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#6195118 - 02/19/12 02:51 PM was I tracking a wolf or a cougar?
rufous Online   content
Campfire Regular

Registered: 07/13/01
Posts: 1253
Loc: Dixie, WA
I have been out hunting cougar this winter in an area that a friend shot one a couple years ago and over the years I have seen lots of cougar scat and tracks. However opening day of deer season last mid October I laid eyes on a big black wolf at only about 50 yards away. So I know that both animals are in the area. Anyway I was out recently and cut tracks in fresh snow. I tracked it for a couple hours before losing the tracks due to the fact that it warmed up and the snow came dumping out of the trees and obliterated the tracks.
I mostly think it was a cougar but I could sometimes see claw marks. Do cougars sometimes leave claw marks, especially in deep snow? Several clues had me pretty sure it was a cougar. First off the tracks had no scuff marks between them. Most critters tend to leave drag marks between tracks. With basically no wolf experience I do not know if wolf tracks would have the drag marks like deer and elk or no drag marks like cougar. Also I often could not see claw marks. Also the animal got up on several fallen logs and walked along the top of it. I see that as much more likely a cat trait than a wolf trait. Finally at one point I came to a tree that had snow a few feet up the side of the trunk and it was yellow a few feet up the tree. It did not smell of urine but it looked like maybe a scent marking.
This weekend I learned a distinguishing difference in the pads between wolves and cougars so I do not think I would be confused next time out. Anyway just curious what you who know wolves and mountain lions think.

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#6195233 - 02/19/12 03:25 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: rufous]
ravenr Offline
Campfire Regular

Registered: 01/17/11
Posts: 306
if you can see claw marks
its not a lion

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#6195295 - 02/19/12 03:42 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: ravenr]
Lonny Offline
Campfire Ranger

Registered: 01/13/06
Posts: 2211
Loc: Idaho
Yep, cougars will occasionally leave claw marks in the right snow conditions and deep wet snow is one of them. I've seen this a number of times. No or little scuff marks between steps?Cougar tracks have a cookie-cutter appearance with virtually no scuffing between steps. Tracks walking along the top of logs or other narrow balancing act features? Like you said, another cat trait.

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#6195329 - 02/19/12 03:49 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: Lonny]
rl11 Offline
Campfire Regular

Registered: 02/25/08
Posts: 687
Loc: Montana
Lions sometimes leave claw marks, wolves always do. If there were any tracks at all without them, it was a lion.

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#6195622 - 02/19/12 04:56 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: rufous]
alpinecrick Offline
Campfire Kahuna

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 19041
Loc: Western Slope of Colorado

Compare kitty cat tracks and dog tracks.

Cat paws are round, dog tracks have the front two toes in front, the outer toes trail behind. In deep snow, a lion will drag it's tail at times. And cats will lift their feet higher when wading through deepish snow. They will leave claw marks on occasion.


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#6198329 - 02/20/12 11:35 AM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: rufous]
Maverick940 Offline
Campfire Ranger

Registered: 01/19/12
Posts: 1970
Loc: Alaska
Originally Posted By: rufous
I have been out hunting cougar this winter in an area that a friend shot one a couple years ago and over the years I have seen lots of cougar scat and tracks. However opening day of deer season last mid October I laid eyes on a big black wolf at only about 50 yards away. So I know that both animals are in the area. Anyway I was out recently and cut tracks in fresh snow. I tracked it for a couple hours before losing the tracks due to the fact that it warmed up and the snow came dumping out of the trees and obliterated the tracks.
I mostly think it was a cougar but I could sometimes see claw marks. Do cougars sometimes leave claw marks, especially in deep snow? Several clues had me pretty sure it was a cougar. First off the tracks had no scuff marks between them. Most critters tend to leave drag marks between tracks. With basically no wolf experience I do not know if wolf tracks would have the drag marks like deer and elk or no drag marks like cougar. Also I often could not see claw marks. Also the animal got up on several fallen logs and walked along the top of it. I see that as much more likely a cat trait than a wolf trait. Finally at one point I came to a tree that had snow a few feet up the side of the trunk and it was yellow a few feet up the tree. It did not smell of urine but it looked like maybe a scent marking.
This weekend I learned a distinguishing difference in the pads between wolves and cougars so I do not think I would be confused next time out. Anyway just curious what you who know wolves and mountain lions think.


From what you described, I'd say it was a tom. But, not being there and all, it's hard to say.

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#6199683 - 02/20/12 05:24 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: Maverick940]
Flinch Offline
Campfire Tracker

Registered: 01/26/01
Posts: 5794
Loc: Utah, U.S.A.
I would say it is definitely a cat. Wolves won't walk on logs unless they absolutely have to in a blow down of brush. Cats LOVE to be "up" in the air and walk on logs a lot. If the snow is slick or crusted on an incline, the cats will use their claws to maintain footing. If they are sinking into the snow more than a couple of inches, they will also splay out their claws to stay on top of the snow better. If the yellow on the tree didn't smell like anything, it was probably sap juice from the tree. Cat spray stinks like mad. Either way, kill it laugh Flinch
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#6200454 - 02/20/12 07:43 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: Flinch]
Okanagan Offline
Campfire Guide

Registered: 01/25/01
Posts: 3843
Yep, as said, almost certainly a lion, as best anyone call tell without seeing it.

Here's a northern wolf track. Squint and you can see the track better. Canine claws are prominent, and the two front toes tend to be almost even with one another.




Below is a cougar hind foot that shows what sort of track it would make. One leading toe is longer, like the fingers on a human hand will tell you which hand you are looking at on a man. Also, the three lobes at the heel of the track are a give away if the track shows them, compared to a nearly straight across heel of the big canine.



Below is a track of a smallish cougar, and one claw shows slightly in the lead track. When a cougar is walking fast on a steep muddy hillside I have also seen quite prominent claw marks as the cat apparently extended them for traction. But all of those are exceptions and as said, most of the time a mountain lion does not show claws marks in its track.

After all that: Rufous, you have more successful cougar tracking experience than almost anyone on the 'fire! You are remarkably humble in asking!




Edited by Okanagan (02/20/12 08:45 PM)

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#6200620 - 02/20/12 08:21 PM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: Okanagan]
Brad Offline
Campfire Kahuna

Registered: 10/31/00
Posts: 21810
Wolf Tracks:

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#6202041 - 02/21/12 09:08 AM Re: was I tracking a wolf or a cougar? [Re: Brad]
Flinch Offline
Campfire Tracker

Registered: 01/26/01
Posts: 5794
Loc: Utah, U.S.A.
That wolf is wearing snow shoes. I can't believe how they are evolving. They are getting smarter all the time laugh laugh Flinch
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