Conditions are ripe for mountain lion hunting, but this year’s cougar season in South Dakota is still off to a slow start.
Only six lions have been killed since the season started the day after Christmas. Three lions were shot during the first two weeks, with two more killed Sunday and another on Monday, the Rapid City Journal reported.
There is good snow cover that should provide for good tracking — the most common way of hunting mountain lions in the Black Hills.
“We have had some good conditions, so I was a bit surprised we haven’t had more harvested,” said John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
The low harvest number is not the most reliable predictor of the lion population in the Black Hills, since there are other factors such as weather, Kanta said. However, the latest estimate puts the population at about 240 animals, down from the 2011 peak of 400. Game, Fish and Parks considers the ideal population to be in the range of 150-200 lions.
This year’s limits were dropped to 60 lions total or 40 females, to stay in line with the population goals. Last year’s limits were 75 animals or 50 females, but hunters killed only 21 males and 22 females.
The lion season runs through March in the Black Hills unless the quota is reached earlier. The season is year-round in the rest of the state, where lions are not plentiful.