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Hunters have killed four mountain lions since the hunting season opened in the Black Hills Dec. 26. The low number reflects a declining population. officials say. (Wikimedia photo)

2014 SD mountain lion season off to a slow start

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RAPID CITY (AP) — The 2014 mountain lion hunting season in South Dakota is off to a slow start, likely because of fewer lions and hunters.

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As of Thursday, only four lions had been killed since the day after Christmas. In the 2013 season, four lions were killed on the first day, and eight in the first week.

"I think the slower harvest that we're seeing this year is reflective of a lowered population of lions overall in the Black Hills — which is what we set out to do," state Game, Fish and Parks regional supervisor Mike Kintigh told KEVN-TV.

Hunting seasons began in 2005 to control South Dakota's western lion population, reduce the impact on deer and elk, and address public safety concerns.

Five lions were killed during the first week of the 2005 and 2006 seasons, seven in 2007 including four on opening day. There was no season in 2008 but in 2009, six cats were killed in the first week. The number jumped to 10 in 2010, 15 in 2011 and 12 in 2012.

Game, Fish and Parks conservation officer Mike Apland told the Black Hills Pioneer that there are also fewer hunters. In 2013, 3,786 hunters bought mountain lion tags. This year, about 3,000 are expected to do so.

Poor hunting conditions also might be a factor.

"The guys I've visited with have been waiting until we have a little fresh snow," he said. Snow makes lions easier to track, though if it crusts over it makes it easier for lions to hear hunters.

The season will run until March 31, or until 76 lions or 50 females are killed. The 2013 season was the first to close before a quota was reached. Of the four lions killed this season, three have been female.

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