Calling a Cougar in the Snow
By Gary Lewis
The first week he found one dead deer. The second week he found another deer. And cougar tracks in the snow.
Kelly had hunted the lion for three weeks before he got his break. "I'd told my friend to call me when he found a fresh kill," Kelly said.
The call came on a Friday. A gang of ravens and magpies watched the site where the cougar had killed a yearling elk. The remains were covered with debris. It was likely that the cat was nearby. Kelly headed out to his friend's ranch near Fossil on Saturday morning.
A half-hour before daylight, Kelly selected his hiding spot. With his back to a tree, he rested his 22-250 across his knees and began to watch. The elk kill was down in a natural bowl surrounded by rimrock and scattered pine trees.
With a foot of snow on the ground, visibility was good. A few trees were down and these might provide cover for the cat's approach.
He drew a squeaker call from his pocket. He hoped to mimic a rodent in trouble, with the hope of playing upon the curiosity of the cat.
The squeaker, a handheld call, wouldn't have the volume of an electronic unit or a mouth-blown call, but Kelly was betting the cat wasn't out of earshot. He began to call.
A cat needs coaxing, especially if he's protecting his groceries. But Kelly was close to the elk carcass and the cat might come in to investigate.
This was the cat's hunting ground. Of that, Kelly had no doubt. From where he sat, Kelly could see the remains of two deer and one elk, rotting beneath debris the cat used to cover them up. He kept the calling constant, convinced his quarry was near.
After 20 minutes, the cougar appeared on the skyline. "It was up on the rock," Kelly said. "I saw it leap off the rock and start toward me."
Kelly changed tactics then. "I didn't want the cat to pinpoint me, so I quit calling as much," he said.
For the next ten minutes, the cat stalked. Kelly caught glimpses of tawny hair as the animal moved in.
For a time, Kelly couldn't see the cougar. Then there it was, looking over a log, a little more than a hundred yards away.
Kelly pulled the rifle in tight against his shoulder, found the cat in the crosshair and squeezed the trigger.
Kelly skinned the cougar and brought the carcass, as required by law, to the nearest Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office. The biologist removed teeth from the animal to be used to determine its age. Its stomach contents would also be examined. The cat, a male, weighed in at 160 pounds.
Calling remains the most effective way to hunt Oregon's mountain lions. Effective calls simulate prey animals in distress, coyote pups and mating mountain lions. An electronic call will help you direct the lion's attention away from your position. Approach the calling area carefully. Wear total camouflage and keep movements to a minimum.
When in place, use your peripheral vision to spot movement. Give the call time to work, at least 45 minutes at each location.
Biologists estimate that, prior to the ban on hunting with hounds, there were more than 2,000 cougars in the state. Today, biologists estimate there are 5,100. An adult lion will take an average of one big game animal per week. Habitat loss and poaching take their toll, but predators are taking more of Oregon's deer, elk and pronghorn than at any time in recent history.