Once upon a time, bobcats were found all over the North Americas, from Canada down into Mexico. In the early 1900s, however, the demand for their fur had increased so substantially that the populations were severely cut down by over trapping and hunting. Protections were issued in the 1970s that have since encouraged this beautiful animal to rebound, and now select population management hunting is allowed. If hunting were not allowed, then other methods would have to be employed to help manage the population density. Hunting is a natural means to selectively reduce the sick, old, and less-ideal specimens from the group, and it is closely monitored and limited by professionals who observe the habitat and health of the animals daily.
Hunting bobcats (Lynx Rufus, or rust-colored lynx) can be an awesome hunting experience. To track down a highly sensitive predator without giving oneself away is a monumental experience. It’s like an honorable battle… May the best creature win. The bobcat’s his best to elude you, leading you on with the cocky attitude that the top of the local food-chain usually adopts, and if you are talented (and lucky) enough to get within shooting distance, your noble prey bows in deference. You win.
You can’t just hop out of your 4-wheeler and run after a set of tracks, crouch behind a tree and find a bobcat just like that. Hunting bobcats take dedicated skill and know-how. You will set out time and time again, coming back with nothing, learning new tricks every time, until you are finally worthy of your prey. The bobcat thus teaches you so much about the local topography, animal behavior, and weather patterns.
Feelings of respect, awe, and gratefulness should be in your heart. This marvelous creation that you have been blessed enough to hunt is teaching you lessons you’d never learn behind the monitor of a video game system. Something about gratefulness and respect exudes from your being, we don’t know whether it’s a pheromone or how predatory animals sense it, but the Native Indians always made sure to follow these practices and were enormously successful hunters. Non-native hunters that practice this first off also have high success rates, so perhaps you could try to add that into your bag of tricks.
After getting into the right mindset, it’s time to use some down-to-earth, tried and true physical technique. Avid bobcat hunters recommend using a 12 gauge sawed off shotgun (as short as is legal, usually 20 inches), and 3 inches, No.4 buckshot. Just in case something bad happens, you’ll want something smaller on you as well. .45 works. A bobcat call should also be part of your tools. There are mouth calls and electronic calls. The electronic ones have the added coolness of being able to set them down at a distance away from you (which is great in tight cover situations). These tools will combine to make things easier for you, but that’s just at the end of the battle. The biggest part of the game is tracking down the cat in the first place.
In the dawning hours of a wintery morning, hopefully with some new snow on the ground, searching for tracks commences. If you did your homework beforehand, you would have found a piece of earth that bobcats are known to frequent. This is typically an area with a lot of their favorite prey, which is mainly rabbits and other small animals. Lots of dense, low cover, is their favorite kind of shelter. A trick of the trade is to find a likely place near a cleared area, such as a road, because the bobcat will inevitably cross such a thing, leaving very easy tracks to find. If you’re not finding tracks after you’ve checked all of the above off of your list, there probably isn’t a bobcat in the near area, but never fear, the area they cover is quite large (25-36 square miles!), so you may just have to move on a bit in your hunt.
Some More Tips & Techniques
Bobcats are sight hunters. That means they use their eyes and ears, not their sense of smell, so covering your odor isn’t necessary. Silence, however, is. No slamming your vehicle doors, silly pot shots at stuff, or loud talking and laughing. Sorry. This is a serious, stealthy, samurai hunt. If you are passing through open, cleared areas, and you get the feeling a cat would spot you, make an effort to sneak around it. When you move, move slowly. Always imagine the cat is watching you with a haughty expression on its face.
When you use the call for the first time, set yourself up for your shot beforehand. Safety dictates that you need something protecting your back while you’re concentrating elsewhere. Back up to a tree or a solid rock, and just remember that the cat could be anywhere. Protect as many sides of yourself as possible, while trying to keep a 360-degree area of view open. When using your call, remember that patience is the key. Bobcats aren’t like dogs; they’re not going to come running to find out what made that call. It sometimes takes an older, cautious cat an hour or so to finally sneak up and see what’s up, so don’t make the mistake of changing position too often. If you deem it time to move, be extra cautious, and go quite a ways before calling again.
Learning to call for predatory animals is skilled technique. You want to imagine what an animal sounds like in the wild. Wounded rabbits don’t scream and screech at decibels that make you wince every 5 seconds. Neither should your call. Realism makes all the difference to a predatory, wise animal like your bobcat quarry.
Other than these tips, the rest is really up to you. Learn your terrain, always be cautious and pretend the cat is always watching you. Wear good boots, carry the proper protective equipment and first aid gear, and happy shooting!
Images by Don DeBold