Believed to be the source of most mountain lions found wandering across the midwest, the Black Hills of South Dakota continues to see its big cat population grow.
And that’s even after several successful hunting seasons.
The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks website reports a 2003 study estimated the Black Hills population at about 127-149 mountain lions. A 2008 study showed the population had risen to about 220-280 lions.
Chuck Schlueter, department communications manager, said they had their first season in modern times in 2005. The current season opened Jan. 1 and will close March 31 or whenever hunters kill a total of 40 mountain lions or 25 female mountain lions.
As of this morning 26 had been killed this year, including 17 females and 9 males.
“We’ve always met our quota before the season has ended, “Schlueter said. “It’s often the quota for females.”
While the entire state is open to mountain lion hunting during the residents-only season, Schlueter said very few have been shot outside the Black Hills. In 2009 only one was shot outside the true Black Hills and it was only a few miles to the south.
Unlike in most western states the use of dogs is not allowed for hunting South Dakota mountain lions.
“Hunters have had a great deal of success using predator calls, the basic wounded rabbit or wounded deer sounds,” Schlueter said. “Some have tried taking up a fresh track in the snow and getting themselves into position that way, too.”
Schlueter said on-going research has shown the Black Hills population to be very prolific and that the occasional animal just seems to take off across country.
Several tagged and/or radio-collard Black Hills mountain lions have made it to the Rocky Mountains to the west. One moved through North Dakota and into Canada. Another was killed by a train in northern Oklahoma, about 40 miles south of Arkansas City. That cat had traveled more than 650 straight-line miles in less than two years.
“Most just seem to be young males out wandering,” Schlueter said. “We’ve seen no indication they’re trying to set up any home ranges outside the Black Hills.”