Travis Handy beat hard odds on January 2nd and brought home a mountain lion tom in Nebraska. His first cougar, the cat weighed about 115 lbs and appears to be 1.5 years old. He says this hunt was a dream come true. This is also the first Nebraska cougar killed in the 2020 season, which opened on January 2nd. Handy shared the details on the Nebraska Fishing and Hunting Bragging Board page on Facebook.
Nebraska Has Cougars?
Mountain lion hunting in Nebraska is a new opportunity. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages hunting and fishing in the state. 2020’s puma season is only the third in recent years. The first was in 2014, followed by 2019’s season.
Cougar hunting is limited to the Pine Ridge unit, though lions also live in the Niobrara Valley and the Wildcat Hills. Currently, Game and Parks only has population data for the Pine Ridge unit. As of 2017, there were 59 cougars in Pine Ridge.
GunsAmerica spoke with Alicia Hardin, Nebraska Game and Fish Commission’s Wildlife Division Administrator.
“Our goal for the mountain lion population is for it to ‘remain resilient and healthy while halting the growth or moderately reducing the population size’ in Pine Ridge,” Hardin said, quoting from the Commission’s written plan for the unit.
The population they plan to maintain is 5 to 7 mountain lions per 100 square kilometers. The current population in Pine Ridge is 8.8 cats per 100 square kilometers.
How Do They Count Cats?
The Game and Parks Commission is currently gathering genetic data for the population in Pine Ridge. Researchers gather scat samples, which contains DNA unique to each animal. That means they can tell how many different cats are in the area. They can even tell how the animals are related.
Mountain lions are highly mobile, Hardin says. The Pine Ridge unit includes the northwesternmost corner of Nebraska, bordering Wyoming and South Dakota. The lions in Pine Ridge are not bounded by state lines and certainly move freely about the entire region.
The Pine Ridge unit is primarily composed of National Forest and state-managed lands, which makes it easy for researchers to take scat samples, as well as trap and collar the big cats. Collaring animals allows researchers to gain more insight into their movements throughout the year and even helps identify their diets.
Impact On Ranchers
Cougars aren’t the only predators in Nebraska and they do impact livestock. Since 2014, Hardin says the Commission can attribute several livestock kills to lions with certainty. Three goats, two cow calves, and one poultry have been killed by cougars.
The Commission gets some calls about depredation but they are only 100% certain that those animals above were killed by lions. If the carcass is already gone or worked over by other animals it can difficult to positively attribute the kill to a lion.
Coyotes are not regulated by the Game and Parks Commission in Nebraska, so a rancher is free to manage their population, and may even contract with Wildlife Services to help. Mountain Lions, however, are considered game and are regulated with seasons and licenses.
There are provisions for ranchers: If they see a lion actively stalking their animals, they can shoot that cat without being considered a poacher. They can’t hunt or call in a suspected cougar, however — the cat must be actively stalking their animals.
Hardin says that the Commission is working on access in the Niobrara Valley and Wildcat Hills so that they can study those populations as well. Nebraska land is 97% privately owned, so the research depends on getting permission from landowners.
How To Hunt Lions In Nebraska
First, non-residents are not allowed to hunt lions in Nebraska. That privilege is reserved for Nebraskans. And it’s simple to get a license.
Applications for mountain lion hunting are taken in September for the hunt starting in January of the following year. The fee is just $15, and no other hunting license is required. Click here for more info.
The Game Parks Commission planned to issue up to 640 licenses for 2020, 320 in the Pine Ridge North unit, and 320 in the Pine Ridge South unit. Only about 400 applications were submitted. The commission expects up to 8 cats to be taken.
If the total quota for killed lions is not met during the regular season, then they may open an auxiliary season after February. To apply for the auxiliary season, you must have a license from the regular season. The big benefit of the second season is that hounds are permitted.
Without hounds, success rates are just 1.2%. In the 2019 season, 3 cats were killed in the regular season and 2 more were killed later using hounds. Pine Ridge is steep and woody terrain with lots of pines, which is a typical mountain lion habitat. It’d be a very difficult hunt without hounds.
How Did Handy Beat The Odds?
Travis Handy killed his cat on opening day last week. Lacking hounds, he used a Foxpro electronic call to mimic a fawn deer in distress. Deer are lions’ primary food, so it’s a reasonable tool to use.
“We did one set and cut it short. Only sat for 1.5 hours. We started our way up a long hill to get an eyeball on the area to our west,” Handy wrote in his Facebook post. “After standing around for 2-3 min we saw the cat at the base of a tree 50 yards from us. He was looking right at us. Sent one round right past his face and into the pump house. Dead before his head hit the ground.”
Lions & Pumas & Cougars, Oh My!
As game animals, mountain lions are subject to wanton waste laws in Nebraska. “Eating game is what hunting means,” Alicia Hardin said.
Travis Handy says he’s going to eat every bite of his tom. Here’s a tasty recipe you might try when you bring home a cougar.
Mountain lions are known by several names throughout North America, but they are all the same species: Felix concolor. You can call them mountain lions, cougars, pumas, catamounts, painters, or panthers.