HomeOutdoorsHuntingUtah Officials Considering Controversial Open Season On Mountain Lions

Utah Officials Considering Controversial Open Season On Mountain Lions

by Brett Stayton
Mountain Lion Roars Through The Snow
Photo by Ibrahim Suha Derbent/Getty Images

Mountain lion hunting is one of the most controversial pursuits in America. The rule is typically that the bigger and fuzzier an animal, the more outrage it causes when hunters shoot them. For some reason, that especially holds true with predators like bears, cougars, and wolves. The general public’s approval for hunting is highest when parameters for those hunts are tightly restricted and highly regulated. That combination of factors is why potential plans for mountain lion hunting in Utah that would remove all bag limits and extend the season year-round are especially controversial.

Field And Stream recently took a deep dive into the situation. It’s a good look at how messy the politics of hunting and wildlife conservation can be. House Bill 469 has nicely passed its way through both the Utah State Senate and House of Representatives already. In addition to rolling back bag limits and extending the season from 7 months to 12 months, it would also permit anyone with a generic hunting license in the state to hunt the cats with methods like running hounds, setting trap lines, and spot and stalk hunting.

The legislation would essentially reclassify mountain lions from a big game species to a nuisance animal, similar to the classification of wild hogs in many states. The bill has received some vocal opposition from people within the mountain lion hunting community.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox has until March 23 to either sign or veto the bill. If signed, the new regulations would go into effect and become official state hunting regulations beginning on May 23, 2023.

Many Utah Mountain Lion Hunters Oppose The Ideas Outlined In The Legislation

One of the most notable opponents of the legislation is Corey Huntsman. He’s the president of the Utah Houndsmen Association and a fervent mountain lion hunter. His bigger concern is repealing bag limits on the cats more so than extending the season year-round. “We have not had a change this radical in the wildlife management of any species in Utah in 56 years,” Huntsman said. “And this was done with zero public input. The legislators did not seek out Utah Division of Wildlife biologist experts for opinion or cause and effects. They didn’t reach out to our universities that are doing studies on deer and lions. This was all legislators managing wildlife by slipping an amendment into an unrelated bill at the last hour.”

It appears this is yet another instance of elected officials attempting to circumvent the people that should actually be making these types of decisions. Darren DeBlois, the Mammals Programs Coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said his agency was not consulted by legislators at all regarding the bill. We did know that the legislature has been concerned in recent years about mule deer numbers,” DeBlois told Field & Stream. “With this really heavy winter that we had this year, the legislature thought that we needed to be as liberal as possible with opportunities for cougar hunting.”

Opinions About The Status Of Utah’s Cougar Population Vary Amongst Experts

The most recent population assessment of the mountain lion population indicates roughly 2,000 cats are roaming wild across Utah. In 2021, an estimated 667 cougars were taken by hunters. In 2022, that number dipped to 491. A spokesperson for the state agency said that the decline in harvest wasn’t indicative of a decline in the overall population. Instead, they attributed it to be an indicator of just how damn hard mountain lions are to hunt.

That’s not necessarily something that Corey Huntsman agrees with. As someone who spends roughly 150 days a year chasing cougars through the mountains, he may be on to something.

Wouldn’t that be an indicator that we’re decreasing the population?” he asked. “We’ve had the best snow year we’ve ever had this year. The snow is so good that you can go out and track them without a dog. She’s saying that the drop in numbers is because they’re so hard to hunt, but I could go out and catch one with a Labrador right now. We’re decreasing the population. There is data to support that.”

The state agency responded to his doubts with data, for what that’s worth. “All of our data indicates that the cougar population has been growing for the last 20 years or so,” said Darren DeBlois. “I think a lot of the changes to cougar hunting brought on by this legislation are going to be more social than biological. We’re already pretty liberal with our cougar harvest in most of our units.”

For an inside look at what a Utah mountain lion hunt looks like, check out this video from Mullet Man. It’s racked up almost a million views on YouTube over the last year. Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart also made headlines earlier this year after his father shared details of their Utah mountain lion hunt.