A north Idaho, Flying B cougar hunt may be the ultimate, classic, anti-cabin-fever, winter, big game adventure. It’s the cat’s meow. And I’m not lion.
If you’re still with me after those pathetic puns, you must be seriously interested in hunting the western hemisphere’s largest wild cat. Good, because Idaho has lots of them. And the guides at the Flying B Ranch know where to find them.
Meet Your Flying B Cougar Hunt Guides
Jeremi Syron is an Idaho native and General Manager at the Flying B Ranch. He was lead guide for my Flying B cougar hunt. He grew up in the area, has hunted it all his life, and trains the hounds that find the lions. My second guide, Flying B Big Game Manager Corey Swanson, can be forgiven for having been born and raised in the Ohio area because he gave that up for Idaho as soon as he was old enough to escape. He keeps and trains lion hounds, too. Together Jeremi and Corey — along with Duke, Boner, and Bess — are a hunter’s ace in the hole. This is the tough, hard working team that will not only lead you to your puma, but inspire you to keep climbing.
A Hard Cat to See Haunts the Flying B
Puma, mountain lion, painter, catamount, and panther are all names for the common cougar. Whatever you call them, finding one is not easy. During hundreds of expeditions into the wilds of North and South America — much of it prime cougar country — I’ve laid eyes on just four of these cats. Three were on the Flying B Ranch. One was hunting deer the same time I was. We watched whitetails flee in front of a big, pumpkin headed tom as it stalked the steep valley walls just two miles upstream from the lodge. We saw the second, a small female, flush a hen pheasant from a thicket and swat it out of the air. We found the third in a fir tree above the barking, hard-working hounds we’d followed up and down the snowy mountains for the better part of three days. The Flying B should be called the Flying C — for Cougar.
Your Flying B Cougar Hunt Headquarters is Historically Famous
The Flying B is NOT a rough and tumble cattle ranch. It used to be. It also used to be the winter headquarters for the Nez Perce tribe. These were the friendly locals who fed the starving Lewis and Clark Expedition when it emerged from the Bitterroot Mountains in September of 1805. Nez Perce longhouses stood along the creek a few hundred yards from today’s Flying B log lodge. Lewis and Clark traveled and hunted this ground for several weeks, guests of tribe.
You, as a Flying B cougar hunt participant, will “camp” in a luxury lodge and eat gourmet food. In addition to cougars, the Flying B offers hunts for pheasants, chukars, Huns, valley quail, blue grouse, ruffed grouse, whitetails, mule deer, elk, black bears, and sometimes even moose. They fish for salmon, steelhead, rainbows, smallmouth bass, and cutthroat trout. In short, the Flying B is an outdoorsman’s paradise, all of its stunning landscape reserved for wildlife, including cougars.
More Hunt Than I Imagined
The hunt itself can involve pickup trucks, snowmobiles, boats, and snow shoes, but at some point — sooner rather than later in my case — it will devolve into boots, muscles and determination. Climbing 3,000 feet a day across three to six miles might not seem like a big deal, but do it for three days on north Idaho’s Clearwater River slopes through ankle- to waist-deep snow and you’ll have a renewed appreciation for hot tubs, analgesic rubs, and ibuprofen. But you’ll gain the satisfaction of discovering endurance you didn’t know you had and a style of hunting you might have thought beneath you. Just climbing among majestic, towering cedars and lichen bedecked firs is strangely uplifting. Discovering deer and elk tracks overlain with coyote, wolf and lion tracks carries you back 200 years. You can practically see the Nez Perce riding through the groves atop their spotted ponies. And then you find the remains of another cougar kill, a crumpled whitetail fawn half covered with pine duff, and the hair stands up on your neck.
I’ll confess that, prior to this hunt, I didn’t think highly of scent hounds (dumb) or hound hunters (red-necked.) You can thank American culture, particularly Hollywood, for that. Beverly Hillbillies. Deliverance. Etc. ad infinitum. But that perception changed after just one day. My guides were smart, tough, polite, kind, insightful, patient, respectful — regular boy scouts. They loved and respected the land, the forest, and all the beasts that lived within it. And they loved their hounds as much as the most affected ruffed grouse hunter loves his setters. Imagine, a grown man picking up a tired, homely, old hound dog and carrying it across a meadow of ice crusted snow.
Story Appears in Sporting Classics Magazine, March/April 2018
Sporting Classics magazine will publish a full account of my hunt in its March/April issue, so I won’t share all the details here. I just wanted to alert potential cougar hunters that this is the season for one of the most unusual, demanding, eye-opening, big game hunts in the world. I have no idea if a Flying B cougar hunt is still open this winter, but it’s always worth investigating. Sometimes there are cancellations. Idaho has had a stable-to-increasing cougar population ever since the big cats were given game animal status in 1972. Hunts and harvest are carefully regulated by sex and region. Flying B cougar hunts always seem to produce. They claim an 80-percent success rate. Based on what I saw during my three day hunt, I can understand why.
By the way, many employee of the Flying B claimed their favorite game meat was cougar. After eating some of mine, I now understand why. Light, slightly sweet and delicious. Like pork and bear meat, it can carry trichinella parasites. Heating the meat thoroughly to at least 160-degrees F. takes care of them, according to the CDC.
Author Ron Spomer has hunted on six continents for everything from buffalo to bunnies, but he’s rarely enjoyed an enlightening challenge quite as much as he did on his Flying B cougar hunt.