Mountain lion hunter Rich Lewis rose to prominence through his involvement in the reality-television series, “Mountain Men.” His extraordinary tracking abilities and love for his hounds have made him a fan favorite of the series’ loyal viewers. When he stopped appearing in the TV show, fans were curious as to the reason why, and wondered if he was still roaming around somewhere in the cold mountains of North America’s wilderness.

Get to know Rich Lewis

The highly-skilled mountain lion tracker was born in Idaho in January 1954, and grew up on a ranch there, learning survival skills from his father and grandfather. To be closer to nature, he and his wife, Diane Lewis, lived on an 8,000-acre spread in the isolated Ruby Valley located in the southwest region of Montana. His place has a population density of just three people per square mile and the rugged landscape discouraged people from visiting him. He’s a reformed alcoholic, having been sober since 1994. Some people call him crazy, which he’s encouraged, because he loved it when people just left him alone. He said that he’s not a people person, and that he didn’t have any plans of conforming to society in general.

However, as much as he professed solitude, he helped his neighbors by making sure no big cats would get near their homes. In return, the neighbors also helped him protect his property. Long before he appeared in “Mountain Men,” he was a celebrated local hero in his town – apparently, in 2007, a mountain lion created havoc in their community, and killed a couple of domestic animals. No one was able to run the lion off the place, contain the predator, or take it down, especially with the animal preservation and protection law. The people in his town breathed a sigh of relief when the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks gave him the green light to go after the cougar. He and his hounds successfully tracked the big cat, and Rich took it out before it created more harm or worse, killed someone. His heroic deed was reported by the local media, and was an enthralling story that the locals liked to tell the visitors to their area. It didn’t escape the History Channel research team either, who were looking for additional cast members for the second season of the aforementioned show, and who contacted him immediately after hearing the story. He then agreed to show his skills, as well as share his experience with the viewing public.

All about “Mountain Men”

History Channel’s reality-TV series, “Mountain Men,” featured a breed of special men who chose a hardcore lifestyle in remote areas filled with challenges that only a few were willing to confront. In the mountains of North America, especially in the Appalachian Blue Ridge, Montana Rockies, and the Great Northern Alaskan Range, everyone acknowledges that man is not at the top of the food chain. These mountain men must do whatever necessary to survive, and that would only be possible if they applied skills that were passed on to them by their fathers and their fathers before them. The mountains were of a different world, as these men struggled to survive while confronting deadly predators found on the edge of civilization, made worse by the often deadly force of winter.

“Mountain Men” TV premiere and premise

Going off the grid on weekends through camping, hiking and hunting was a huge thing for many people. It wasn’t a surprise that when “Mountain Men” premiered on 31 March 2012, a decent number of people switched to History Channel that night, to watch men prepare themselves for the onslaught of the changing of the seasons from fall to winter. They knew that at below 60°, once people felt cold, they couldn’t warm themselves up instantly. They were pretty much aware that the line between life and death was quite slim in their environment.

A brief background on its first season with the original cast

The first season of “Mountain Men” showcased the lives of three – Eustace Conway, Tom Oar, and Marty Meierotto. They didn’t live together, but they all faced the same challenges of being in the mountains far from everyone else. Eustace Conway lived in Triplett, North Carolina somewhere in the Cherokee National Forest near the Tennessee border. At the time of the filming of the show, he had lived there for 35 years, and survived because he knew how to hunt, skin, and butcher animals. He thought it was funny when people told him that he couldn’t escape reality, when he told them that he was moving to the mountains. Back then, he said to them that he was about to live in reality, and that it was them who were living in virtual reality, saying that most modern Americans didn’t know how to grow and store food on their own.

Tom Oar was situated about 2,500 miles away in Northwest Montana where the countdown to winter had been moving quickly that year. He said that the Big Rockies Mountain can be unforgiving, but he couldn’t imagine living in some other place, and never wanted to leave after living there for the past three decades. He and his wife, Nancy, highly appreciated the solitude, even if his children and grandchildren begged him to give up this lifestyle, and retire to civilization; it was grueling for someone who had “rodeo knees” to prepare for a Montana winter that could last for up to seven months. Nancy shared that they had to get everything done and made sure certain things were in order during the fall season, or they were headed for trouble. Tom said that each year, he and his neighbor needed to find a winter hunting ground so they could stock up on food – the closest supermarket was about 100 miles away from their home.

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Somewhere on the Alaskan Frontier, the harshest season started earlier than in the other mentioned places. During winter, Marty Meierotto would leave his wife and young daughter in their home in Two Rivers, about 23 miles from Fairbanks, to head to one of the wildest places on earth, the Northern Alaskan Range. Due to Alaska’s huge size, just like many other Alaskans, he relied on a small bush plane to get to his remote cabin, which was about 200 miles away from his home, taking him over three hours to reach it; one of his biggest challenges flying the plane was the extreme weather. He had to winterize it first by using skis instead of tires; removing the wheels was already a backbreaking task, as the cold made everything stiff. The flight was considered perilous even in perfect weather conditions, and it could be much more dangerous when the temperature reached below -40°.

Rich Lewis’ journey in “Mountain Men”

When Rich was introduced in the second season of “Mountain Men,” attracting the attention of many of viewers because he offered a unique set of skills, that made him very valuable to his community. He was described as a different kind of mountain man.

What does Rich Lewis do for a living?

Being a mountain lion hunter was such a rare profession in the cattle ranching country of Ruby Valley, Montana. In 2013, there were close to 75,000 head grazing across a million acres of farmland in the area, and when there was a problem with lions poking around the properties of the local ranchers, they relied on the services of Rich to run them off the land. Mountain lions are also known as pumas or cougars, and are considered one of North America’s deadliest wild predators. They naturally preyed on deer and elk, but they had been known to have encounters with domestic livestock animals and humans, when they roamed around the ranches. Generally, it wasn’t their fault, because humans had built their houses right in their territory.

How does Rich chase the lions away?

Due to the environmental protection laws, the population of mountain lions has increased each year, and local ranchers have lost many of their cattle, plus their house pets due to lion attacks. They called on Rich to make sure it never happens again. When he made his television debut on “Mountain Men,” he was shown tracking a lion after a local rancher hired him to chase it away, as it already killed two of his cattle. Rich had a team of dogs that he’d trained for three years to relentlessly chase a lion, corner it, and force it up a tree – he referred to this method as hounding.

When tracking a lion, he would let his best hound stand on top of the hood of his vehicle with a rope tied in the middle of it to guide the dog and prevent him from jumping off. The other dogs would be sitting in the back while Rich slowly drove across the valley. The dogs were trained to get a sniff of the lion, and when they found a track of prints in the snow, he would set the dogs off into the vast land. He would follow them by foot and when they zeroed in on the target, they would let out a series of special barks that would alert Rich. His goal was never to kill the big cat but just to run it off from the farmland and onto a higher elevation where it could no longer pose a threat. Rich would scare the lion by bullying it to get down from the tree, and then would let the dogs chase after it until sundown if need be.

Meet Rich’s trained hounds

The dog lovers who watched “Mountain Men” were fascinated by the mountain lion hunter’s trained hounds. In the TV show, Rich initially featured his three special dogs namely Capote, Turbo and Brandy while the newer ones he included in the hunt later on. It was Capote who would normally lead the hunt, as he was the most experienced among his team. He loved them like his own family, and would become anxious each time a dog hadn’t returned to his side after a hunt. He had a policy of not returning home until all his dogs had been accounted for. During one of the successful hunts he had in the show, only Capote and Brandy returned. He called for Turbo but he was nowhere to be found. Since the area that they were hunting in at that time was wolves’ territory, Rich was afraid that the missing dog would be killed by them. He stayed in the mountain that night under a tree, waiting for 12 hours until daybreak so he could resume searching for Turbo. Fortunately, he found the dog next morning, safe and sound.

He didn’t always win the battle with the lions

There’s no perfect technique on how to chase the mountain lions without getting hurt. While Rich has faced many of those big cats and remained largely unscathed, it didn’t mean that all his dogs were as fortunate, and there was even a time he paid a steep price. One of his precious hounds was killed by a lion they referred to as Three-toed. He had a score to settle with the predator, and he was always on the lookout for that lion’s tracks. He hadn’t seen his tracks ever again, but promised that when he does, all hell would break loose as he would definitely chase his ass off the valley. Losing a dog wasn’t only heartbreaking but it could also cause a major setback for his business. It took about three years to train a dog properly, and even if he took safety precautions during a hunt, there’s still a chance they would all get hurt or worse, killed.

Received a gift from “Mountain Men” fans when he lost a dog

Rich was greatly loved by the loyal fans of “Mountain Men,” shown back in the fourth season of the series. Three of his fans traveled 1,700 miles just to reach the remote area where he was located at that time, to present him with a gift. Apparently, when he lost a dog due to a lion attack during the filming of the show, he was quite heartbroken because he considered that particular dog as his best friend. The fans felt his despair, and gave him another dog to raise and train to hunt, or just be his companion at home.

Last episode in “Mountain Men”

Each season of the reality-TV series, “Mountain Men,” the creators always warned viewers about disturbing images before the start of every episode, and fans were happy that none of them include Rich’s moments on the show. It did not necessarily mean that his job was less dangerous as he’d lost some of his precious hounds already, but thankfully in his last episode, no one was hurt. He was hunting down a female lion that terrorized a local ranch for four days until they were able to track it down to a cave in Tobacco Roots Mountain, which was just about a mile away from the ranch. Before he left it, he covered the cave entrance with branches to know if the lion went out. Twelve hours later, the dogs resumed tracking it, and had the lion up in a tree. Rich and the dogs pushed the lion out of the area, as far away as possible from the ranch.

Where is Rich Lewis after he left “Mountain Men?”

“Mountain Men” viewers speculated widely when Rich didn’t appear in its seventh season. Initially, they were worried that something bad happened to him during one of his lion hunts. However, some of them believed that he was actually fired from the show by History Channel executives, due to creative differences. The show was criticized for being allegedly more of a “guided” reality series with exaggerated scenes than authentic reality-TV. There were those who said that he was suspended by the local authorities from the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, due to his accidental killing of a mountain lion instead of just chasing it away.

However, the real reason behind his absence was more of a practical one – he was getting old for his job. While he was successful during his last hunt in his final season with the show in September 2017, everyone could see that he was physically tired going up and down the mountains. While he said that he would never get tired of hunting the wild predators, because he loved doing what he does for a living, he was also extremely aware that getting old means getting slower. No one knew that at that time, he was saying ‘goodbye’ when he said that he was happy that they didn’t lose any cattle, and the season ended with no livestock being damaged.

Nobody seemed to know where Rich Lewis is right now, because he and his wife don’t have any social media presence. He probably wanted to enjoy his much-preferred solitude but there were rumors that he wasn’t seen back in Ruby Valley again. Some even claimed that he left the mountains, and has been ‘enjoying’ city life once more. However, others said that he was still in Ruby Valley, but the town was protecting his privacy, and keeping mum about his current whereabouts.

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