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Over five seasons, mountain lion harvest looks like a bell curve

Hunters did not reach a state limit on mountain lion kills during the most recent Black Hills mountain lion seasons. (File photo)

OACOMA -- Although hunters didn't reach the harvest limit on mountain lions in the Black Hills again this year, it's too early to reach conclusions, a game biologist told state Game, Fish and Parks Commission members Friday.

The limits for the 2014 Black Hills season that closed Monday were 75 total lions or 50 females. The harvest was 53, with 21 males and 32 females.

Nine of the 53 came from Custer State Park. Eight were taken using hounds at the park. Dogs aren't allowed for hunting mountain lions elsewhere in South Dakota.

Last year, when the Black Hills limits were 100 lions or 70 females, hunters took just 61 total, with 26 males and 35 females. Hunters using dogs took six in and around the park.

The lion harvest peaked in 2012 at 77, with 29 males and 48 females taken by hunters. The season shut down after 75 lions were reported but several more were taken on that final day.

The state Wildlife Division will present its report on the 2014 season to the commission in May. The 2015 recommendations will be given to the commission in August.

"We'll look at snowfall. We'll look at age and sex composition of our harvest," division biologist Andy Lindbloom said about some of the data that will be considered for the report.

They'll also look at hunter effort, such as whether the license buyer actually went into the field, and how much time was spent hunting, he said.

License sales nearly reached 3,300 this year. They totaled about 4,350 last year. The season is open only to South Dakota residents.

Commissioner Jim Spies, of Watertown, asked whether the Wildlife Division compiles information about hunters who have killed more than one lion through the years.

"That's something we could definitely look at," Lindbloom said. He said there are some hunters who "undoubtedly" have developed successful methods.

Commissioner Scott Phillips of New Underwood asked, "Are we getting where we want to be? I know you don't have the answer yet, but can you give us some opinions?"

Lindbloom said people should be careful about how much is made of not reaching the limit two years in a row.

"But yeah, it kind of throws up a little red flag and make you wonder what's going on," Lindbloom said.

The numbers look like a bell curve during the past five years: 40, 46, 77, 61 and now 53.

Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif made clear the season limits are thresholds and aren't quotas.

"That's a protection that's in place to make sure we don't go too far," Leif said.