"We haven't put out any type of population estimate," Williams said. "That's just a really challenging thing to do, to try to come up with what actual numbers are in the state."
In August 2011, the department launched a research project with South Dakota State University to collar mountain lions in an effort to learn more about their movements, home ranges and habitat preferences.
While a few cats with collars still are out there, Williams said, the bulk of that research is complete.
In a report published this past October, Game and Fish said the department received 42 mountain lion reports in the one-year period from July 2016 through June 2017. Only 20 of those reports could be verified, and most of the verified sightings came from the northern Badlands region of western North Dakota, which offers the most suitable habitat.
"We've learned an awful lot on mountain lions in North Dakota in the past 10 years in the state for sure," Williams said. "And we still have a lot to learn."
On the move
The big cats have a knack for going undetected, but the prevalence of trail cameras and the images they reveal suggest there might be more cats out there than people thought.
Or, at the very least, passing through en route to who knows where.
Mountain lions definitely have an ability to move long distances in a short time.
"There's no doubt -- when their mind's set on moving, they can get it done," Williams said.