Mountain lion hunters in Colorado must now pass an online education and identification course to get a hunting permit, which advocates believe helps reduce the number of female lions killed during the season.
Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife advocacy group, said lion advocates worked for six years to win approval of a state law requiring the course, which was ultimately supported by hunting outfitters in that state. The course helps hunters differentiate between female and male lions based on the size of their tracks and strides and color patterns on certain parts of the body, Keefover-Ring said.
Because most lion hunting in Colorado is done with hounds, lions are often pushed up trees or onto rock outcroppings or cliffs before being shot, she said. That gives hunters an opportunity to identify males and females.
Those hound hunts also often involve situations and conditions where tracks are discernible, which gives hunters another indicator of the sex of the animal they are after, Keefover-Ring said. With the education course, available at online at wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/HunterEducation/MtnLionEduc, hunters can try to focus their hunting pressure on males, reducing the kill on females that are often caring for young lions, she said.
"We were really concerned that they were killing too many females," Keefover-Ring said. "Females may spend 10 to 24 months with their kittens, which are absolutely dependent for the first six months, at least. I don't really like hound hunting, but in the instance of lion hunting, hunters have a lot more discretion."
With its third mountain lion season set to begin Nov. 1, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission has not yet allowed the use of hounds. GF&P personnel have argued in the past that allowing hounds would give an advantage to experienced hunters with expensive dog packs or force hunters to hire such people as paid guides.
GF&P spokesman John Kanta of Rapid City said hound hunters do have a better chance of distinguishing sex before they kill lions. But to make that effective, the numbers of lion permits would have to be carefully limited and basically issued to people with access to hounds, denying many state citizens a chance to hunt lions as they do now, he said.
"Essentially, you'd have the houndsmen and a handful of people lucky enough to draw a license and with enough money to hire a houndsman," Kanta said. "Right now, we think the season is working for us."