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'Rare' hunt leads to mountain lion shot near Platte

PLATTE -- In December, Brooks Koopal fulfilled his dream of successfully hunting a mountain lion -- twice. "Them two hunts were by far the funnest hunts I've ever been on," Koopal said, referencing one cat he shot and another hunt he was on when ...

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Brooks Koopal, of Platte, stands inside his family trophy room with a variety of animals, from bobcats to a bear and fish. (Matt Gade/Republic)

PLATTE -- In December, Brooks Koopal fulfilled his dream of successfully hunting a mountain lion - twice.

“Them two hunts were by far the funnest hunts I’ve ever been on,” Koopal said, referencing one cat he shot and another hunt he was on when his friend harvested a mountain lion.

On Dec. 28, Koopal found and shot a mountain lion near Platte, well out of the way of the nearest lion population in the Black Hills in western South Dakota.

At about 8 a.m. that day, Koopal and five other people took a Polaris Ranger and traveled to a slab of private land owned by Paul Johnson near Kemnitz Campground, about 5 miles southeast of Platte, looking for bobcats.

The group saw three or four sets of bobcat tracks, Koopal said, plus one set of track from a much larger cat.

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Koopal and his two dogs, Tubby, a treeing walker coonhound, and Shiloh, a black and tan coonhound, followed the tracks in search of the animal.

The tracks led to a mountain lion, also known as a cougar, puma or catamount. The cat ran off, and the dogs began to chase it.

During the hunt, however, the lion came within 100 yards of a residential area, so Koopal forced it to change direction before he lost sight of it.

Koopal continued searching and found him in a tree about 250 yards away.

The cougar was perched about 10 feet above the ground, and Koopal closed the distance between them to about 10 yards.

“It’s so thick down there, I could only see a little bit of him,” Koopal said. “It was a little weird when you see it in the tree staring at you.”

Koopal shot the cougar with his .223 AR rifle. The animal ran for about 200 yards before laying on the ground, and Koopal shot it again.

Thinking the hunt was over, Koopal approached the animal to pull his dogs away, and the lion swiped his paw at Koopal’s boot. The move was surprising, but caused no damage or injury. They didn’t bag any bobcats, but Koopal wasn’t disappointed.

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“We were pretty pumped about this, to get that lion,” Koopal said.

The puma was a young male weighing 117 pounds, within the normal weight for the species, according to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officer Jeff Martin.

Martin, who is the officer assigned to Charles Mix and Douglas counties, checked in Koopal’s mountain lion and said it was a fairly rare find in the area. Martin used to be a conservation officer in Gregory County, and there were a couple of successful lion hunts during his time there, he said.

“It’s rare; it’s not unheard of. We get dispersing animals, but the odds of a licensed hunter actually running into one and getting a chance to take that animal is very low,” Martin said.

Like other big-game animals, hunters must purchase a $30 mountain lion tag before the hunt. Unlike many other tags, however, a mountain lion tag can be filled anywhere in the state - compared to deer tags that restrict hunters to a single county - except for the Black Hills Fire Protection District. The season is open all year long.

“The bottom line is we’re not trying to manage for a population outside of the Black Hills, and that’s why we have the year-round opportunity,” Martin said.

Martin said the animal was likely pushed out of the Black Hills population after fighting with an older male. Because land near the Missouri River provides ample amounts of deer, turkeys and smaller animals for food, he is not surprised to hear a cougar was in the area, but he said it likely would have eventually trekked back to its birthplace to find others of its kind.

That’s not always the case, however. Most mountain lions live in the western third of the country, but Martin said a lion was once struck by a train in Oklahoma, and another was found in Connecticut. DNA tests linked the Connecticut lion with the Black Hills population.

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In the Black Hills, the current mountain lion season runs from Dec. 26, 2015, to March 31, 2016, and only 60 mountain lions or 40 female mountain lions are allowed to be harvested.

So far, three mountain lions, two males and one female, have been killed this season. The first of those was a 139-pound male found in Custer State Park by Koopal and a friend, Zach Delange, of Corsica, on Dec. 26, two days before finding the one near Platte.

Koopal said Delange, of Corsica, received an access permit to hunt in Custer State Park, one of only 12 given away.

To get the first puma, Koopal and Delange walked 9 miles through Custer State Park following tracks and chasing the animal. At the end, Delange took the shot. Koopal said it was the largest animal he’s ever hunted.

Koopal said his dad, who practices taxidermy as a hobby, plans to mount the lion, but Koopal is unsure where to put it.

“That thing is huge. The trophy room’s pretty full, too,” he said.

Koopal started hunting with his dad at about age 4 or 5. He and his dad have many mounts decorating the trophy room in the house they share. The walls are lined with a variety of animals, including deer, birds, fish, bobcats and a bear with arms reaching out of the wall.

Koopal has already purchased a mountain lion tag for 2016, but his new captures won’t keep him from chasing smaller animals, as well. He plans on going back into the field for bobcats very soon, but since he found the mountain lion near Platte, he said he hasn’t seen any bobcat tracks, which is very unusual.

“I really think that mountain lion pushed the bobcats out of there,” Koopal said.

According to Martin, other area residents worry cougars in the area could damage deer populations, but generally, the animals pose no threats to humans and are not considered a problem species.

Koopal said it was his dream to kill a mountain lion. Now that he has accomplished that twice in three days, he’s chosen a new target, saying he would like to hunt a wolf.

Koopal may have to wait to fulfill that dream. According to the GF&P website, killing a wolf has been prohibited since Dec. 23, 2014, but it is legal to take an endangered animal in defense of human life.

Instead, he intends to keep hunting mountain lions and is sure there are more in the area.

“Oh yeah, they’re down there,” Koopal said. “It’s just pretty hard (to find them).”


Related Topics: HUNTING
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