S.D.’s new cougar season is a wait-and-see game
Decision to shift season to winter raises questions
By Mark Watson
The Weekly News
BLACK HILLS Wildlife officials aren’t sure what the outcome will be for the state’s fourth mountain lion season.
It will not be held concurrent with other seasons such as the Black Hills deer season, as happened in the past. It will start Jan. 1, 2009. The date shift is to help prevent the orphaning of kittens, which will be older by then. In the past three years, the season was held in the late fall.
But the big question is how many of the big cats will be shot since the vast majority of license holders bought a tag just in case they saw a lion while deer hunting.
“With the change in the season, I think we are going to struggle to get the harvest limit,” said John Kanta, regional wildlife manager with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “There is a good (chance) that we will have heavy snow at that time of year. It could be really cold.
“The Northern Hills is going to be literally inaccessible that time of year — it typically is — so there will be limited access for hunters to get out into the field.”
But at the same time, he said he might be surprised.
“The hunters surprised us in 2005 for the first season,” he said. “When we started that season we thought we would have difficulties making that harvest limit. Low and behold 15 days later the season was closed.”
The GF&P Commission announced the change in dates at its June meting.
“The thought is that this could increase a lion hunter on foot without the aid of hounds to target adult animals and more specifically adult males,” Kanta said. “They can look at tracks now in the snow and make a determination first of all if there is more than one lion traveling together, which is off limits. The other thing they can do is look at the tracks and say, ‘This is a really big track more than likely it is an adult male, so I can go after it.'”
Last year the statewide season ran from Nov. 1-28. It was closed after 16 females were killed reaching the sub quota.
This year the season is slated to run from Jan. 1 to the end of March. The commission allows the harvest of total 35 lions or 15 females. If necessary, the commission can extend the season if deemed necessary.
“Moving the season dates to what we did is a good thing because we’re really hoping to avoid orphaning the kittens, and then we are introducing other factors,” Kanta said. “Certainly there are not going to get as many hunters because we are not running it concurrent with other seasons like the Black Hills deer season. Then you add the chance of more adverse weather.”
Earlier Kanta said that the number of hunters could decrease by as much as 75%.
Last year 4,070 licenses were sold, a 23% increase from the year before. As of press time only 298 tags have been sold. Kanta thought maybe 1,000 tags would be sold by opening day, and another wildlife official said just because not a lot of tags have been sold, that doesn’t mean a lot of people won’t buy one at the last minute.
Currently the GF&P estimates the population at 250 lions, plus or minus 30 cats.