Commission approves mountain lion hunting season

By Chet Brokaw
Pierre, South Dakota (AP) 6-08

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission has approved a hunting season on mountain lions that would start two months later than last year in an attempt to reduce the number of young lions orphaned when their mothers are killed.

The season until now has coincided with the Black Hills deer and elk seasons in the fall. The next season will run Jan. 1-March 31, but would end early if the kill quota is reached.

The season approved by the commission June 5 would carry the same kill quota as last year. It would end when 35 total lions or 15 females are killed.

In addition, landowners outside the Black Hills who buy licenses will be allowed to shoot cougars year-round on private land they own or lease.

About 40 percent of the lions killed in the Black Hills in the past three season have been shot by hunters while they were hunting for deer or elk. Hunters last fall killed the mothers of three litters, orphaning seven kittens. 


State wildlife officials have said starting the season in January will increase the number of hunters who are specifically targeting mountain lions. That might mean hunters kill more male lions and fewer females, specifically those with kittens, they said.

Wildlife officials also have increased their estimate of the Black Hills mountain lion population to 220-280, up about 50 from last year’s estimate.

Assistant Wildlife Division Director George Vandel said the Game, Fish and Parks Department will take steps to educate hunters about the restrictions that apply to mountain lion hunting.

Those restrictions include a ban on shooting any lion with a spotted coat to protect kittens. Hunters also cannot shoot any mountain lion accompanying another, a restriction which is also designed to prevent the orphaning of young kittens.

Ev Hoyt said he and other Black Hills landowners support the state’s effort to manage the growing mountain lion population.

People who have consistently opposed the mountain lion hunting season said moving the season to later in the winter would at least be an improvement.

Sharon Seneczko, a Custer veterinarian and mountain lion advocate, said the later season could mean that some cubs will be slightly older when orphaned, which could give them a better chance at surviving. “I think any step in that direction is very good.”

However, Seneczko and other opponents of mountain lion hunting said they oppose a year-round license for landowners outside the Black Hills because those landowners already have the right to kill any cougar that is a threat to people or livestock.

“They do have the tools they need to handle problems,” Seneczko said.

No research has been done outside the Black Hills, and there could be prairie areas where lions could live without causing problems, she said.

Nancy Hilding of Black Hawk, president of the Prairie Hills Audubon Society, said she objects to holding a hunting season outside the Black Hills. Some areas, such as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, might be suitable habitats, and residents of such areas might want cats living there, she said.

“We object and have always objected to the season on the prairie because we don’t think you have the research on the prairie,” Hilding said.

Vandel said in the past three years, only three mountain lions have been shot outside the Black Hills. One of those had been declawed and had a domestic turkey in its gut, he said.

Other mountain lions have been sighted in eastern South Dakota, Vandel said.

Written comments submitted to the commission included recommendations that the quota for females be set lower to reduce the number of orphaned cubs. Some hunters wrote that the later season would hamper them because the U.S. Forest Service closes many Black Hills roads after Dec. 15, which would make it difficult to reach some areas.