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Wildlife: Where to See Mountain Lions

Mountain lions can be found from Central America to the Pacific.
june 2010 wildlife mtn lion 445x260Mountain lions near Columbus, Montana (Michael H. Francis)

Range
The Rockies to the Pacific, and all of Mexico and Central America

Where
>> Patchy forests, especially bordering open fields “Mountain lions like to work the edges while hunting,” says Paul Beier, a Northern Arizona University biologist and mountain lion expert. So scan the boundaries between dense brush and open grassland. Position yourself on a ridge or the opposite side of a canyon where you can watch without scaring them.

When
>> Dawn and dusk, year-round These nocturnal cats are “one-tenth as active during the day,” says Beier.
 
How
>> Seeing a cougar is “an outrageously difficult thing,” admits Beier. In his years of study, he’s only happened upon two cats—the rest of his 30-plus sightings resulted from radio tracking. Your best bet is to head where elk or deer are plentiful. Since mountain lions must eat every day or two, they stick close to their prey.
>> Locate a recent kill: If the carcass is covered with sticks and leaves, it means the cat plans to return for more food. “It’s likely even watching you,” Beier says. Find a good viewing spot a safe distance away (100-plus yards), and wait for the cat to return.

Top spots
Vancouver Island, off the west coast of British Columbia, has North America’s highest mountain lion concentration. Look for tracks along the 5.6-mile stretch of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail from Sombrio Beach to Parkinson Creek. Or hike Plumas NF, in California, where large tracts of undeveloped land give cats plenty of room to prowl.

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