An Official Lion Hunter

This 1922 New York Times Magazine profile article profiled Jay Bruce, the first official state mountain lion hunter for the state of California.

By an act of the legislature the position was created in 1918, and on Jan. 1, 1919, a hunter, trapper, and guide from Yosemite National Park was selected by the State Fish and Game Commission for the work. This man was Jay Bruce. For $100 a month, mileage, and $35 bounty and salvage for each lion, he agreed to check the cougars that were killing 30,000 deer and many domestic animals in the mountain regions.

To date, Bruce has 127 lions to his credit.

Bruce would hold the position until 1946.

In 1972, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a law which temporarily banned mountain lion hunting for five years. That policy was extended several times over the years until 1990, when California voters banned the practice permanently with Proposition 117, which passed with 52.4% support.

However, in 2017, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife began a policy allowing a special “depredation permit” to kill a mountain lion, if the animal had harmed or killed a person’s pets or livestock, and if attempts at non-lethal force had already failed. The first mountain lion killed under the new policy occurred in 2020.

Back to Jay Bruce in 1922, he was paid fairly well:

Not only does he get $20 bounty from the state, but he receives $15 for every good skin. These are made into rugs. If he captures cubs alive, his reward is great. A live lion cub is worth $100.

But he said the real reward was not monetary, but the pursuit:

“If I had a million dollars, I would still hunt lions,” he said. “The long chase over the snow, racing after the dogs through underbrush, swimming rivers, jumping chasms, alone in the wilderness — that’s life.”

Here’s a 1920s black-and-white video of Jay Bruce in action, including his voiceover:

An Official Lion Hunter

Published: Sunday, June 18, 1922

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