Not just Lion Season.
Wait a minute!
Driving down a Lawrence County back road with my favorite girl when I glimpse two short ears set uniquely atop a rounded skull. Driving by at thirty miles-an-hour, it was a blur, but a distinct blur that I have rarely seen before in the wild.
By the time I had backed up along the tree row, the cat knew it had been spotted. It trotted across the opening and headed into the cedars giving us no doubt as to its identity and actually coming closer in order to get into cover.
Rarely do I share a wildlife moment with my wife that she appreciates as much as I. Having grown up on a ranch along Montana’s Powder River, few elk, antelope, or deer that we see can compare to ones she saw during her childhood. She has also had to endure a few thousand impromptu stops during our marriage as I scrambled for my binoculars. Her tolerance has truly been tested, but she loves cats and bobcats have been few and far between.
But perhaps here as across the rest of the nation, bobcats are on the rise.
This cat gave the impression of being a mature female. Her legs and body were long and it soon became obvious that she had been down this path before. A dozen whitetail deer poured out of the trees. They all spun and began to stomp their hooves into the frozen ground, oblivious to our presence and totally focused on the predator that had returned to slip into their bedding grounds.
Bobcats are opportunistic predators and rarely take on prey as large as mature deer, but given the opportunity and a hard winter, a fawn is no match. Those deer had been hunted by this cat before and were in no mood to let it out of their sight until her danger had passed. The cat realized that its cover had been blown, abandoned the hunt, and stepped into our view for one last glimpse.
My wife’s attraction to cats has been shared by humans for thousands of years. For some unknown reason, they have very little fear of people when they are kittens. My sister recorded an inquisitive cat that chased their dog out of the timber near Glacier National Park. All in play, the two animals wove back and forth between their legs and cross-country ski poles. Occasionally one would stop for a moment to hide or lean up against them. The camera shows the bobcat standing within inches of my sister’s leg waiting for the dog to make the next move.
I’ve also had young cats in trees respond passively when I reached up and stroked their fur with a branch. It is very rare or sickly behavior for a bobcat to act aggressively towards a person, but they have become adept in urban environments at killing domestic house cats and small dogs.
The last population estimates were released in 2010 but bobcat numbers were rising or stable across their range and estimated at several million. For several decades I have seen the tracks of many more mountain lions than bobcats, but this season and last I have begun to see evidence of a resurgence in the smaller cat’s populations. When fur prices peaked in 2014 harvests hit a four year high, but a substantial decline in fur prices has trappers staying home and cat populations expanding.
South Dakota’s season began the day after Christmas and runs through the 15th of February. A furbearer license is required. According to GFP 204 were trapped and another 67 shot in the state from the last reporting period of 2014-15. Certainly others were harvested by callers. A hunter or trapper has five days to have each animal tagged and inspected by a conservation officer.
For a particular group of hunters, bobcats beckon.