Talking Mountain Lions With MeatEater

January 15, 2020 | Hunt

Behind the scenes of a mountain lion hunt with MeatEater.

Last fall, we partnered with MeatEater for an exclusive media episode launched within the onX Hunt App. This full-length video episode, set in the sub-zero winter temperatures of the Idaho Panhandle, covered Steven Rinella’s first filmed mountain lion hunt.

The film was crafted to inform viewers on the importance of predator conservation, bringing an emotional appeal to mountain lion hunting and helping consumers understand the importance of these animals within the hunting field.

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We asked Steven Rinella and the MeatEater team a few questions about what went on behind the scenes of this frigid hunt:

onX: Why mountain lion hunting? What makes it special?
Steven Rinella, MeatEater: I fell in love with mountain lion hunting after a couple of unsuccessful trips in Arizona. Down there, it’s known as dry ground hunting, because you don’t have tracking snow. This makes hunting mountain lions really tough because there’s a ton of guesswork involved. In the absence of tracks, you have to trust your dogs’ noses and your own instincts in order to follow a trail. I developed a deep respect for houndsmen during those trips. To be honest, what they do is a lot harder and takes a lot more talent than 90% of the other types of hunting I’ve engaged in. I was also quick to notice that mountain lion hunters hear a lot of bullshit about how “there’s no challenge in shooting a lion out of a tree.” That might be true, but it misses the point. The hard part is training the dogs, learning lion behavior, finding tracks and staying on tracks. It isn’t the shooting, just as shooting isn’t necessarily the point of elk hunting or Dall sheep hunting or any other type of challenging hunt. Once I came to appreciate the skills of lion hunters, and to empathize with them for being so misrepresented, I knew I wanted to keep hanging around with them in order to give an alternate view of their lifestyle.

onX: It was obviously pretty frigid; what were your team’s tactics for staying warm? And for keeping camera gear functioning in winter weather?
MeatEater team: We wore Schnee’s Pac Boots with toe warmers and every First Lite layer we owned. Down mittens were crucial for keeping fingers operational on the long snowmobile rides in negative temperatures. We have “coats” for our cameras that are insulated and weather resistant; these at least offer a barrier to the elements. Batteries drain wicked fast in those temps, so keeping the spares near your body is key. The LCD screens can be finicky in extreme temps; taping a hand warmer to the back keeps them operational.

Steven Rinella hunts mountain lions in the Idaho Panhandle mountains.

onX: What advice would you offer someone wanting to start mountain lion hunting?
Janis Putelis, MeatEater: Find a friendly old houndsman to take you out. Most houndsmen we’ve met have already killed all (one to two) the cats they are going to kill in their lives. They don’t personally want to shoot more of them. But they can’t get enough of the pursuit and the time spent in the woods. And, as the saying goes, “You can kill without having hunted but you cannot hunt without having killed.” This is all to say that houndsmen love sharing their activity. Bring along a notebook; you’ll learn more about the woods, mountains and critters from a houndsman than any other outdoorsman. Their pastime demands a higher level of attention and intimate knowledge than any other.

onX: What was your favorite part of this shoot? And the greatest challenge?
Steven Rinella, MeatEater: My favorite part of this shoot was finding a beautiful, mature whitetail buck that had recently been killed by the lion we were trailing. There was something very intimate and surreal about peering into the brush where this lion and this buck had come together in a spasm of violence. The greatest challenge of the hunt was dealing with intense cold and lots of snow. You’re spending hours on snow machines freezing your ass off, and then you’re off hiking through thick brush and over steep terrain and across creeks. Managing the cold, sweat and the wet clothes is hard, especially in sub-zero temperatures that could best be described as dangerous. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Everything about this trip was memorable. I haven’t chased lions since, but I carry deep respect and admiration for anyone’s who put in the time to be good at it.

onX: Any funny stories from the shoot?
MeatEater team: We forgot to bring snow goggles for snowmobiling. The local shop only had one basic goggle in stock; the others were junior goggles in girl’s styles. Steve took the plain one and the rest of the crew was wearing small pink bedazzled models.
If you listen to the MeatEater podcast episode #57, you’ll hear all the funny behind the scenes stories.

onX: What does mountain lion taste like?
MeatEater team: I know you’re hoping for some exotic analogy but it’s really quite plain and delicious; the best comparison is pork, especially if it’s handled and prepared similar to pork. In the episode you’ll clearly see the skeptical veteran houndsman go from “I don’t know about this” to “Wow, I should eat more lion meat.”

Watch the full episode HERE.

Header Image: Garrett Smith