For this writing, I elect not to cover the bobcat history. We can go back millions of years ago to find that the bobcat existed and how it has changed over that period of time. But that is not the purpose of this article.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a nocturnal species of feline. These carnivorous mammals, which are the most abundant wildcat on the North American continent, are rather solitary animals that are not frequently seen by others. When it comes to adjusting to new and different environments with ease and swiftness, these members of the cat family are highly versatile.
For the most part, bobcats reside throughout the United States. However, some of these wildcats also live in central and northern portions of Mexico and in southern regions of Canada. Studies have shown the northern United States has more bobcats than other sections of the country. Unusual for cats, males are more tolerant of overlap, while females rarely wander into others’ ranges. Given their smaller range sizes, two or more females may reside within a male’s home range. When multiple male territories overlap, a dominance hierarchy is often established, resulting in the exclusion of some transients from favored areas.
There are 12 recognized subspecies of the bobcat family. The bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as semi desert, urban edge, forest edges, and swampland environments. It remains in some of its original range, but local populations are vulnerable to extermination by humans, coyotes and domestic animals. The bobcat is vital for controlling pest populations. With a gray to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx. It is smaller on average than the Canadian lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, from which it derives its name.
The adult bobcat is 18 to 49 inches long from the head to the base of the tail. An adult stands about 12 to 24 inches at the shoulders. Adult males can range in weight from 15 to 40 lbs. The largest bobcat accurately measured on record weighed 49 lbs., although unverified reports have them reaching 60 lbs. The largest-bodied bobcats are from eastern Canada and northern New England, while the smallest are from the South. The bobcat is muscular, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving it a bobbing gait.
Though the bobcat prefers rabbits, it will hunt anything from insects, chickens, geese and other birds and small rodents to deer (Yes! I said deer). Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although with some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into spring and has a gestation period of about two months.
Although bobcats have been hunted extensively by humans, both for sport and fur, their population has proven resilient though declining in some areas. Reports on seasonal variation in range size have been equivocal. One study found a large variation in male range sizes, from 16 square miles in summer up to 40 square miles in winter. Another found that female bobcats, especially those which were reproductively active, expanded their home range in winter, but that males merely shifted their range without expanding it, which was consistent with numerous earlier studies. Other research in various American states has shown little or no seasonal variation.
The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but will eat heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it will often prey on larger animals it can kill and return to feed on later. The bobcat hunts by stalking its prey and then ambushing it with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals weighing about 1.5 to 12.5 lbs. Its main prey varies by region. In the eastern United States, it is the eastern cottontail species, and in the north it is the snowshoe hare. When these prey species exist together, as in New England, they are the primary food sources of the bobcat. In the far south, the rabbits are sometimes replaced by rats as the primary food source. Birds up to the size of a goose are also taken, along with their fledglings and eggs. The bobcat is an opportunistic predator. Diet diversification positively correlates to a decline in numbers of the bobcat’s principal prey; the abundance of its main prey species is the main determinant of overall diet.
The bobcat hunts animals of different sizes, and will adjust its hunting techniques accordingly. With small animals, such as rodents (including squirrels), birds, fish, and insects, it will hunt in areas known to be abundant in prey, and will lie, crouch, or stand, and wait for victims to wander close. It will then pounce, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals, such as geese, rabbits, it will stalk from cover and wait until they come within 20 to 35 ft. before rushing in to attack. Less commonly, it will feed on larger animals, such as young deer, pigs, etc. and other carnivores such as foxes, minks, skunks, small dogs and domesticated cats. Bobcats are also occasional hunters of livestock and chickens. While larger species, such as cattle and even horses, are not known to be attacked. Bobcats do present a threat to smaller livestock, such as sheep, pigs and goats. NOTE: (According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, bobcats killed 11,100 sheep in 2004, comprising 4.9% of all sheep predator deaths.) I know that bobcats will also feed on the kill made by other animals.
The bobcat has been known to kill deer, especially in winter when smaller prey is scarce, or when deer populations become more abundant. They have the ability to prey on animals that are eight times the bobcat’s weight. It stalks the deer, often when the deer is lying down, then rushes in and grabs it by the neck before biting the throat, base of the skull, or chest. Once a bobcat kills a deer, it eats its fill and then buries the carcass under snow or leaves, often returning to it several times to feed.
The bobcat hunts by stealth, but delivers a deathblow with a leaping pounce that can cover 10 feet. We have actually videotaped a bobcat leaping 8-10 feet in the air. They have very powerful legs. The bobcat has exceptional eyes and ears. Notice I did not mention the nose. They can see about 10 times better than man and can hear a mouse squeak from 30-50 yards. Its nose is also keen, but is seldom used during hunting. We have had bobcats walk right up to us while hunting. The closest one had stalked up to 3 grown men setting on the ground was 6 feet. That’s when Doc (Dr. Mike Stolba) shot the critter.
The bobcat has the patience of an oyster. Normally, when calling bobcats, one can expect to set at one location for at least an hour. Once a bobcat hears a distress call that we use to lure them in, they will slip up close enough to view the area and just sit down and wait. Once he is sure everything is OK, it will slowly slip from one cover to another until it reaches its destination. Usually it will stop by a brush or other hiding spot and then get ready to pounce on the prey. There are always exceptions to these rules. It depends on how hunger the cat is at that time. Or, at least that is what I think.
On one occasion, Mac & I (Prowler) was hunting from a trailer that we pulled into the area. Just before dark, a bobcat walked into the road and proceeded to the location of the MoJo Critter we were using as a decoy. Of course, we had our backs to the cat and had to turn around in the trailer to videotape and possibly shoot the cat. I started to lift my tripod and move my feet at the same time. But as luck would have it, the trailer creaked and popped as I shifted my weight. The bobcat had just set down in the middle of the trail when the trailer made the sound. At that instant, the bobcat bolted back in the direction from where it came. As dark approached, Mac got out his predator light and we saw the eyes of the bobcat in the dense thicket behind us. Mac slowly eased out of the trailer and walked down the trail, all the time keeping the light on the bobcat’s eyes. After about a 20 minutes of getting out of the trailer and walking down the path, Mac raise his Remington shotgun loaded with 3 ½” Winchester #4 Buckshot and killed the bobcat. Mac had stalked up to about 30 yards of the bobcat. This was my first experience in calling in and stalking a bobcat. It was exciting to say the least.
On a cool fall day with the wind blowing about 5 mph from the north, Mac & Prowler had walked a couple of miles through some rather large oak trees. As we approached a draw (drainage ditch), Mac said this ought to be a good place to kill a bobcat. After setting up our decoy (MoJo Critter) and call, we settled in for an hour or so of just sitting and watching. In less than 10 minutes, Mac said “There is a bobcat setting under the fence about 40 yards away. Do you see him? Let me know when you get the camera on him and I will shoot.” As soon as I said, “OK”, Mac fired his Remington Turkey Special shotgun and the bobcat leaped 6-8 feet in the air and took off running at about mock one right out in front of us. Mac fired a second shot but hit behind the cat. The bobcat turned back making a semi-circle and Mac fired a third shot knocking the bobcat sideways. The bobcat never slowed down at all. If anything, it sped up to mock two. The bobcat disappeared under the fence about 70 yards away.
We set there discussing the events of that hunt and viewing the footage. Mac said, “It is time to go get him”. We made our way down to the spot where the bobcat disappeared under the fence and did not find a single drop of blood. All we found was scratch marks the cat made while running. After crossing the fence, Mac looked to find the thickest spot of brush in the area. He walked up to the pile of brush and briars. After several minutes of fighting his way into the briar thicket he said, “Here he is”. I walked up to him (as close as I could get without being cut to pieces from the briars) and Mac came walking out with a very colorful female bobcat.
I am always amazed at Mac’s ability to process each situation that we are in. I would not have looked in that thicket of briars simply because I know that I would be cut in several locations digging my way into the thicket. We both love to predator hunt and it is always a plus when you get to harvest an animal. Especially a bobcat!
Prowler Bill Henson