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Nebraska's first mountain lion hunt could also be last

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William "Paul" Hotz shot this 102-pound mountain lion days after Nebraska's first sanctioned hunt of the animals began. (Courtesy: William "Paul" Hotz)

A grammar school teacher who killed a Nebraska mountain lion in the state’s first cougar hunt could also be the state’s last hunter to bag one of the trophy cats.

William “Paul” Hotz, 33, may earn that distinction if a bill halting future hunts becomes law.

“If they do cancel the hunt, then I'll consider myself very fortunate,” Hotz told FoxNews.com.

He was one of three Nebraskans to kill a mountain lion after state issued permits to hunt the big cats for the first time this winter. The bill to end the hunt was passed this week by the Nebraska State Senate.

Gov. Dave Heineman has until the weekend to sign the bill into law or veto it. His spokeswoman, Jen Rae Wang, told FoxNews.com the governor is reviewing the bill and has not yet made a decision.

“If they do cancel the hunt, then I'll consider myself very fortunate.”

- William “Paul” Hotz

Mountain lions are native to Nebraska but disappeared in the late 1800s after settlers hunted them in massive numbers. The first confirmed sighting in the state in more than 100 years took place in 1991. Over the next two decades, their numbers increased, particularly in the northwestern part of the state.

The state Legislature passed a law to hold a cougar hunting season in 2012 with the aim of keeping their numbers in check in Nebraska’s rugged Pine Ridge region. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission believes the region is home to about two dozen mountain lions.

The commission said hunters could kill four mountain lions in Pine Ridge but that if a female cougar was killed before the quota was filled, the season would end.

Hunters shot two male cats in January. One of the hunters paid $13,000 to obtain a cougar hunting license at an auction. The other hunter won his permit in a lottery.

Hotz was also a lottery winner along with 99 other hunters who were allowed to hunt cougars from Feb. 15 to March 31.

He and a friend started hunting on Feb. 26. They immediately got lucky when they spotted a big cat on a hillside near the South Dakota border.

“We had a good amount of snow two days earlier and that helped,” he said.

It was the first time he had ever seen a mountain lion. “You can spend days in the pines searching and calling and never see a cougar,” he said.

Hotz shot the cougar in the neck from a distance of about 250 yards with his 25.06 Remington rifle.

He described the hunt as a “once in a lifetime experience.”

The female mountain lion he shot had been tagged as a cub in Wyoming. The cat was five years old and weighed 102 pounds.

Because it was a female, Hotz' kill ended the state's hunt.

If the cougar hunt halt becomes law, Hotz would go down as the last Nebraskan to kill a mountain lion.

Hotz said he is not so sure he approves of the bill.

“I think honestly having a season is a better way to manage them than not,” he said.

The effort to end Nebraska’s mountain lion hunt was led by Omaha State Sen. Ernie Chambers, a long-time hunting opponent. Chambers said the relatively small size of the mountain lion population in Pine Ridge didn’t warrant a state-regulated hunt.

“I think it goes more to extermination than to appropriation of wildlife management,” he told FoxNews.com.

His legislation still permits killing a mountain lion to protect humans or livestock.

At a State Senate hearing on the Chambers bill in January, opponents included representatives from the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation and other hunting groups.

Stacy Swinney, a Dawes County Commissioner, told senators she opposed the bill because Nebraska has a “serious mountain lion problem.”

“We now have a growing, reproducing number of one of nature’s most fearless, dangerous predators, and they walk through our homesteads at will day or night,” she said.