• See a map of mountain lion sightings in Nebraska.
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MAHONEY STATE PARK, Neb. — A Nebraskan who has hunted around the world paid $13,500 for the privilege to hunt in the state's inaugural mountain lion season next year.
Tom Ferry, 58, of Ponca was the winning bidder Wednesday at a Nebraska Big Game Society auction for one of the first cougar permits from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
"I just thought it would be nice to hunt mountain lions in Nebraska during the state's first season,'' Ferry said. "Maybe I won't get one, I don't know. It's hunting.''
Ferry has hunted in Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Russia and across the United States. Among the 150 trophy mounts in his home are mountain lions from Arizona and Utah.
Ferry will be one of two people with permits to hunt cougars Jan. 1 through Feb. 14 in the Pine Ridge Unit in northwest Nebraska. Last week, 15-year-old Holden Bruce of Franklin, Neb., was selected in a drawing for the other permit. Both will be allowed to hunt with dogs.
The Game and Parks Commission authorized the state's first cougar hunting season earlier this year. The Big Game Society will donate the auction proceeds to the commission for conservation and mountain lion management and studies.
The auction attracted about 70 people to the Big Game Society banquet at Mahoney State Park near Ashland. Auction participants included six online bidders from Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Bidding started at $500 and quickly climbed to $5,000, then $10,000. Auctioneer Tyler Adams of Lincoln coaxed bidders up by $250 increments at the end, when Ferry outbid Ted Jensen of St. Edward, Neb., who stopped at $13,250.
"I planned to stop at $10,000 but auctions have a way of taking more of your money,'' Jensen said.
Like Ferry, Jensen has hunted abroad and has taken deer, elk and moose. Many of his trophy mounts are displayed at Cluster's Bar and Grill in St. Edward.
Along with the commission's permit, the Nebraska Big Game Society will provide up to five days hunting, territory to hunt and up to four nights lodging to Ferry.
Ferry and Holden will be allowed to hunt with the aid of dogs. Each hunter will be allowed to kill one cougar. The season ends immediately, however, when one female mountain lion is killed.
One hundred other hunters, whose names were drawn in the lottery that Holden won last week, will hunt from Feb. 15 through March 31 in the Pine Ridge without dogs. This second season has a quota of two cougars total and ends immediately if one of the big cats is female.
Sam Wilson, the Game and Parks carnivore program manager, said the success rate of hunting mountain lions without dogs is about 1 percent to 2 percent.
The Pine Ridge is the only area of the state with a reproducing and stable population of mountain lions. Studies indicate there are about 22 cougars in the area.
Mountain lions started migrating back into the Panhandle from neighboring Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming in the 1990s after being wiped out of the state for nearly a century.
Game and Parks officials say the objective for allowing cougar hunting in the Pine Ridge is to provide hunters opportunities while allowing a slight to moderate reduction in mountain lion population.
Game and Parks also will allow mountain lion hunting in most of the rest of Nebraska next year in areas unlikely to establish a breeding population of cougars. That season is open year-round and an unlimited number of permits are available. Permits will cost $15. Hunting with dogs is allowed only Jan. 1 to March 31.
Before the auction, Jim Douglas, Game and Parks director, presented former State Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, who shepherded the cougar hunting bill through the Legislature, with an honorary mountain hunting permit.
The auction also included opportunities to tag along with Game and Parks biologists on a bighorn sheep capture in the Wildcat Hills this winter and a spring outing with fisheries biologists to capture and manually spawn walleyes.
Jim King of Lincoln paid $1,100 to participate in the bighorn project. Dan Kreitman of Wahoo paid $1,700 for the walleye experience.
Ferry, the winning cougar bidder, said he paid top price not for the trophy but to aid in Nebraska's wildlife conservation programs and to be part of the historic first season.
"They have a saying in Africa and it's true here, too: 'If it doesn't pay, it doesn't stay,''' Ferry said.
"Hunters are the biggest conservationists there are anywhere in the world. Hunter dollars provide a lot of things for the outdoors, hunting, fishing and parks. Hunting is a heritage of the state and I'm proud to be part of it.''