For the first time in nearly a decade, a couple of lucky South Dakota sportsmen will have the chance to go hunting for mountain goats.
The mountain goat hunting season will re-open for the first time in 2015 after being closed for the past nine years. The mountain goat season is considered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as only South Dakota residents who have never received a license for any South Dakota mountain goat season are eligible, according to the GF&P website.
The South Dakota Game Fish & Parks Commission approved a proposal to reinstate a mountain goat hunting season after determining that the goat population was finally high enough to allow for limited harvesting.
The GF&P Commission first made the proposal in March and after listening to input from researchers and receiving public input, voted to approve a mountain goat hunting season for the first time since 2006.
The season is slated to start on Sept. 1 and end on Dec. 31, said John Kanta, Regional Wildlife Manager for the GF&P.
Two licenses will be sold this season. People can apply for a license online at http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/big-game/mountain-goat.aspx.
Mountain goats are a unique species of goats found only in northwestern North America. A small, isolated population exists within the Black Hills.
The primary range where mountain goats are found sprawls from U.S. Highway 385 at Crazy Horse east to Mount Rushmore, as well as from South Dakota Highway 244 near Harney Peak and south to the Needles region of the Black Hills.
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Mountain goats have also expanded into the Grizzly Creek drainage near Keystone. The primary range extends over 32,000 acres. The habitat for mountain goats ranges in elevation from 4,000 feet to 7,242 feet.
Kanta explained why he recommended to the GF&P commission to re-enact the hunting season after it had been shut down from 2007 to 2014.
"We monitor the population using ground and aerial surveys and based on the data that we got, we saw that we had a healthy population," Kanta said. "Our population is healthy enough and is increasing to the point where we felt it was appropriate to offer that additional recreational opportunity."
The removal of mountain goat hunting started when a 2007 estimate showed that the population had dipped to 75 mountain goats, including 10 kids.
The most recent population estimate by the GF&P, which is from 2013, shows that the Black Hills now have about 136 mountain goats, including 25 kids.
Part of the reason for the population increase was the extremely high survival rate of mountain goats imported from Utah in 2013. Not one of the 21 mountain goats brought in that year has died, Kanta said.
Licenses will be extremely limited because mountain goats are very susceptible to over-harvesting because they are not a very prolific species, Kanta said.
A female won't breed until she is at least 2-1/2 years old and most will not breed until they are 3-1/2 years old. Each mountain goat has a gestation period of approximately six months.