mountan lion

The mountain lion season begins in the Black ills begins on Dec. 26 and runs through March 31.

Courtesy Photo

The start of the holiday season in South Dakota also signifies the preparation for a special kind of hunting season.

The day after Christmas will be the opening day of mountain lion season in the Black Hills, and with it will come an opportunity for a rebound after last season's low harvest totals.

Last season 30 lions were harvested during the season which goes until March 31. In 2016, 41 lions were taken and in 2015 that number was 42.

Of the 30 lions taken next year, 16 were females. The season dates and harvest limits will not change this season.

In all three of those seasons, the harvest limit of 60 total lions or 40 female lions are taken. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks regional wildlife manager Trenton Haffley said he isn't worried about the harvest numbers being down last year, and said it didn't have much of an impact on the overall lion population in the hills.

"We always want to stress that the harvest limit is the number we would have to reach to shut the season down to prevent significant damage to the population level," he said. "That limit isn’t one that we feel we need to reach to manage the population, it’s a number we don’t exceed because it lead us to doing damage to the adult population.

"Based on that, it’s really difficult and we don’t use the number harvested to imply anything about population levels. There’s so many variables built into what is harvested for lions, it’s too unreliable for us to use for a population estimate."

Haffley said the 2017 post hunt population survey found 114-495 lions in the hills.

The number of lions harvested each year have a lot to do with certain factors that don't necessarily indicate the availability of the lions in the hills, which Haffley said was the case last year.

Snow fall is a big factor in hunter success, as hunters will use tracks in the snow as the easiest method to hunting lions, but the snow fall has to be at the right time and the right amount in order for lions to make tracks.

"Ideally every couple of days we would have a couple of inches of snowfall that would end around 2 or 3 a.m. so that these lions, when they walk around on these cross roads they leave tracks," he said. "What happened last year was we got as lot of snow in December, we actually got too much snow so some of those roads were hard to get down. Once lion season actually opened, we didn’t have a lot of beneficial snow beyond that."

Haffley said when the snow comes either too often or not often enough and at the wrong time, hunters will have to resort to much less successful methods of finding and harvesting the big cats.

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Hunters will rely on kill sites, which requires many hours of waiting, or by calling the lion in with a specific caller, which also isn't as effective as traditional tracking.

Another factor that could have contributed to lower than previous years harvest was that there weren't as many hunters in the woods. Haffley said it's been the trend over the last few seasons.

"It’s a function of the more hunters you can put on the landscape, inevitably the more lions you’ll be able to harvest," he said. "We have been seeing a slight downward trend in our lion license sales. Outside of those two factors I don’t anticipate anything coming up that’s going to have a big impact on our lion harvest."

Despite lower numbers last season, Haffley said he believes the season can be a success as long as a few factors go in the favor of hunters, with weather being by far the most important.

"We have no reason to believe anything has changed," he said. "We’re ready to hit the ground running on a successful lion season on Dec. 26."

Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.