In 1919, lions were classified as a “predatory animal” by the territorial legislature and were subject to a statewide bounty of $50 dollars. This status continued until 1970 when the mountain lion was classified as a Big Game animal and a tag was required to take one, even though ranchers and their agents could still take a depredating lion. A mandatory checkout procedure and other reporting requirements were instituted in 1982. Reporting information indicates that lion harvests have gradually increased over time. Recently, the annual harvest has ranged between 250 and 350 animals, of which 10 to 15 percent are taken by predator control agents.
According to AZGF’s 2009 Mountain Lion and Bear Conservation Strategies Report:
“The Department’s goals are to manage predators in a sustainable manner integrating conservation, use, and protection, and to develop the biological and social data necessary to manage predators in a biologically sound and publicly acceptable manner. Overall, mountain lion hunting is meeting the Department’s management objective of maintaining an annual harvest of ≥250 animals/year and providing recreational opportunities for ≥6,000 hunters per year. Harvest and tag sales have met or exceeded these levels during recent years.”
Arizona Game & Fish maintains that cougars can be found throughout the state, with their distribution most strongly influenced by the availability of deer. AZGF estimates that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 cats, and the Department also believes that the population is trending upward.
Recent issues have surfaced over the Santa Catalina Bighorn Sheep Reintroduction project in the mountains north of Tucson. Under the plan, managers have the authority to kill lions that prey on relocated bighorn sheep. While this policy has proven fairly controversial, thankfully, relatively few lions have been killed by AZGF.
At present, the general mountain lion season is open year-round (July 1 – June 31 of the following year) with no overall quota or female quota. With some exceptions of multiple bag limit areas, a hunter can kill only one mountain lion per year. Some areas occasionally allow multiple bag limits per hunter. Dogs are permitted. Hound hunters accounted for approximately 65% of the take from 1990 – 2007 and approximately 37% of the lions killed were females. In contrast, non-hound hunters accounted for 35% of the overall kill and females made up 62% of the kill.
As of July 2006, lion hunters are required to present their lion to the Arizona Game and Fish Department for inspection.
During the 2013-2014 season, hunters killed 302 cougars, 136 of which were females.