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mountan lion

Mountain lion

Sometimes the conditions are just right.

So was the case as mountain lion season started over the last few weeks. Just the right amount of snow fell at just the right time, and so far hunters have reaped the rewards.

As of Tuesday, 12 lions had been taken since the season started Dec. 26.

Of the 12, eight have been female. The season harvest limit is either 60 lions total, or 40 females.

"We’ve had really good snow conditions until this last part of nice weather we’ve had. Even though it was very cold, we had good snow conditions up until the second or third, so the first eight or nine days were good for snow conditions," South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks big game biologist Steve Griffin said. 

It wasn't just the snowfall that helped hunters track lions and be aware if there was a lion in the area, but it was the right amount of snowfall. Griffin said last year there was plenty of snow early in the season, but if too much falls at once some of the trails used to track down a lion can become inaccessible. 

"It’s hard to determine the difference between seasons, and we don’t compare too much between seasons, but we had a lot more snow and it was a lot deeper last year, so the hunters couldn’t get around as much," he said. "We don’t read too much into what's going on early or late."

So far the biggest lion taken was a 3-4 year-old male in Custer County that weighed 118 pounds and the oldest lion was a 13-14 year-old female harvested in Pennington County.

Total, Custer County has seen the most activity with six lions taken. Pennington is a close second with five and Lawrence County has seen one.

The average weight of the lions taken this season has been 90.67 pounds and the average age has been 4.44 years-old.

Griffin said it isn't just the weather that has been responsible for the early harvest uptick this season. He said there could be a multitude of factors, including more hunters and the weather being suitable despite the cold, but he said GF&P doesn't try to make heads or tails over an early surge like this.

"I don't know if (snowfall) is the biggest (factor in success) necessarily. I believe hunters utilize the snow conditions to their advantage and we’ve realized that the last few years that when we get a snowfall event we get lions turned in," he said. "We like to look at all our data at the end of the year and analyzable results then."

Even after the Legion Lake wildfire engulfed 84 square miles of forest in Custer County, it still has seen the most activity for early season mountain lion harvests.

"Three of those (early season harvests) came out of Custer State Park with the use of hounds, which increases odds. I wouldn’t read too much into where they’re being harvested, we have a long way to go in the season," Griffin said. "Fire will affect all wildlife depending on how large and fast the fire is, but they’re going to move from a fire and get out of the way."

If the take limit is not reached by March 31, the Black Hills mountain lion season ends. The season on the prairie units does not end.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.