By Ryan Woodard, Journal Staff Writer
A South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks official was surprised at how quickly the state’s first mountain lion season ended, but he will be just as surprised if the second one takes much longer.
“I am still anticipating that the harvest goes very quickly, much like it did last year,” said Mike Kintigh, regional supervisor for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks.
Last year’s season started Oct. 1 and concluded Oct. 24 after five breeding-age females were shot, the maximum allotted by the GF&P.
This year’s season starts Wednesday and features several changes from last year. The season still has a maximum 25 lion limit, and an unlimited amount of licenses are being sold.
But the season starts a month later than last year, restricts the shooting of any lion that is traveling with another lion and allows the shooting of eight total females before the season is stopped, rather than five “breeding-age females.”
Those changes are designed to protect females with kittens, according to Kintigh, and to diffuse arguments about whether a harvested female has reached breeding age.
One thing he doesn’t believe the new rules will change is the duration of the season, which he expects will conclude before November does.
“Nothing significant has changed that affects my thinking of how the season will go,” he said. “If anything, the hunters learned a little last year on what is effective in getting lions, and the season will go a little faster in '06.”
One of the most effective techniques hunters discovered was the use of deer and elk calls in attracting the big cats, he said. They were so effective, stores sold out of them.
“We saw them being very successful using calls,” he said, “(such as) mouth blowing or electric calls, doe, fawn bleak or elk cow calls.”
Hunters succeeded beyond many people’s expectations in the controversial first season, killing 13 lions -- five of them breeding-age females n in less than a month after the season started.
Kintigh said the number of lions shot in such a short period of time was surprising because GF&P had prohibited the use of dogs.
“A lot of people doubted whether or not we would harvest any lions without using dogs,” he said. “Then, to have the season start October 1 and end the (24th) without using dogs -- that showed us that the boot hunter, the guy that’s out on foot without dogs, can harvest lions.”
Many hunters specifically targeted lions, which Kintigh expects to happen again. By midweek last week, 2,634 lion tags had been sold so far this year, including 179 landowner tags -- those given out in the Prairie Unit for landowners to hunt big cats on their land.
That’s already more than the 2,597 tags sold all of last year -- tags that Kintigh believed were mostly going to deer hunters.
“We actually had anticipated that a deer hunter or an elk hunter would incidentally take a lion,” he said. “But we saw a tremendous number of people going out last year specifically for lion.”
Rapid City resident Don Sartorius was one of those “boot hunters,” and he ended up getting the season’s largest lion, a 141-pound male, toward the end of the season.
Sartorius shot the cat minutes after he began calling it.
This year, he will again be specifically targeting lions, and he will also look for them while deer hunting.
“I’m not really going to go at it gung ho as far as Nov. 1. But I’m definitely going,” he said, “While I’m deer hunting, I’ll be mountain lion hunting also.”
Sartorius, whose first lion kill is mounted in his basement, says he believes that he has a pretty good shot at harvesting another big cat.
“My odds are probably pretty good. I know where there is probably a few,” he said. “I believe I’ve got the knack for persistence in achieving it, if need be.”
But Sartorius doesn’t believe the season will end as early as Kintigh does. .
“I don’t think it’s going to probably go as quick, because the deer hunters aren’t out calling like the elk hunters were last year,” he said.
He said elk hunting involves much more call and response -- and calling in general -- than deer hunting, which largely amounts to stomping through the woods.
Having a large number of deer hunters will increase the odds of a deer hunter stumbling upon a lion, he said.
Regardless of when the season concludes -- either when eight females are shot or 25 total lions -- Kintigh and GF&P officials hope the changes will help quell some of the controversy from last year, which centered on killing mothers with kittens.
By pushing the start date back to Nov. 1, the GF&P is hoping to “allow some of these kittens to be of an age to survive on their own if their mother was harvested,” Kintigh said.
The rule against shooting lions in pairs has similar logic, he said
“That again was geared towards trying to prevent impact to dependent kittens,” he said, although he added that the two controversial cases last year involving kittens couldn’t be avoided by such a law because the mothers came out from the den by herself.
If a lion with kittens is shot, Kintigh said, the GF&P’s approach is “probably going to be identical to last year.”
He said that if a hunter brings in a cat that had apparently left behind kittens, the GF&P “would probably capture them and try to get them to a zoo, much like we’ve done last year.”
But he said the GF&P was lucky to capture those kittens.
“Last year, we had two cases of that. I’m still amazed that we were able to find the kittens in those two cases,” he said.
The second rule change regarding paired lions pleases Sharon Seneczko, a Custer veterinarian and president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation.
“They changed it, and we applaud that. That’s a really good move,” she said.
However, Seneczko believes that moving the season back, in addition to simply having a season on mountain lions, is a mistake.
“Basically, I view this thing as a recreational event, yet hunting lions is wrought with inherent problems. You can’t identify males from females, and (you) orphan a lot of young out there,” she said.
She believes that more hunters will be out during deer season, increasing odds that the female subquotas will be overshot.
Seneczko believes that aggressive management without hunting is the best idea.
“It’s still more effective to aggressively take problem lions and aggressively educate people,” she said.
Kintigh maintains that the season helps control the lion population n a population that is healthy and one that the hunting season doesn’t endanger.
The season is scheduled to conclude Dec. 31 if the harvest or female limit is not met.
Hunters are responsible for staying informed about the status of the season.
Similar to last year’s season, hunters must report mountain-lion kills to GF&P officials within 24 hours.
Kills made in the Black Hills Unit must be reported to the regional office in Rapid City, and hunters who take lions in the Prairie Unit must contact agency personnel within 24 hours. Licenses are available at the licensing office in Pierre until the end of the season.
Contact Ryan Woodard at 394-8412 or firstname.lastname@example.org