RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — A snow cover in the Black Hills should help mountain lion hunters and the biologists who manage the big cat population.
The season opened Thursday and runs through March, unless a harvest limit of 75 mountain lions or 50 females is reached earlier.
John Kanta, regional wildlife manager for South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, said Thursday's conditions were good for hunting as the snow cover should make it easier for hunters to find and follow their prey.
"If I had a license, I would be out there," he said.
As of 5 p.m. Thursday, no hunter had reported killing a mountain lion. All mountain lions killed within the Black Hills must be taken to a Game, Fish and Parks representative in Rapid City or Custer State Park within 24 hours for inspection.
That allows staffers to log a lion's weight, condition, sex and age — and to take DNA and other samples. That information helps estimate the lion population and determine if the current policy to reduce it is working.
This year's hunt is the ninth for the Black Hills. The hunting season began in 2005 as a way to control the mountain lion population. The GFP said the goal is to have 175 lions in the Black Hills, plus or minus 25.
Last season, 3,786 hunters paid the $25 to buy a permit to hunt mountain lions. Chris Petersen, director of administration for GFP, said 1,915 people have purchased licenses so far this season and he expected that to rise.
"I would assume we would be in the 3,000-plus mark," he said.
The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission, an appointed board of citizens that sets hunting seasons and oversees GFP policy, has been increasing the lion kill in recent years to reduce the population. That drew criticism from lion advocates worried about their demise, in part because of some hunters who believe there are too many lions killing too many Black Hills deer and other big game.