Training hounds to hunt mountain lions is a full-time commitment, said Luke Worthington of Gillette.
“If you get a 6-week-old puppy, you start training about 40 hours a week,” Worthington, spokesman for the Wyoming Houndsmen Association, told legislators Thursday.
It takes about a year for a young dog to be ready to venture out into the field with its packmates for the first time, he said.
“Usually, a 2-year-old dog is a finished, ready-to-go dog,” he said.
Worthington was testifying for the Wyoming Senate Travel, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee in favor of Senate File 178, which would allow “pursuit seasons” for mountain lions. Even after they had killed mountain lions and filled their hunting tags, hound hunters could continue to take their dogs out to chase and tree mountain lions, then let the big cats go.
The committee voted to forward the bill to the Senate floor.
Pursuit Trains Mountain Lions Too
Even trained hunting hounds need to go out on regular pursuits to keep their skills sharp, Worthington said.
As it is now in Wyoming, “As soon as we do harvest a lion, our tag is gone, and we can’t be out in the woods with our dogs,” he said.
Worthington also told lawmakers that “catch-and-release” pursuits of the big cats also would teach mountain lions to keep clear of conflict with humans.
When mountain lions get chased and treed “they do learn respect for dogs, people and livestock,” he said.
The bill would allow hound hunters to participate in pursuit-only seasons with special permits, said Rick King, chief game warden for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The need for pursuit-only mountain lion seasons is driven by trouble with mountain lions killing livestock, said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas.
The bill would allow hunters to be “more efficient” at killing and scaring away mountain lions, he said.
Natrona and Johnson counties in particular have had trouble with mountain lions killing domestic sheep, King said.
The bill would be fair for Wyoming hound hunter because neighboring states such as Utah and Idaho already have pursuit-only seasons, he said.
Doesn’t Stress The Cats
Under current rules, mountain lion hunters will frequently “hold back” on killing a cat and filling their hunting tags so that they can stay out in the field, said Wyoming Wildlife Federation spokeswoman Jess Johnson.
Allowing pursuit-only mountain lion hunts would relieve them of having to make that choice.
There’s no indication that being chased and treed multiple times by hound packs is stressful for mountain lions, Johnson said. Studies have shown that treed cats didn’t have elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
“In some instances they (mountain lions) are falling asleep in the trees,” she said. “So, at most, they’re probably mildly annoyed.”
Being chased and treed by canines is nothing new or unnatural for mountain lions, Game and Fish large carnivore specialist Dan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily in a recent interview. That’s how they’ve escaped wolf packs for ages.
Mountain lion hunting is popular with resident and out-of-state hunters, King said. For the latest season, Game and Fish issued 3,000 mountain lion tags, 300 of which went to non-residents.