A state lawmaker has introduced a bill to legalize mountain lion hunting in Oklahoma. [National Park Service via AP, File]
An Oklahoma lawmaker is calling for the state to open its first hunting season on mountain lions. State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, has introduced a bill that proposes a lottery or draw for mountain lion hunting with a limit of five cougars that could be taken. Murdock runs a cow-calf operation in Cimarron County, the westernmost county in Oklahoma which has the second-most number of confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the state, only behind Osage County.
The bill passed last week out of the Senate Agricultural and Wildlife Committee, which Murdock chairs. But does Oklahoma have a sustainable population of mountain lions to support hunting? No one seems sure.
"They are a very elusive cat, but we know they exist (in Oklahoma)," said Corey Jager, legislative liaison for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Jager said there are apparently some in Murdock's district who are interested in guiding hunters for mountain lions, although the bill doesn't contain specific language about guiding.
Murdock did not return phone calls from The Oklahoman last week seeking comment on Senate Bill 769.
"A bill is one way to bring (state wildlife officials) to the table and have a discussion," Jager said. "We are talking about it internally. Is it something we can and would do? I don't know the answer to that. One purpose of a bill is to get that conversation going and keep it going."
State wildlife officials verified more sightings of mountain lions in Oklahoma in 2020 than any other year since the Wildlife Department started keeping such data in 2002.
Seven sightings last year of mountain lions were confirmed to be true by the Wildlife Department. Osage County had three confirmed sightings, Pushmataha had two, and Cimarron and Pawnee counties each had one. In 2019, there were five confirmed sightings by state wildlife officials, tying the previous high in 2011.
State wildlife officials believe the mountain lions in the state are mostly transients, young males on the roam looking to establish a territory of their own. Last month, Jerrod Davis, the Wildlife Department's furbearing biologist and mountain lion coordinator, participated in a question and answer session on social media about Oklahoma's mountain lions.
"In certain areas we know that there are home ranges that extend into Oklahoma from other states," Davis said at the time. "But as far as we can tell, those don't extend very far into the Panhandle area and some of the northern reaches of Oklahoma."
Texas, New Mexico and Colorado are neighboring states which allow some form of mountain lion hunting. Most mountain lion hunting is done with dogs.
It is currently illegal to actively hunt mountain lions in Oklahoma, but since 2007 it has been legal to shoot the animal if a person feels threatened or is protecting livestock or pets.
The law requires the carcass to be examined by a Wildlife Department employee, such as a game warden or biologist, but no Oklahoman has ever brought a dead mountain lion to the agency under those circumstances.