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Rare sighting of mountain lion culminates in successful hunt; Dunseith, North Dakota, man shares story

The mountain lion was about 150 yards away, and Donny Haas had the wind in his favor.

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Donny Haas of Dunseith, North Dakota, with the mountain lion he shot Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Rolette County of north-central North Dakota. Haas brought the cat to Sportsman's Taxidermy Studio in East Grand Forks, where the photo was taken, on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, and will have a full body mount made of the trophy. The Game and Fish Department will retain the carcass for study purposes, as required for all mountain lions taken in North Dakota. North Dakota has offered a season on mountain lions since 2005.
Contributed / Brad Durick

DUNSEITH, N.D. – The mountain lion had shown up on a trail camera Jan. 2, 2021, but Donny Haas didn’t expect to see it again.

North-central North Dakota isn’t exactly prime mountain lion country, after all, although the big cats do wander through the area from time to time.

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This mountain lion with a raccoon it killed, is seen in an image from Donny Haas' trail camera Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, near Dunseith North Dakota. Another male mountain lion, possibly the same cat, showed up on Haas' trail camera Monday afternoon, Jan. 10, 2022, in the same area. Haas was able to shoot the male mountain lion, which weighed 165 pounds, and is having a full body mount made of the cat at Sportsman's Taxidermy Studio in East Grand Forks.
Contributed / Donny Haas

“I never did see it, of course,” Haas said.

So, it was with some surprise that Haas got another photo of a big cat while checking trail cameras after work this past Monday afternoon, Jan. 10, in the same heavily forested area near Lake Upsilon in Rolette County.

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“We went up there to check some game cameras to try to get pictures of him again, and I started seeing tracks of it, and it was like, ‘Holy cow, he’s back,’ ” said Haas, 39, who works for Bottineau County.

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The tracks were fresh, Haas says, and probably no more than an hour old.

His dad, Gary, lives about an eighth of a mile away so Haas went back to get a rifle. Mountain lion season in the area, which is part of Zone 2, is open through March 31. Zone 2 covers most of the state outside core mountain lion range in western North Dakota, and there is no quota on the number of cats that can be taken.

The season is open to residents only, and a furbearer license is required.

Cougar sightings have become more common in Minnesota than they were 20 years ago, but the Department of Natural Resources maintains the state does not have a breeding population of the big cats.

“I walked up there going north and was just going over a hill and happened to see it walking on a deer trail just going through the trees,” Haas said. “I got a shot on it, and I got it.”

The cat was about 150 yards away, and Haas had the wind in his favor.

“It was pretty cool,” he said. “There’s a lot of luck to see one and then make a shot and get it. The stars have to kind of align for that to happen.”

As required, Haas said he then contacted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and District Game Warden Jonathan Tofteland of Bottineau inspected the cat and issued a tag the next morning. Wednesday afternoon, Haas brought the mountain lion to Sportsman’s Taxidermy Studio in East Grand Forks, where the cat will be skinned for a full body mount.

The carcass will be taken to Game and Fish in Bismarck, where department staff will study the animal, which is standard procedure for mountain lions harvested in North Dakota.

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Based on its appearance, Haas says he thinks it’s the same mountain lion that showed up on the trail camera in January 2021; the male cat weighed 165 pounds.

“It was just unreal to see something like that,” Haas said. “Just to see how big the body was and how long the tail was, it was just like, ‘wow.’ Just a real beautiful animal.”

While mountain lion season is open statewide in North Dakota, most of the cats are taken in Zone 1, which includes the Badlands and encompasses the core of the species’ breeding range. Hunters occasionally shoot cats in Zone 2, but it’s relatively uncommon.

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North Dakota mountain lion zones.
Contributed / North Dakota Game and Fish Department

During the 2019-20 season, for example, hunters shot 14 mountain lions in Zone 1 and three cats in Zone 2, statistics from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department show. Since North Dakota offered its first season in 2005, the statewide harvest has ranged from as low as four to as many as 19 during the 2017-18 season, when a record six cats were taken in Zone 2 outside the core breeding range.

Haas says he knows of a mountain lion shot three or four years ago to the west of him near Lake Metigoshe, but such incidents are “very uncommon” in north-central North Dakota.

The mountain lion Haas shot Jan. 10 is the first to be taken in Zone 2 during the 2021-22 season to date, said Stephanie Tucker, furbearer biologist and game management section leader for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“You’ll hear of people getting one on a game camera once in a great while or say they see one, but sightings are really rare,” Haas said.

Jim Benson of Sportsman’s Taxidermy said the cat is one of the larger ones they’ve ever gotten at the East Grand Forks taxidermy studio.

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“He’s extremely stocky – extremely stocky shoulders and forearms,” Benson said. “He’s a beast. He is the biggest one we’ve gotten from North Dakota, but we don’t get very many from North Dakota.”

Haas says he hopes to put the mount of the big cat on display when it’s complete.

“I’ll put it somewhere on public display where everybody can see and enjoy it,” he said. “Something like that should be displayed.”

As of Wednesday, Jan. 12, three male mountain lions and one female have been shot during the late season in Zone 1. The quota in Zone 1 is no more than seven mountain lions or three females, whichever comes first. One mountain lion was taken during the early season that ended Nov. 21. The season in Zone 1 continues through March 31 or until the quota is reached.

More info: gf.nd.gov.

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