HARRISON, Neb. — Two Nebraska hunters each shot and killed a mountain lion Thursday during the state’s inaugural cougar hunting season in the Pine Ridge.
Tom Ferry of Ponca took one of the big cats in the morning, in the Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area southeast of Crawford.
About two hours later and 20 miles away, Holden Bruce, 16, of Franklin shot a cougar on Sowbelly Creek northeast of Harrison.
Ferry and Bruce held exclusive Nebraska Game and Parks Commission permits to hunt a mountain lion in northwest Nebraska until Feb. 14. Bruce started hunting Wednesday. Ferry started Thursday.
Bruce said he was optimistic that he would get a chance at bagging a mountain lion because a New Year’s Day snowfall made it easier to find and follow cougar tracks.
“It worked out,’’ Bruce said.
Ferry’s outfitter and guides found two sets of lion tracks when they started hunting at dawn. They followed the set with the largest paws. Ferry had his cat about three hours later.
“Very lucky,’’ he said.
Both hunters were aided by dogs, which picked up the cougars’ scent and then tracked and treed the cats.
Both critters were male. Game and Parks biologists estimated Ferry’s cougar to be about 5 years old, weighing about 150 pounds. Bruce’s cat was about 2 years old and weighed 102 pounds.
Ferry bid $13,500 to win a Nebraska Big Game Society auction in October for one of the first mountain lion permits.
Bruce, who returns Monday to sophomore classes at Franklin High School in south-central Nebraska, won his permit in a lottery open to all Nebraskans. He paid $15 to enter the lottery.
Harrison ranchers Deric Anderson and Jerry Stewart, both of Newcastle, Neb., guided Bruce. Ferry was assisted by outfitter Doug Dillon and guides Chance, Haley and Austin Soester, all of Crawford.
Ferry was accompanied by Murray White of Jackson, Neb. Holden Bruce’s hunting party included his father, Jeremy, and brother Tristan.
Ferry, 58, is the regional distributor of Interstate Batteries in Sioux City, Iowa.
He 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.
The permits issued to Ferry and Bruce allowed each to take one cougar, preferably a male, in the Pine Ridge during a season that started Wednesday and would have ended Feb. 14. The season also would have ended — and the other hunter would have been shut out — had the first cat killed been a female.
From Feb. 15 through March 31, 100 other hunters, whose names were drawn in the lottery that Bruce won, can hunt in the Pine Ridge without dogs. That February-March season also has a quota of two cougars total and will end immediately if one is female.
The Pine Ridge is the only area of the state with a reproducing and stable population of mountain lions. Studies indicated that there were about 22 cougars in the area.
Mountain lions started migrating back into the Nebraska Panhandle from neighboring South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado in the 1990s, after being wiped out in 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 with opportunities while allowing a slight to moderate reduction in the mountain lion population.
Cougar hunting is now permitted in most of the rest of Nebraska — called the Prairie Unit — in areas unlikely to establish a breeding population of the cats.
The season is open year-round, and an unlimited number of permits are available. Permits cost $15. Hunting with dogs in the Prairie Unit is allowed only though March 31.
The Game and Parks Commission’s decision last summer to establish a cougar hunting season was controversial. Opponents decried the decision, especially permitting unlimited killing of cougars roaming through the Prairie Unit, which covers about 85 percent of Nebraska.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha plans to try to repeal a 2012 law that permitted the commission to establish the mountain lion seasons.