Captain Hunter’s Guide to Mountain Lion Hunting Regulations

As an experienced hunter, I know that understanding local hunting regulations is crucial before setting out to track any big game animal. This is especially true when it comes to pursuing the elusive mountain lion. Commonly known as cougars, pumas, panthers or catamounts, mountain lions instill both awe and fear among outdoorsmen. While attacks on people are exceedingly rare, these powerful predators are capable of killing pets and livestock. Many western states permit regulated hunting of lions to manage populations, protect citizens and livestock, and provide recreational sport.

Regulations on mountain lion hunting vary greatly across the U.S. states and can change year to year. As responsible sportsmen, it’s our duty to be informed on the most current rules in the areas we hunt. State wildlife agencies devote immense resources toward scientifically managing mountain lion populations and rely on hunter participation. Together, through ethical fair chase hunting and adherence to regulations, we can perpetuate sustainable lion populations while taking part in an unparalleled hunting tradition.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to legally hunt mountain lions, including:

  • Licensing and permit requirements
  • Mandatory hunter education
  • Allowed hunting methods
  • Bag limits
  • Required inspections and tagging
  • Reporting procedures

I’ll use Colorado as a case study for examples since I live and hunt lions here in the Colorado high country. Use this framework to understand the regulations which apply in your home state or area. As laws are subject to change, be sure to verify your state’s current official regulations before hunting.

Captain Hunter’s Key Points

  • Obtain mandatory licenses, permits, and complete required certifications before mountain lion hunting
  • Use fair chase hunting practices in compliance with state regulations
  • Understand bag limits and quotas in your harvest area
  • Follow protocols for post-harvest inspections, data collection, and registration
  • Help sustain healthy lion populations by being an informed, responsible hunter+

mountain lion close up during the fall

Licensing and Permits

The first step to legally hunt mountain lions is acquiring the proper licenses and permits. In Colorado, we need:

  • A valid hunting or combination license which covers small game and fishing
  • An additional lion license for the specific season
  • A Habitat Stamp which funds conservation efforts

hunter waiting on mountain lion by a treee

I also voluntarily complete Colorado’s mountain lion identification and education course online annually. This certificate is mandatory for lion hunters under 18 years old but is valuable training for hunters of all ages. It covers lion biology, tracking, hunting tactics, regulations, and safety. Colorado also offers in-person field training courses to properly identify lion tracks and sign.

Total license costs vary but expect to invest $100 or more. Non-resident hunting licenses typically cost more. Depending on quotas, licenses may be unlimited or only available through a limited drawing. I apply for mine as soon as applications open to maximize odds.

Consult your state wildlife agency’s website for specifics on required mountain lion hunting documents. Also research guide and outfitter licensing if hunting with non-resident professionals. Licensing violations carry harsh penalties, so assurances here prevent headaches down the road.

Seasons and Harvest Quotas

Most states carefully regulate when, where, and how many mountain lions may be harvested annually. Season lengths and bag limits aim to balance population sustainability with hunting recreation.

Here in Colorado, a four-month mountain lion hunting season runs from mid-November through mid-February. Hunters may harvest one lion per season, excluding transitory males without established territories. Our game management units each have harvest limits and close once quotas are reached. Successful lion harvest must be reported immediately and the animal physically inspected within 48 hours.

Checking harvest levels and verifying open areas is my responsibility as a hunter. Colorado offers real-time online harvest data and hotlines to obtain area closure updates. Pay attention to quotas where you hunt so you steer clear of closed zones.

Hunting Methods and Equipment

The most exciting and challenging aspect of mountain lion hunting is matching wits with these elusive predators. Methods allowed for fair chase hunting vary significantly across states, so understand restrictions in your target area.

In Colorado, we may use centerfire rifles, handguns, shotguns firing slugs or buckshot, and bows to harvest lions. Electronic calls, live bait, and poisons are prohibited. We can pursue lions with trained hounds wearing GPS tracking collars day or night. Other states may limit hunting hours and prohibit hound use. Some western states permit hunting cougars over bait like carcasses. Know before you go.

When tracking a lion, shot placement is critical. A gall bladder or intestine hit means miserable loss of a wounded cat. Familiarize yourself with lion vitals through your hunter safety education. Be patient and pass on low percentage shots. Wait for a broadside or slightly quartering anatomy angle for clean penetration to both lungs and heart. Responsible shot selection translates to quick, humane kills.

mountain lion looking at you

Bag Limits and Mandatory Reporting

Most states carefully track lion hunting mortality through enforced bag limits, physical inspections, and mandatory reporting. Bag limits ensure strict quotas aren’t exceeded in a given area. Depending on the state, you may harvest one lion per season or one lion per year.

Mandatory physical inspections record data like lion gender, weight, age based on tooth wear, female reproductive status, DNA, and overall condition. My home state collects a first premolar tooth and several skin sample punches for biologists.

I’m required to report my Colorado lion harvest by phone or online within 24 hours. I must provide my name, license info, date and specific unit of kill. Within 48 hours, I need to bring my lion carcass to a parks and wildlife office intact with proof of sex for documentation. Here they attach a tamper-proof harvest seal and collect a small tooth before returning the carcass.

Staying compliant on reporting helps game managers continuously monitor populations to set sustainable harvest quotas. Do your part for the future of our sport by following check and reporting requirements.

Tagging Protocol

mountain lion running

To track legally harvested mountain lions, most states employ a harvest tagging system. Affixed to the hide or carcass, tags verify compliance for transport and export.

In Colorado once inspected, wildlife officers attach a numbered effluent blue harvest seal to each lion. Seals remain locked during tanning but preserve the hide for rugs or trophies. Other states may use locking tags or require reporting numbers written on transport documents.

Without an affixed tag from an authorized inspection, possession of an untagged lion carcass is illegal. Such contraband may be seized by wildlife enforcement. Don’t take chances transporting lions illegally. Verify your state’s tagging protocol and comply for lawful possession.

Areas Open to Hunting

Many western states offer ample wilderness and foothills haunts to pursue lions, but not all areas are open. Refuges, parks, and recreational sites often prohibit hunting. Human developments including suburbs and ski resorts are certainly off limits.

Here in Colorado, certain game management units close once lion quotas are met for the season. Other units prohibit hound hunting to prioritize desirable prey like bighorn sheep. Know before you go by diligently consulting hunting regulation booklets, hotlines, and online tools for real-time closure updates. Using GPS maps showing public lands and hunting boundaries is also smart.

Trespassing on private property without explicit written permission is always unacceptable. As ambassadors for the sport we love, treat landowners and their lands with utmost respect. I obtain rancher’s permission to access large holdings even when not legally necessary as a good faith gesture. Building cooperative relationships ensures continued access and sustainable wildlife stewardship for the next generation of hunters.

mountain lions in the snow

Safety Considerations

While extremely rare, mountain lion attacks have caused human fatalities, like the tragic death of trail runner Scott Lancaster in Colorado. Children and solitary pets are most vulnerable. Wise safety precautions minimize risks.

Cougars rely on stealth and secrecy for hunting success. Making noise while hiking deters surprise encounters. I sing aloud badly while moving through lion country just in case! Travel in pairs when possible and keep children within arm’s reach. Off trail bushwhacking where visibility is limited amplifies risk.

If confronted, never run! Maintain eye contact, stand tall, yell, and ready deterrents like bear spray. Back slowly away if the lion appears unalarmed by noise and aggression. A lion behaving unusually boldly or aggressively for over six minutes may be assessing attack options. At that point, fight back vigorously as you continue to retreat. Using deadly force is justified if attack appears imminent and no escape is possible.

When hunting with hounds, exercise extreme caution approaching bayed lions. They are prone and cornered, which can elicit aggression. Give them space and respect their demonstrated ability to defend themselves ferociously.

Exercising good judgment and understanding lion behavior helps avoid confrontations. Attacks almost always involve extenuating circumstances like territorial defense, prey drive, illness, or human negligence. By using common sense, we can admire these majestic creatures from afar while still enjoying all the tranquility nature provides.

Penalties for Violations

As trophy game in many states, stringent protections govern mountain lion hunting. Penalties for violations aim to dissuade abuse of regulations meant to ensure sustainable populations. Wildlife crimes exhaust limited agency resources that would otherwise promote our sporting heritage. As stewards, we should motivate each other to uphold ethical standards.

In Colorado, penalties vary based on infraction severity. Minor citations like improper licensing during a hunt result in fines over $100 and can suspend future permit eligibility. Harsher violations include:

  • Hunting without a license – misdemeanor, fines increase with each subsequent violation, potential for jail time
  • Illegally taking a second lion – misdemeanor, requires $4,000+ restitution, suspends big game hunting for 1-5 years
  • Illegally trapping and snaring lions – misdemeanor, up to $100,000 fine and 1-year jail sentence

I once made the mistake of improper license purchase before a hunt. That minor citation still cost me a painful fine and pride. Don’t follow my lead! Statute intricacies vary by state, so thoroughly review hunting codes. Ignorance is no excuse under the law. Stay compliant through diligence and make ethical choices even when no one is watching. Our grandchildren will one day inherit the hunting traditions we cherish. We owe them responsible stewardship in return.

mountain lion looking through trees


As leading carnivores, mountain lions command respect and inspire awe from all who value wildlife. Managing cougar populations while providing sustainable hunting opportunities involves a delicate balance. As hunters, we tip the scales through adherence to science-based regulations and fair chase ethics. Our compliance ensures these elusive cats enrich ecosystems across the American landscape while allowing us to carry on ancient hunting heritage through the ages. I welcome you to join me in this proud tradition guided by sustainable principles. Here’s to matching wits with these worthy adversaries!

Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.

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