to Carman’s Bobcat Gland lure and had set off a Victor 1½ coil spring, pulled out of it like it wasn’t there and left.
The lion had set off three other traps, probably caught momentarily, then pulled out and went to check out the next set.
At the squeaker, which was about one mile away, the lion had played with and batted the squeaker around, matting down the grass all over the area.
Afraid of people? No!
Great animal to hunt by calling? Yes!
How does the mountain lion or puma or cougar compare with the jaguar, leopard, and tiger? It is a wimp in comparison. I know people who have turned lions loose from leg-hold traps by themselves without getting sliced up. Never try that with leopards.
I have an acquaintance from the Colorado mountains, a trapper who during the fur boom was just out of high school and made a living by full-time trapping. At that time he was not known as having the mental capacity of a brain surgeon. Since then he has undergone a rather significant increase in his intelligence. Back then, he was compared by other trappers to a box of rocks or low I.Q. possum. I’ll call him D.S. Trapper (dumb sucker) just to denote his past mental capacity.
As a trapper, D.S. was dedicated and successful because he really worked hard at it. D.S. chose to trap in the foothills in some low fur density country and specialized in bobcats.
One cold, snowy morning back in the early 80’s, D.S. came up to a set for bobcats. The trap was on a drag. The trap and drag were gone and the tracks said lion, loud and clear. My friend tracked it, carefully sorting out its movement through the brush as it worked its way into some rough boulder and cliff country. D.S. had only a .22 six shooter and a hunting knife with him. After about ¾ of a mile steep hike, D.S. tracked the lion to a cave.
The cave’s opening was just wide enough to let the lion in. D.S. could crawl back into it if he crawled on his elbows with his shoulders tucked in tight. D.S. crawled back in, pistol in hand, with just enough light that he could make out the lion at the end of the cave. Now what! D.S. aimed the best he could, fired six times at the lion’s head. After the shooting was over, ricochets had stopped, smoke and dust cleared, and D.S.’s ear drums were pounded. The lion was still heads up, snarling and with his eyes open. What to do next? No problem, D.S. still had his hunting knife. So, he backed out of the cave, cut a four-foot pole, took trapping wire and wired his hunting knife to the pole and crawled back into the cave. He then crawled up to the snarling and spitting lion and speared it to death. Were all of his problems over? No, he didn’t have a license for a lion. So, D.S. hurried to town and bought one. D.S. had the wits about him to properly rearrange the sequence of events over the next few days so he could legally keep the trophy.
Now was D.S. crazy or not? Seems like this story is rather similar to one included in the bear calling story. Who says there are no adventures in modern hunting?