Predators are viewed from every angle and spectrum of human emotion. By some they are revered, mystified and enshrined as gods. Others view them as purely terrifying, placing themselves into the prey position and realizing the full potential of the creatures. Still others view them as steep competition for their resources as we are predators ourselves. I find myself teetering between all of these outlooks on the majority of the predator population. There is something alluring about them that fills me with respect and makes me pursue encounters with them. I also know that there are plenty of them out there enjoying elk meat for dinner just like I am. I also never forget that I could be a meal if the situation turns south and that caution, I hope, will prevent that situation from ever becoming a reality.
Predator hunting, like any hunting, has its controversy. Many view it as unethical due to the small percentage of hunters that eat the meat after they kill the animal. There are plenty of reasons why people may choose not to eat the meat and often it is not required that you do so. Predators are carriers of disease and the risks can out weight the rewards for most. There is also the reality that some predator’s meat may just not be very good. Some on the other hand are really delicious but the law often leaves that decision up to you and ultimately predator hunting is not about the meat. Well, in a round about way it is about meat but it is about the meat of animals like elk, deer and antelope that fall prey to these magnificent creatures. It is about conservation. Predators left unchecked in our ecosystem will reap sad and dangerous consequences. It is our responsibility to manage all animals and keep the balance in the woods to allow all species to survive and thrive.
I personally love predator hunting. There is a thrill in hunting something that may, in reality, actually be hunting me. Sadly, I am not able to dedicate as much time to hunting them as I do to hunting game. We do require a substantial supply of meat in the freezer each year. I do however keep dabbling in predator hunting each winter and hope to learn more and more every year about our local wolf and cougar populations. I want to know what makes them tick. Last year I spoke with the local wolf biologist for a long time and he shared with me what packs were in the area and what their average range looked like. I got out for a couple days in one of those areas but the Montana snow makes traveling these places, slow going.
This winter I have added cougars to my list and keep playing phone tag with the Fish Wildlife and Parks go to cougar guy. I have some questions for him about cougar behavior, habitat and basic laws concerning methods of hunting them. Talking to these experts provides feedback on recent sightings and health of the local populations. I also just love hearing their stories from the woods. I intend to get back out there with my snowshoes and rifle this winter. I may only get in some good exercise and see pretty white scenery but knowing that somewhere out there with me are the predators I am seeking will be exciting enough to push me forward. With eyes alert and ears as well, I will enjoy every minute of it.