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Custer State Park could see more elk as result of lion hunt

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WINNER -- John Kanta, the regional wildlife supervisor for western South Dakota, delivered some good news Friday to the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission about results of the 2013 hunting season for mountain lions in the Black Hills.

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Two lions that had become notorious for preying on elk calves in Custer State Park were in turn taken by hunters this year.

Within the park area and a two-mile radius outside it, hunters killed 12 lions this year and 13 a year ago.

Wildlife managers are trying to rebuild the elk population in the park. Kanta said some positive effects should be seen in elk calving success after two years of hunters knocking down the park's lion population.

"This is a good thing," he said.

Lion season closed Sunday, March 31, in the Black Hills fire protection district. The rest of South Dakota remains open.

The Black Hills harvest was 61. The quota was a maximum of 100 lions or 70 females. There were 26 males and 35 females taken.

Seven lions were taken within the park, including six by hunters using hounds. "That was something new this year that obviously had some success," big-game biologist Andy Lindbloom said.

License sales hit a record 4,351, up from about 3,700 in 2012. The previous record was 4,067 in 2007. A hunter survey will be sent to the license holders to ask questions such as whether they hunted and where they hunted.

Lindbloom said the population estimate will be revisited and data will be studied on age of harvest.

Snow events will be considered, too.

A common theory this year linked a lack of snow to a harvest that was lower than expected.

But Lindbloom noted the Rapid City weather station had 18 snow events a year ago when 73 lions were taken in a shorter time. There were 26 snow events in the same span of time this year.

Lindbloom said there are a half-dozen weather stations in the Black Hills and information will be gathered from them.

Commissioner Barry Jensen of White River said it's too early in the post-season analysis to make predictions about the lion population.

"This year is really a pretty interesting year for the mountain lion study. I think it will stimulate a lot of questions from hunters and people interested in that," he said.

Jensen also wondered whether "turning 4,000 people loose" is the right way to hunt lions.

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