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Title: Hints on Mountain-Lion Trapping - USDA Leaflet No. 94
Author: Young, Stanley P.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: LEAFLET NO. 94]

Issued April, 1933


By Stanley P. Young, _Principal Biologist, in Charge, Division
of Predatory Animal and Rodent Control, Bureau of Biological Survey_

THE AMERICAN MOUNTAIN-LION (_Felis concolor_) is one of the
largest predatory animals of the United States, sometimes weighing more
than 200 pounds. Game conservationists recognize it as the greatest
natural enemy of deer. Stockmen learn to their sorrow that when game
is scarce the mountain-lion attacks young domestic stock, particularly
colts, lambs, and kids, and even full-grown horses and cattle. In some
western areas it is practically impossible to raise young colts or sheep
on open stock ranges in the rough, rocky, and broken country that forms
an ideal habitat for the mountain-lion.

The range of the mountain-lion, which is known also as cougar, panther,
puma, and catamount, includes at present the large wilderness areas
of the United States west of the one hundredth meridian. The heaviest
infestation is in the Rocky Mountain States and southward through the
desert mountain ranges of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. Farther
westward mountain-lions are much less numerous, except in the coastal
ranges of California, Oregon, and Washington, where they are somewhat

For the protection of domestic livestock and of large game in certain
areas it is necessary to keep mountain-lions well under control. In
spite of control measures, however, these predators will probably long
continue to exist in the United States. There are many areas where
normal hunting and the vicissitudes of the wild can be depended upon
to keep their numbers within reasonable limits. There are also great
stretches of wilderness areas that probably will never be touched by any
mountain-lion-control campaigns.

This leaflet, intended to help stockmen and game protectors in local
control of mountain-lions, is based on the experience of Biological
Survey predatory-animal hunters. A similar publication (Leaflet No. 78)
discusses control measures for such smaller members of the wild-cat
family as the bobcat and the Canada lynx.

Natural Food and Feeding Habits of the Mountain Lion

Mountain lions find most of their prey near the rougher and more
inaccessible canyons, and in such places they live and breed with least
disturbance. One of the most striking things about these animals is
the distance to which they will go for food. Many have been known to
travel 25 miles or more in a night, apparently without resting for any
appreciable length of time. Because of their remarkable endurance,
hunting them takes stamina and strength. Biological Survey hunters on the
fresh track of a mountain-lion have trailed the animal for 10 consecutive
hours or longer before treeing it.

Like the bobcat, the mountain-lion relies upon its senses of smell and
sight in much of its foraging. Its smell is keener than that of the
bobcat, though less so than in either wolf or coyote. It can see its
prey for a long distance, but unquestionably it does much of its silent,
cautious stalking by the sense of smell alone, taking advantage of every
cover until within striking distance of its victim. Its sense of hearing
also is acute.

In making a kill, the mountain-lion brings its victim to the ground with
a stunning impact of its entire weight. It generally attacks at the
throat and breast.

After making a kill and taking one meal, the mountain-lion will
sometimes, though not always, bury the remainder of a carcass under
leaves, litter, or other trash, to return for a later feast. Whether it
will thus return depends to some extent upon weather conditions and on
its ability to find prey elsewhere. Its killing and feeding habits vary
in other ways also. In one instance, a lone lion attacked a herd of ewes
and killed 192 in one night. Frequently more than one mountain-lion may
feed on a single carcass. Near one cow carcass the writer once trapped
six lions, of various sizes, evidently the parents and two litters of

The presence of a mountain-lion on a range may be indicated by its kill
of deer or other game, even though domestic stock may not have been
disturbed. If a kill is made in fall or winter, the meat may remain fresh
for many weeks.

Control Methods

Where the control of mountain-lions is essential, the principal means
employed is the use of trained hounds. Kentucky fox hounds and a cross
between the Walker hound and the bloodhound have been found most
satisfactory for trailing mountain-lions, though any good dog may tree
one. The hunter must keep up with the pack, however, for a mountain-lion
that fights at bay instead of treeing, may kill all the dogs. When it
chooses to fight, it uses teeth and claws, backed by powerful neck and
shoulder muscles, in a telling way.

The use of poisons in mountain-lion control is not recommended. Hunting
or trapping is more satisfactory, and it is unsafe to expose poisons on
ranges where hunting dogs are being used.

Under certain conditions mountain-lions can easily be caught in traps of
the sizes known as Nos. 14 and 4½. (Fig. 1.) Although some persons oppose
the use of such traps as inhumane, no better or more practical device is
yet available.

Where to Set Traps

Either of the traps recommended may be set on a known route of the
mountain-lion, preferably at a point where the route narrows. Being a
great wanderer, the animal generally has well-defined crossing points
where it passes from one watershed to another in its search for food.
Many of these are in the low saddles of divides, and at such crossings it
is not uncommon to find "scratch hills," heaped up by the mountain-lion
in covering its urine. The writer has seen as many as eight such hills
in an area 4 feet square. They are sometimes 3 to 4 inches high and 4 to
6 inches in diameter. Frequently old or fresh feces may be noticed near
them. These hills make ideal places for setting traps, but should be left
in a natural condition.

The mountain-lion is trapped as it comes through the saddle of the divide
and stops to visit a scratch hill, being attracted either by the hill
itself or by a catnip lure placed there as described at the top of page 5.

[Illustration: B4339M

Figure 1.--Trap most suitable for mountain-lions (No. 4½),
showing drag chain and double-pronged drag attached]

When the carcass of a domestic animal, deer, or other prey found in a
control area shows unmistakably that a mountain-lion did the killing, at
least three traps should be set around it, each 15 to 20 inches away.
When the carcass is found lying on its side (Fig. 2.) one trap should be
set, as later described, between the fore and hind legs, another near the
rump, and a third near the back and parallel with the loin. These traps
constitute a carcass set and require no lure other than the carcass.
Frequently it is well to set a fourth trap 6 to 8 feet away if tracks
show the exact route taken by the lion in approaching or leaving the

_Caution._--Trappers, especially when using the No. 4½ trap, should take
every needed precaution to safeguard livestock and valuable or harmless
wild animals; and, where necessary, should post signs to warn human

Use of Lures

Traps set along a trail and near an obstruction meant to divert the
mountain-lion close to a scratch hill, are only partly successful. The
trapper may, however, take advantage of the mountain-lion's keen sense
of smell by dropping a few drops of oil of catnip in the center of the
undisturbed scratch hill, as a lure.

Why catnip is so attractive to members of the feline family is not
yet fully known. Experiments have indicated that it produces sexual
excitation and also that it has a soothing effect on the nervous system,
similar to that of opiates on man. In some of the larger circuses catnip
has been used for years in gentling animals of the cat family. The use of
catnip oil in this country to lure members of this family within trapping
distance has been remarkably effective.

[Illustration: B3463M

Figure 2.--Quarry of mountain-lion. A carcass found on its side,
as illustrated, furnishes an excellent opportunity for making a carcass
set of three or more traps, 15 to 20 inches away]

When pure catnip oil is obtainable it should be used, diluted with pure
petrolatum, in the proportion of 40 drops of the catnip oil to 2 ounces
of petrolatum. A catnip lure so placed that it will last a long time has
been experimented with by members of the Provincial Game Conservation
Board of British Columbia, and later by the writer in the United States.
Prepared as follows, it promises to increase the effectiveness of
trapping in mountain-lion control:

The petrolatum-diluted catnip oil is smeared thinly over a piece of
cotton batting about 8 inches square, and this is covered with another
piece of the same size. The catnip-oil sandwich thus made is placed on
an ordinary tin pie plate, brown in color, so that the bottom will be
inconspicuous against the bark of a tree. Two or three feet from the
ground a tree is blazed to make the sap flow, the cut being made in the
shape of the plate. The plate is spiked over this blaze, with the batting
next to the tree so that the cotton will be kept moist by the sap. To
prevent its being torn out by a bear, the plate should fit snugly into
the cut, the lower edge flush with the bark. The bottom of the plate
should be perforated with small holes made with a shingle nail, so that
the scent will escape slowly. The plate should be shaded from the sun as
much as possible.

Such scent stations should be placed on trees along creeks where
mountain-lions are known to travel, particularly near deer trails that
lead to water. They are probably best placed on trees in narrow canyons,
where the chances of successful trapping are greater because of the
narrowness of the path along which the mountain-lion must travel. The
writer has known catnip pans to be visited by mountain-lions in such
places as long as 6 months after placement, and in British Columbia the
game authorities report a lion's visit to a station 10 months old. After
the scent station is made, traps should be set, as described later, near
the base of the tree. The mountain-lion, attracted by the catnip odor in
the plate, steps into the trap when approaching the lure.

[Illustration: Figure 3.--A 2-trap "blind" set for
mountain-lions. In the saddle of a divide the traps are placed in the
trail where it narrows. A small stick or other obstruction should be put
between the traps and one at either approach, to make the lion step into
one of the traps rather than between or over them]

Setting the Traps

The hole for the trap set should be dug about 15 to 20 inches from
a carcass, a single undisturbed scratch hill, or a tree on which a
scent station has been placed, or directly in a trail where it narrows
naturally or is made to narrow by rocks, brush, or other obstructions
placed at the sides. (Fig. 3.) The hole should be only slightly larger
than the trap, and just deep enough to hold the set at a level slightly
lower than the surrounding ground, with the drag and chain buried beneath
it. The drag, which should preferably be of ½-inch wrought iron, should
be attached to one end of the chain by a figure-8 swivel and it should
end in two well-curved prongs. (Fig. 1.) Bedding the drag under the
trap, of course, requires more excavation. The drag chain should be at
least 8 feet long and attached to the base of the trap or to one of the
springs. At scratch hills it is well to place a trap on either side, the
springs at right angles to the known direction of approach. In a trail
the traps should be in line, the springs at right angles to the direction
of travel. Experiments have proved that most of the larger predators,
and particularly the mountain-lion, tend to avoid stepping directly on
any hard object in a path. Knowing this tendency, the trapper may place
a stick or a stone between the two traps and another at each approach;
these will cause the animal to break its gait and step into one of the
traps rather than over or between them. In approaching a scratch hill,
a scent station, or a carcass where sets have been made, or in passing
over a blind set in the trail, the predator is usually caught by one of
the forefeet, though it may step into a bedded trap with a hind foot. No
scent is used at carcass or blind sets. (Pp. 4, 6.)

Covering Traps

After the trap has been firmly bedded near an undisturbed scratch hill,
scent station, or carcass, or in a trail, it should be covered with
earth and the surroundings left in a condition as nearly natural as
possible. Dry horse or cow manure, finely pulverized, may be used to
cover the inside of the trap jaws. Extreme care should be taken to keep
all dirt from under the trap pan and to see that the open space there
is at least one-fourth inch deep. The trap pan should be covered by a
pad made of canvas or old descented slicker cloth, and cut to fit snugly
inside the jaws, and all should then be covered with finely pulverized
earth, leaving the immediate area looking, as nearly as possible, as it
did before the trap was buried. Finishing such a task properly and thus
leaving the ground over the trap in a perfectly natural condition so that
it blends with the surrounding area is an art that requires much practice.

Traps Accidentally Sprung

When traps are set near carcasses additional care should be undertaken to
underpin the trap pan so that it will not spring under the weight of a
magpie, buzzard, or other carnivorous bird that may be attracted to the

In forested areas a mountain-lion hunter may find his traps sprung by
small animals, for squirrels and other rodents (and sometimes small
birds) may dig or scratch around and between the jaws of the trap. Unless
the trap pan is properly supported, these animals are unnecessarily
endangered, and in addition the trap is frequently sprung. This may be
prevented by setting the trap pan so that it will carry a weight of
several pounds.

One simple way of underpinning the trap is to place a small twig
perpendicularly from the base snugly up to the middle point of the pan.
Instead of the small twig, some hunters use a fine coiled-steel spring.
Such contrivances will permit the trap pan to carry the weight of the
smaller mammals or birds without endangering them or releasing the trap
jaws and thus spoiling a set well placed for a mountain-lion. Devices
adjusted to mountain-lion traps to prevent their being sprung by small
mammals and birds are illustrated in Figure 4. The Biological Survey pan
spring (fig. 4, D), recently developed in this bureau can be readily
attached to the No. 14 steel trap used for mountain-lions. A slightly
larger spring is required for the No. 4½ trap. A patent on this device
has been applied for, to be dedicated to public use.

Care in Details

In trapping, attention to simple details is essential. Though the
mountain-lion trapper need not be so cautious about human scent as the
trapper of wolves or coyotes, it is well, when placing a trap, for
him to stand or kneel on a setting cloth, if for no other reason than
convenience. This cloth may be about 3 feet square and made of canvas,
slicker-coat material, or the skin of a sheep or calf. It will also help
to avoid disturbing the ground about the trap set. Excavated soil can
be placed on it, and that not needed in completing the work can thus be
easily removed. In addition, at the completion of a set, the trapping
equipment can be rolled up in it and carried away. Minor trapping details
include removing rust from traps, boiling them in water to eliminate the
conspicuous fresh odors noticed when they come from the manufacturer,
carefully repairing traps with faulty springs, taking care that the trap
pan moves freely on its post, and seeing that the jaws are adjusted to
close snugly and rapidly. Without attending carefully to minor details,
no farmer or stockmen can expect success in trapping America's prince of
predators--the mountain-lion.

[Illustration: Figure 4.--Devices to prevent capturing small
animals and birds in traps set for mountain-lions or other predators:
A, Fan supported by twig (grass or a light coil spring may be used); B,
splint support; C, forked-twig support; D, Biological Survey pan spring]

                    *       *       *       *       *

                 U. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1933

     For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C.

                              Price 5 cents

                    *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber Notes

Illustrations positioned so as to avoid splitting paragraphs. All
occurrences of "mountain lion" were changed to "mountain-lion".

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