Chasing mountain lions can be one of the most exciting and adventurous hunts in Colorado. However, few hunters are familiar with how to pursue this elusive species. In this in-depth interview, bowhunter Mindy Paulek shares insight on why she enjoys the many challenges associated with hunting lions and also offers advice to novice hunters on how to get started in this exciting endeavor.
What is it about hunting lions that attracts you and why is it so exciting?
My interest and passion for these animals first began when I worked as a technician capturing and collaring lions for a research study along the Front Range of Colorado. I learned about lions and their behavior first-hand. From this experience, I developed the utmost respect for the cats and their abilities. They are efficient and effective killing machines. Everything about their body structure, their behavior and the way they move across the landscape is geared to hunt and kill. There is no other animal in our state that is as large and as elusive as these cats. They’re stealthy; always having the upper hand and they know it. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when experiencing a face to face encounter with such a magnificent creature. Witnessing the majestic nature and extreme power that emanates through their eyes is incredible. Many young cats are shy and will not look at you, and often times they will avoid eye contact by closing their eyes or looking away. However, when you get up close to a mature, aggressive lion that’s not afraid to display his power, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
And then there are the dogs! I love the dogs! I’ve always had a love for the incredible relationship between a working dog and their trainer. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a passion for training and hunting with chocolate pointing labs. I did not grow up with hounds, but I have always been intrigued and fascinated by them. My heart melts at the sight of those big floppy ears and loose skin, and my mind is blown away by their incredible sense of smell and desire to do what they love. No matter what type of dog or work they are doing, to witness a dog doing what it was bred to do is an awesome thing. Hounds are built to be hunting machines. It is so incredible to see a hound burn up the invisible trail of a lion with just their sense of smell leading the way. These dogs never cease to amaze me. I’ve learned so much from getting to watch their raw instinct at work.
I also love that lion hunting can be physically challenging. A lot of big-game hunting is and can be physically demanding, but with other forms of hunting you’re limited by what you’re willing to do. If you’d like to take the easy route or climb the smaller mountain, you can. However, with lion hunting, you don’t get the luxury of choosing your route. The cat and dogs do that for you. You go where the dogs go. Because the dogs are following the escape route of one of the most athletic and agile creatures, it’s usually not the easiest path to track.
Finally, one of my favorite things about lion hunting is that even the days I don’t catch a cat, which is more often than not, I’m still either on the back of one of my favorite creatures — a horse — or flying through white powder on a snowmobile in some of God’s most beautiful country. The scenery a lion will lead you through is bound to be breathtaking every time! Lion hunting combines the things I love most: being in nature, learning about animals, solving a mystery, facing a challenge, experiencing an adventure, witnessing expansive landscapes and stunning scenery–all from the back of my horse and with the friends I care about most. It is one way I live life to the fullest the best I know how.
What are some of the techniques involved with hunting lions?
At first appearance, and when everything comes together, it would seem as though there’s not much to lion hunting. You find a track, turn the dogs out and they chase the lion until it climbs a tree or bays up in the rocks. The dogs keep the cat at bay until you get there to shoot the lion. However, anyone who has experienced a lion hunt understands this is not the case. There is a lot more to it. First and foremost, there is a ton of time, training and work that goes into developing a hound for lion hunting. The houndsmen spend endless hours, months, and years training and investing in these dogs.
As the houndsman or hunter, you need to have a good understanding of lions, how they move across the landscape and where they’re most likely to cross in order to find tracks. Additionally, you need to be able to read your dogs and stay close behind in order to guide and help them if needed ( if they get cliffed-out, or are going backwards on a track). Another huge part of lion hunting is knowing the country where you are hunting. This can be a great advantage and can keep you from getting into trouble in dangerous terrain. Typically you need to cover a lot of area in a short amount of time. Often horses or snow machines are needed to cover the ground quickly.
Is it best to hunt lions with dogs/hounds?
Hunting lions with hounds is one of the most effective and ethical ways to hunt lions. Because the hounds tree the lion, the hunter can inspect the lion before deciding to harvest it. With a cat treed, you can tell the general age and sex of the animal, and if it is a female, you can tell if she has kittens, etc. In some cases, the chase can be very long depending on how far behind the cat you are. However, once jumped, cats are built for short sprints and typically won’t run far before climbing into a tree to escape. Often times they may jump the tree and you must tree them a number of times before getting a chance to harvest one. So the dogs obviously play an important role in that process. Unless you have your own dogs, most hunters will need to hire an outfitter. I feel very lucky and blessed to have been close friends with my houndsman Clayton Wilson. I was honored to have had the chance to hunt and share this experience with him. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Do you always try and hunt right after a fresh snow?
It is much easier to hunt right after a fresh snow. The landscape becomes a clean canvas, which makes it much easier to find fresh tracks. In addition, a lot more information can be gained from a track in the snow: how old the track is, often the size and sex of the lion and the direction the lion is moving. Visible tracks also allow the houndsman to make sure the hounds are lined out in the right direction before they get too far ahead. Another huge advantage with snow is that you can cut many roads and cover large areas with a snow machine. Unlike on dry ground, when you can only cover what a horse can travel in one day.
How do you know where to find lion tracks?
With a lot of time spent in the field, you begin to learn how and where cats spend their time, how they travel and where they cross certain topographic features. They typically travel the same routes, usually along ridges, and they cross valleys and drainages at certain spots. Knowing where to look comes with years of experience. Cats are always traveling in search of prey and putting themselves in vantage points that give them the upper hand over deer, which is a lion’s primary food source. They’re 24-7 hunters, so if you start to think like they think, you’ll start getting a little closer to figuring out where they might reside.
Colorado Mountain Lion Brochure:
For more information about lion hunting, season dates and license availability, be sure to view the Colorado Mountain Lion Hunting brochure. Brochures are available online, at statewide licenses agents and at Colorado Parks and Wildlife service centers.