Animals -> Mammals -> Furbearers -> Cougar


Cougar, also referred to as mountain lion, was important as a primary or supplemental food source to all cultures with access to it. Cougars are reported to have been eaten by Gulf of Georgia Salish including Nanaimo, Comox, Klahoose and West Sanetch [1]. It was also pursued for its skin and claws by Lillooet of the Southwestern Interior of British Columbia [2]. The Algonquian and Iroquois living in the forests of the northeastern region of North America regularly hunted the cougars [3]. Likewise, cougar was regularly hunted by the Shawnee, Spokane and Kitsumkalum [3-5]. Cougars were also available to the Kitsumkalum, Red Earth Cree, and Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth). The Nootka only ate them if they were accidentally caught in a trap [6-8]. The Coast Salish and Spokane caught cougar using spring-traps or deadfalls and the Middle Columbia River Salish used various strategies to catch the animal [5, 9, 10]. Cougar was boiled, roasted or steamed [11].


Algonquian and Iroquois primarily began their hunt in fall. Men hunted on family or band-owned territories, while women cooked the meat [3]. The Shawnee also began the hunt in fall, leaving towns toward the end of September to form winter camps in secluded valleys in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Groups consisting of active men and women went on hunting expeditions lasting two to three months, typically concluding in December [12]. The Kitsumkalum hunted in fall on specific hunting territories, but occasionally hunted in winter as well [13]. The Spokane typically hunted for cougars in winter on hunting grounds located in permanent winter villages situated along the Spokane River. It was usual for women to accompany the men on remote group hunts to help with cooking, building shelter, skinning, preparation of pelt, drying of meat, and transport of carcasses [5].

Two major strategies were used: individual and group hunting. The Kitsumkalum hunted in groups, while the Spokane usually hunted cougars individually [4, 5]. The Spokane used three types of bows when using the bow and arrow to hunt cougar: the sinew-backed, straight and North American elk-rib bows. These bows were typically made from syringe and ocean spray and mountain mahogany. Arrows were constructed with alder and dogwood with a fore or single shaft. Because they usually stalked cougar in the winter, cougars were most often tracked using snowshoes [5]. The Kalispel used deadfalls, bows, and stone-tipped or common arrows with a sharpened shaft to capture cougars. The stone-tipped arrow could not be utilized in rocks or regions where the tip might be wrecked, because they were difficult to replace [14].

Beliefs and taboos

Algonquin and Iroquois individuals were typically named after animals, birds, or plants, and their ascribed being was treated with great respect. Members of the cougar clan, for example, might refuse to harm or eat the meat of the cougar [3].


1.         Barrett HG: Gulf of Georgia Salish: University of California; 1939.

2.         Teit JA: The Lillooet Indians, vol. Re-print of the 1906 ed; The Jesup North Pacific Expedition: Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History. New York: AMS Press Inc.; 1975.

3.         Hughes JD: Forest Indians: the holy occupation. Environ 1977, NO. 1:2-13.

4.         Halpin MM, Seguin M: Tsimshian Peoples: Southern Tsimshian, Coast Tsimshian, Nishga, and Gitksan. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. edn. Edited by Suttles W. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990: 267-271.

5.         Ross JA: Spokane. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 12: Plateau. edn. Edited by Walker DE, Jr. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1998: 271-282.

6.         Cox BA. In: Native People, Native Lands. edn. Ottawa: Carleton University Press; 1992.

7.         Drucker P: The Northern and Central Nootkan tribes. Washington,D.C.: Government Printing Office; 1951.

8.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

9.         Ashwell R: Food, Fishing & Hunting; Cooking Methods. In: Coast Salish: Their Art, Culture and Legends. Volume 1st edition, edn. British Columbia: Hancock House Publishers Inc.; 1978: 28-55.

10.       Miller J: Middle Columbia River Salishans. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 12: Plateau. edn. Edited by Walker DE, Jr. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1998: 253-270.

11.       Barnett HG: Food; Occupations. In: The Coast Salish of British Columbia. Volume 1st edition, edn. Eugene: University of Oregon; 1955: 59-107.

12.       Callender C: Shawnee. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 15: Northeast. edn. Edited by Trigger BG. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1978: 622-630.

13.       Suttles W (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990.

14.       Lahren SL, Jr.: Kalispel. In: Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 12: Plateau. edn. Edited by Walker DE, Jr. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1998: 283-288.


The cougar (Puma concolor), also called puma or mountain lion, is a large member of the cat family, which also includes the lynx (Lynx canadensis) and bobcat (L. rufus). In North America, they have a western distribution, occurring from southeastern Alaska, British Columbia, and Alberta southward across western United States and Mexico. 

Like other wild members of the cat family, cougars are perfectly adapted ambush predators, with a strong musculature, a compact head with rounded ears, long canines, long limbs, and big paws equipped with retractable claws. Unlike lynx and bobcat with short tails and spotted fur patterns, cougars have a very long tail and are uniformly light brown. They are massive cats, much larger than lynx and bobcat, and adults typically weigh 54 kg with males almost twice the size has females.

Cougars are almost always alone, except for a few days around mating time and before juvenile dispersal. They breed year-round and produce litters of around 3 cubs about 3 months later in densely vegetated areas. Cubs will remain with their mother for around 15 months before dispersing to their own individual territories. They feed mainly on large hoofed mammals, consuming close to 50 individuals per year, but their diet also includes coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, other cougars, and domestic animals.


Wilson DE, Ruff S: The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press; 1999.


Images provided below were obtained from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - North American Mammals. Available from
Credit: painting by Consie Powell from Kays and Wilson's Mammals of North America, © Princeton University Press (2002)
Credit: Data provided by NatureServe in collaboration with Bruce Patterson, Wes Sechrest, Marcelo Tognelli, Gerardo Ceballos, The Nature Conservancy — Migratory Bird Program, Conservation International — CABS, World Wildlife Fund — US, and Environment Canada — WILDSPACE.