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New bobcat season opens

This undated photo shows a bobcat stalking prey in California. (Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A new bobcat hunting season is the first ever in South Dakota's East River region.

Hunters in Buffalo, Brule, Charles Mix, Bon Homme and Yankton counties can each harvest one bobcat this year during a season that begins Saturday and runs through Dec. 30.

Bobcats can be harvested by hunting or trapping, and a fur-bearer license is required.

The Eastern South Dakota season was started after the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department surveyed hunters who had a fur-bearer license about sightings of the animal east of the Missouri River.

The latest available report from 2010 showed a total of 81 reports of bobcats received in 18 East River counties, with Charles Mix, Bon Homme, Yankton and Brule listed in 49 of those reports.

GF&P Wildlife Damage Program Coordinator Keith Fisk said the East River season is a trial run.

"We started with this first season only open around three weeks to kind of gauge how many bobcats are taken in that short amount of time east of the river," Fisk said.

He said several information meetings were held in the five counties where the hunting season will take place to gather information from local landowners.

"We did have some people worried about the populations, so we went with a shorter period of hunting," Fisk said, noting the season could be shortened or lengthened in the years to come.

He declined to give estimates of bobcat populations in the five counties but said seeing how many are harvested in a short period of time will give good clues about total numbers. He expects around 20 animals to be harvested during the short eastern season.

Hunting of bobcats west of the Missouri River has been legal since 1975. During the 2010 season, 666 cats were taken. That season runs from Dec. 8 to Feb. 13.

Fisk explained that the five counties in eastern South Dakota were chosen because of their proximity to the river, providing ample habitat for the bobcats.

"They live in thick cover and tough terrain," Fisk said. "You generally aren't going to see them running around on farmland."

Fisk said he expects hunting and trapping to focus on the Missouri River breaks areas of the counties.

Because bobcats are elusive creatures, according to Fisk, about 85 percent of the bobcats in South Dakota are taken via trapping. Those hunting the animals will likely use calls to bring the animal to an area where the hunter is waiting.

Those who harvest a bobcat must bring the whole carcass and pelt to GF&P personnel for registration and tagging within five days. The pelt and carcass must be separated from the animal upon registering and tagging it. Once tagging of the pelt is complete, the GF&P will keep the carcass to run biological testing on the animal.