From 1881 to 1965, Colorado classified mountain lions as predators and unrestricted killing was encouraged and at times even stimulated with a $50 bounty. In 1965, mountain lions were reclassified as a Big Game species with managed protection. Cougar hunting is now managed by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW) using a harvest limit quota system without female sub-quotas.
According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s website:
“Hunter harvest of mountain lion has increased from 81 in 1980, reaching its highest level in 2001 of 439. Harvest limits gradually increased from 1980 before leveling at about 790 from 1999 through 2004. From about 1992 through 2001 the proportion of females in hunting mortality appeared to be growing from about 40% to about 45%. In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, hunters in some areas began reporting that the number of older males in hunter harvest seemed to be declining. Growing attention by hunters and species advocate groups, along with concern from CPW manager led to more detailed analysis and development of new DAU plans statewide in 2004.”
While extensive research is being conducted on cougar populations in Colorado, wildlife managers still do not have an estimate for the cat population in the state.
Colorado is divided into 19 regional Data Analysis Units (DAU) which are further broken into 166 Hunt Units (HU). Hunters may take one lion of either sex each season and the harvest quota for each HU is established each fall from data based on five-year running averages. Lion populations within DAU’s are managed either for stability, to increase, or to decrease. Stability is defined by management goals for DAU’s.
CPW officials ask hunters to voluntarily refrain from killing females in HU’s managed to maintain stable population levels. Where five-year trends are within desired limits the CPW makes no special requests for hunters regarding the take of female lions. In areas where recent harvests have exceeded management thresholds CPW emphasis the need for hunters to voluntarily reduce female harvest or risk having future quotas reduced.
Those hunting mountain lions in Colorado must successfully complete CPW’s Mountain Lion Education and Identification Course (Colorado is one of six states – in addition to Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming – that provides cougar-specific hunter education in order to help hunters better identify the age/sex of a cougar and reduce incidental/illegal mortality). Hunters may use up to 8 dogs while pursuing cougars during the hunting season that generally runs from mid-November to the end of March.
On average, hunters kill between 45 and 55 percent of the season’s quota. During the 2013-2014 season, hunters killed 425 cats, 157 of which were females.
The 2014-2015 season runs from November 17 – March 31. In some units, there is an April season which spans April 1 – April 30.