Historically, cougars were managed as varmint in New Mexico and they could be killed at any time, with no limit. That changed in 1971 when they were granted game animal status.
The New Mexico Department of Game & Fish states that a variety of hunting structures over the years has evolved into the current dual hunting season of year-long seasons (April – March) on private lands and a 6 month (October – March) season on public lands. The bag limit is one cougar; exceptions include a two cougar bag limit and yearlong seasons on public lands in certain management units. In 1999, the Department initiated a zone management structure with harvest limits, which continues today.
In September 2006, the New Mexico Game Commission (NMGC) voted to reduce the number of cougars that hunters could kill. Population estimates are now based on habitat mapping specific to cougars. NMGC personnel evaluate the age and sex of cougars killed to estimate cougar population health. If the percentage of cougars killed in any unit is 20% or more for two years in a row, female sub-quotas may be implemented. The Department continues to look at habitat-based models for improved precision and management utility.
As of 2010, NMDGF estimated there were between 3,123 and 4,269 independent, adult cougars in the state.
The statewide cougar season runs year-round, beginning on April 1 and ending on March 31 of the following year. Hounds are permitted.
During the 2013-2014 season, 201 cats were killed, 83 of which were females. The quota for the 2014-2015 season is 749 cats, with a female subquota of 303. Given recent trends, the quota is extremely unlikely to be met.
New Mexico is one of six states (in addition to Colorado, Montana, 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.