Monday, November 17, 2014

Mountain Lion Calling 101

So you want to hunt Mountain Lions?  To do so is an exciting adventure, but before you continue with this article ask yourself why.  Why do you want to pursue what is probably one of the most difficult animals there is to hunt? If it is to simply kill one, stop reading right now, leave this page and search for a good mountain lion guide.  Please don't get me wrong, I do not judge.  I understand the thrill of taking the top predator of the American west.  I tell you to go because it is more economical in both time and money to hire a guide.  It will still be a great adventure, and a tough hunt as well.  I hear tales of following hounds for up to 5 or 6 six miles over some of the roughest, coldest terrain there is.   However, if you truly want the greatest most intense predator hunt there is, by all means please continue to peruse what I am sure will be a long winded article.

If you are going to call in a Lion you need to be prepared for the long haul.  I am entering my third season of hunting the big cats, and during this time I have either called in or been present for the call in of two lions.  Neither lion ended up in the back of the truck.  One Lion was confirmed with vocalizations and the other was with tracks.  I have further wander the tracks of several other lions and learned a great deal about the cats.

How to Call
The calling rig.

There are two basic methods of calling mountain lions: hand calls, and electronic callers, otherwise known as an e-caller.  The first thing you need to do is check the game laws of the state you plan on hunting to determine if e-callers are legal to use.  If you can use an e-caller you are fortunate, as many of the dangers associated with lion calling are now limited.   Furthermore, you now can forgo learning new predator calls and sounds.   I hunt in Colorado where e-callers are forbidden to hunt the elusive cat.  The other scenario is if you are a purest and seek to take the animal in the most difficult, dangerous possible way.  Most of my experience is with hand calling for lions.  A great resource for both e-calling and hand calling is Rain Shadow's website .  Rain Shadow also sells hand calls and instructional CDs.  If you are truly looking to pursue lions, I highly encourage you to view this website.

So we are now going to go call a lion, what sound do you use?  I prefer a raspy rabbit call, and the Primos Thrid Degree Cottontail is my go-to call.  I have called in one lion with this as my base sound.  The other sound I use is a fawn in distress cry.  I make this sound using a Primos Coyote and Bear Buster call.  There are plenty of other calls and sounds out there that will do a excellent job.  These calls are just the ones I prefer.  Whichever call you choose, it is important that it is easy for you to blow for extended periods of time.

The remaining sound that is important to have is a mountain lion whistle.  Yes, mountain lions whistle, and if you do not believe me watch this short Youtube Video of a lion caught in the act.  I use a Primos Lil' Dog call to make a mountain lion whistle with.  Using this sound I can get the cat to come in faster and possibly respond vocally to it.  The first time a lion whistled back to me and then growled a warning to me,  it sent shivers down my spine.   I spent the next 45 minutes trying to get that cat into position for a shot, the whole time I had the most intense adrenaline rush I have ever experienced in the woods.

Last year I produced a video using predator distress calls, which you can view below.  Although the video is long, it goes into numerous aspects of using hand calls.  If you are looking for the specific portion dealing with creating the lion whistle, you can find it around the 7:30 mark.

The Foxpro Hellfire and one of its prey.
As for using an e-caller, I have very limited experience with this for mountain lions.  I have however used them profusely for coyotes and bobcats over the years.  There are several sources of mountain lion electronic sounds for the e-callers that you can procure. My current e-caller is a Foxpro Hellfire, andI have been very satisfied with this caller.  It comes pre-loaded with 75 sounds, two of which are mountain lion vocalizations. I have found the caller to be very loud and does an excellent job of calling the critters in.

The Call Stand

The author on a call stand.  Note the tree for protection.
So you have your calls, you have practiced, hopefully found a good area for lions, and are ready for the call stand.  What does a typical lion stand look like?  For me I often call alone without backup.  This can be a very intimidating experience.  Let me paint the picture for you.  I dress up in heavy camouflage, hide in a bush, then do the best I can to sound like an easy meal to 150 pounds of predatory fury embodied in a perfect killing machine.  A machine that is going to do everything it can to approach unseen, unheard, and preferably from behind.  As such, when I set up a call stand the first thing I look for is a large rock or obstacle that would prevent an attack from behind.  Luckily in Colorado these are fairly common.  If you have a partner, position them in a way to cover the caller's back.  If you can use an e-caller, this can give you a significant safety advantage as you can place the caller away from you and observe it.  This also makes it easier to fool the lion as the attention will not be directly on you.

Cats take longer to respond to predator calls than coyotes and foxes.  Do not expect to see a lion come charging in to find the source of the sound.  They are going to slink and stalk their way in, moving slowly and using their eyes to locate where the distressed prey is.  Expect to see little of the cat, probably just its face peering around a tree or bush, just waiting to catch you moving.  As they take their time to come in, most of my call stands last 45 to 90 minutes.   This can be a long time to sit still and call if it is cold or you're in an uncomfortable position.  Prepare for this and plan ahead with your clothing and gear.

My typical calling session starts with about 20 minutes of distress sounds.  I call for about 20-30 seconds and then rest for about a minute.  I try to vary my sound and emotion in the cries of the distress sound.  It is important to note that you might get a lesser predator during this 20 minute period.  I will not shoot a coyote or fox if I am in an area where I truly believe a lion is.  If I am simply calling in the blind, or on a hunch I will take the lesser fur.   After 20 minutes I then start using a lion whistle.  I will whistle three or four times and then pause to see if I get a response call.  After several rounds of the three to four whistles, I will go back to the distress call. After 5 minutes of distress I will switch back to the lion whistles, and repeat his pattern through the rest of the call stand.  At times I might switch my distress sound half-way through the stand or might not, it just depends on the scenario.

While on the stand it is incredibly important to hold still.  Cats primary sense is their eyes.  They still use their nose and ears, but overall they rely on their sight the most.  I use a camouflage bandanna to help cover the movement of my hands when I am calling, as well as camouflage gloves.

Once you have decided the call stand is complete, scan the entire area once and then scan it again before standing.  If you see nothing, slowly rise and complete another two scans, be prepared for a shot as once you stand a lion or bobcat might flee and give you a running chance at glory.

Where to Call

This is perhaps the most important part of lion calling: Where are they?  Not a lot is known about the puma.  They are a solitary, secretive predator who makes their living at not being seen.  Many states do not even have a truly accurate estimation of how many of these critters reside in their state.

The easiest way to call a mountain lion is to simply know where one is. This can be a more difficult task than one would expect. You can go call in the blind, that is simply calling in territory that looks good, but you have no other indicators that they are there.  Calling a lion in the blind is possible but it is like winning the lottery, you just get lucky that one is close to you.  However, your chances of a lion responding to your calls increase exponentially when you are able to put the distress sound in their ears.

Lion scat and scratch marks.
Spend your time trying to locate where the lions are your area are, rather than mass calling.  Pumas roam over a home territory in search of prey.   This area can be very large geographically for male lions, and smaller for females.  Lions do not usually den every night, unless they have kittens, but lay up in various locations throughout their roaming. I have found lay-ups in rocks, caves, and even heard of them using a tree for a nap.

Talk to your local game wardens, as they will often know where problem cats have been reported.  They may also clue you in to where recent sightings are, or even a lion kill that the cat cached for later use. If you have large ranches in your area, stop in and speak the to land owner.  I have often found cattle, horse, and even goat ranches to be more than receptive to a lion hunter.  The only caveat to this is if a hounds-man has already beaten me there.

Having a good GPS is a must for a lion hunter.
Another option is to drive mountain roads in your area just after a snow storm.  This can be perhaps the best way to get right behind a cat.  Crossing the tracks of a lion who traversed a road recently will not only let you know they are in the area, but possibly put you very near them.  Be prepared for this road journey should you choose to try it.  I have driven 80 miles of 4-wheel drive snow roads, and come up empty on a single lion track.  Pack a lunch, a thermos of coffee, and perhaps some good driving tunes, as you are going to be at this for a while.  Make sure your truck has four wheel drive and stocked with emergency supplies, as well as chains, a shovel, and even a winch.

I also find detailed forest maps not only helpful but a downright necessity.  I strongly urge you to buy a good GPS, and a map package for your state from Hunting GPS Maps. This will allow you to always know where you are and if the land is public or not.  Also, it lists the landowner names, and a little internet research might even yield a telephone number for you to contact them for permission to hunt.

Get out and walk the ridges and canyons.  Look for lion signs, tracks, scrapes, and old kills.  If you are lucky to find a recent lion deer kill, set up on it.  Decide if you want to try to wait and ambush the lion when he returns, or try to call one in.

The Rifle and Caliber 

The remains of a cached deer kill.  I found this too late.
Often I have been asked what caliber should be used.  I wish I could tell you I had first hand experience of a bullet striking lion flesh and its end result, however; I am still waiting for that opportunity.  From all I have researched, pumas are reported to be pretty thin skinned.  I have heard many reports of people shooting them with a .223 Remington successfully and the lion dropping immediately.  However, I have also heard of other instances of people losing lions to the .223 Remington, and even a 22-250.   It seems the people who are successful in using light calibers are hounds-man, or their clients whom shoot the lion from close range while it is up a tree.

All being said, if you have a .223 Remington, I would not hesitate to take it out lion calling. Take your time and make a good shot in the lungs or heart.  At times a light weight AR15 is what is in my hands on call stand.  My preferred lion rifle is an AR10 chambered in 308 Winchester.  I am confident that if I hit a lion with the 150 grain 30 caliber bullet it is going down.  The last thing I want to do is track a wounded lion alone.  I like the AR10 platform, as it gives me the option for a quick follow-up shot, as my plan is to keep shooting until the lion stops moving. I do not what to spend all of the time and effort, and then lose the animal to a light hit.

Whichever weapon you choose, it is most important to spend time in practice.  Never carry a rifle into the field you are not certain of.  You owe it to the animal to make the fastest and most ethical kill possible.

The AR10 out on a lion hunt.

This article is meant to be part one of a two part series on mountain lion hunting.  Next time we will cover tracking the big cats, and more detail of some the gear you should consider purchasing or packing in your kit for lion hunting.  On my page called "resources", you will find more information and links on lion hunting.  I would encourage you to take a look at these if you are interested.  Stay safe in your lion hunting outings, take a friend, plan for the unexpected and watch your backside. Closing thoughts this time are of adventure and the thrill of life and the hunting.  In this area I think Arnold said it best.

"For me life is continuously being hungry.  The meaning of life is not simply to exist, to survive, but to move ahead, to go up, to achieve, to conquer. - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Training a Catahoula Leopard Dog

A video of Training Bohannon the Catahoula Puppy

One iPhone charger, a cheer leading pompom, numerous socks, uncountable cardboard boxes, pink bunny slippers, and even a pair of my old boots.  What do these items all have in common?  They have all become the victims of the terror that can be a Catahoula puppy.  I keep telling my very patient family that what comes with an intelligent, driven dog is the restlessness of boredom and ways to fill it.  Basically a excellent dog in the field can make a tiresome house canine.

The household antics aside; Bohannon the Catahoula puppy is an awesome animal.  He has been with me for the past two months and we have already covered much ground.  We have roamed the Colorado Mountains in search of ducks, coyotes, and general adventure.  A bond has been built between us and a mutual understanding seems to be in the development.

At ten weeks old, I started training Bohannon for tracking and trailing.  By 12 weeks old he already had the basics down.  At 16 weeks the dog is running 300 yard-long trails on human scent and has been introduced to Mountain Lion scent as well.  Bohannon tracks both scents equally well, but we are focusing on humans primarily, as I have the intent to develop him as a Search and Rescue dog.  Bohannon tracks any human scent I give him and has begun to master when the person makes a turn in their trail, or crosses a small obstacle such as a rocks, or a stream. 

Every time we go out to train I find I learn more about tracking and scent dispersal than he does, merely by allowing the dog to teach me through his own natural abilities.  I am absolutely amazed at how easy it has been to teach this Catahoula to scent trail.  It just seems the breed has a built in affinity for it.   I am shocked that these dogs are not used more commonly in the Search and Law Enforcement fields.

When I made Bohannon's first video I was surprised at the amount of attention it received.  I have since had several people contact me to find out more about training this remarkable breed.  Some have asked if the general description of the Catahoula's temperament is accurate.  They are often described as hard-headed, or even aggressive dogs.  It is also advised that they need a lot of exercise and attention.

Bohannon seeing snow for the first time.

While I am not an expert on the Catahoula, I will comment on some of these allegations from now owning and training two of them.   If you are looking for a real authority on the breed I would direct you to Don Abney with  Abney Catahoulas.  Don has been raising and training Catahoulas for probably longer than I have been on this planet.   Not only is Don a true gentlemen, but a very strong proponent of the Catahoula, and the breeder of Bohannon.

If you plan to purchase a Catahoula, you need to be prepared.  They are fantastic dogs, but they need a little guidance.  I believe they are actually too intelligent for their own good.  There are several areas of concern I would advise you review or be prepared to address.

Dominance - Before owning any dog, and especially a Catahoula, I would encourage you to learn about Canine social hierarchy in a pack. Your dog will see you as just a weird looking fellow canine and you will need to be the pack leader. If you are not the pack Alpha (leader), then the Catahoula will decide he is.  Understand the Catahoula may try to assert dominance over you and test you.  You will need to be ready to maintain your leadership role.  I like to start early on with feeding time.  My pup is not allowed to eat until I tell him he can.  In the dog pack the leader eats first and then each subsequent dog, thus establishing the role early on.  Also, be prepared to follow-up any trained command with the expected activity.  For example, if your dog knows the Sit command and you give it to him and he clearly heard you and ignores you, then you must make him sit. If he learns that he can ignore your commands, you are on the road to losing the Alpha position.  Always be as gentle as you can be with your dog, but be firm and make sure if he understands a command, that he follows it.

Bohannon on a hunting trip, meeting ducks for the first time.
Socialization - I believe it is important to introduce the puppy to as many people as possible when they are young.  It can help later in life for them to accept new people and be friendly. One exception to that is dog parks. Not only can the parks be an excellent place to pick up a disease or parasite, but you are also at the mercy of other dogs' conduct. As for aggressiveness,  I have not found the Catahoula to be mean, but protective and defensive.  If they feel their person or property is being threatened, they may react in a protective manner.  Socialization early on has seemed to help with Bohannon, but he still growls when people approach his yard, truck, or knock on the door.  I do not mind a dog that is protective as long as he is not overtly so.  Take the puppy everywhere you can, and let him experience new and interesting things.  It will help him be more confident when he is an adult.

Buddies, the author and Bohannon.
Bonding - It is very important to build a close bond with your dog.  Both of my Catahoulas were/are a one person dog. It is difficult for anyone other than myself to correct or get his respect.  Make sure your dog bonds with you and not another family member if you want to work them.  Take a week off from work when you first get the pup. Do not do any corrections, just go have fun together.  Learn who your pup is, and be his whole world for a while.  Bo and I went camping for 10 days when I first got him.  He did not really get any corrections or have any training until he had been with me for two weeks.

Attitude - There are two tools that I have found to be invaluable with training Bohannon so far.   Those are patience and persistence.  Being patient when your message is not received by the dog, and persistence in what you're trying to achieve with him.  Along with those tools are energy and a positive attitude.  I find when my drive and energy is up, so is Bo's, and on the contrary his antics and concentration is lowered when mine is. Be creative with your training.  If one way isn't working, try another approach.  I try to make everything a game to make things fun.  Bo was not getting the "come" command very well.  He really likes to track.  As such, I made him sit and stay.  I then walked around a corner out of sight and hid.  After hiding I called Bo, and had him find me.  This made the "come" command fun and a great game for him.

A frozen Catahoula bundled up in the duck blind.
Exercise - This is an absolute must, every day or even twice a day.  If Bohannon does not get to work for a day, then I need to be prepared for all manner of household destruction.  Playing fetch, going for a walk, or even a little obedience training seems to take the edge off and help him settle a bit.  If you are going to own a Catahoula, have a plan to train them for something.  They need mental stimulation beyond just physical exertion.  If you do not give him something to do, he will find something he considers fun; I am sure you will not find this activity entertaining.

In my opinion Catahoulas are one of the absolute best working breeds there is.   They require your time and a firm but loving hand to raise, but in the end you will have a fabulous dog. Closing thoughts are on patience, as that is what I have been practicing.

"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which all difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." 
-John Quincy Adams