Bobcat
The bobcat, lynx rufus, is about twice the size of its distant cousin, the common domestic cat, and it has been called wildcat, bay lynx, lynx cat and red lynx. Bobcats were once common throughout Wisconsin, but as the settlers cleared woodlands for farming, their range became more limited to the northern part of the state. The cats were killed without restriction for both sport and bounty for nearly a century, as the early settlers considered them a threat to livestock. It wasn't until 1970 that some protection was offered, when a 5 1/2-month harvest season was established.

Adult bobcats normally weigh about 20 pounds, but large 40-pound males have been reported in Wisconsin. Females average about 1/3 smaller than the males. Identifying features of both sexes are short "bobbed" tails and sideburn cheek whiskers. The Canada lynx, a protected species, is Wisconsin's only other feline that could be mistaken for a bobcat, and the two can be distinguished by the bobcat being smaller in size and having irregular dark markings only on the top half of their tail and shorter tufts of hair on the ear tips. Bobcat tracks are slightly larger than a house cat's tracks, while the Canada lynx tracks are more than 4 inches across. The dark gray or tan colored fur on the bobcat's back gradually fades into a white or cream-colored underbelly. During spring and summer, the coat may have a reddish tone, thus the scientific name rufus, which is Latin for red. Irregular black spots and blotches give the bobcat a dappled appearance and provide camouflage as it hunts for prey in thick underbrush.

Bobcats take several different mates during their lifetime. The mating season normally occurs during late February or March in Wisconsin, but breeding may keep going for an extended period of time. Males aren't sexually mature until two years of age, and few females produce a litter before their second year. Females generally give birth to 2-3 kittens, some time between April and July, in dens located in caves, rock crevices, hollow logs or trees, and beneath trees that have fallen down. The mother forms dry leaves, moss or grass into a gentle depression before the birth of the kits. The same den site may be used year after year, although alternate den sites are readied and used when the kittens are old enough to travel or if the female is frequently disturbed while rearing her young. Bobcat kittens are born fully furred, but their eyes don't open for about ten days. Survival of the young is heavily dependent on the food supply, and when food is plentiful, many kittens survive. The kittens are raised entirely by the female, and weigh 10-12 ounces at birth. They gain up to .4 ounces per day, and will weigh 5-10 pounds by autumn. After they are about 4 weeks old, the kittens begin to leave the den and start taking solid food provided by the mother. Bobcat teenagers leave their mother's territory before she gives birth to a litter the following year.

Snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits are the primary prey, but porcupines, squirrels, woodchucks and birds are also taken, and even mice, voles, shrews, reptiles and insects are eaten when available. Food studies show that white-tailed deer are the second most common food item for Wisconsin bobcats, but these studies are conducted shortly after the gun deer season, so it is difficult at best to determine what percentage of the deer were actually killed by the cats and what percentage were scavenged from deer shot by hunters and not recovered. Evidence indicates that bobcats kill very few deer unless other foods become scarce, and when they do take deer, they are most likely to kill sick, injured, young or very old animals.

Heavily forested areas of northern Wisconsin hold the majority of the bobcat population, and the cats seem to prefer alder thickets and coniferous swamps containing black spruce, white cedar or balsam fir trees. In the southern part of this northern range, uplands are used more extensively where conifer swamps are rare. Females have a home range of about 15 square miles, while the male's range is normally close to 25 square miles. The home ranges of males overlap one another, and the ranges of 1 or 2 females. Resident females with established territories do not tolerate other breeding females, and a resident bobcat warns visitors to stay out of its territory by marking the boundaries with feces, urine, and gland secretions, thus generally avoiding fights. A moving population of transient bobcats, mostly non-breeding juveniles and yearlings, wander extensively until each locates a vacant territory where they can settle. These roamers often travel through home ranges, but they avoid the areas that are heavily used by the resident bobcats. Tagged juveniles have been known to disperse nearly 100 miles before establishing their own territories. Bobcats are most active during the twilight hours of sunrise and sunset, while daylight activity seems to increase during the winter. Male bobcats move about 2.6 miles per week on average, while females average only about 1.6 miles per week. Logging roads, railroad easements and game trails are used to move between resting places, food sources or hunting areas, especially during times of deep snow. Bobcats, mostly kittens, may fall prey to coyotes, hawks, owls and eagles, and coyotes help keep the population in check because they can more successfully compete for food. The cats are also susceptible to rabies, tularemia, feline panleukopenia, leptospirosis, and a variety of other diseases and parasites.

Based on harvest data and field observations, Wisconsin's greatest bobcat populations are found in the north central part of the state. There has been a slight decline of cats in this area during the last ten years, but this may have been offset by increases in the northwestern and northeastern parts of the state. Bobcats have only occasionally been seen in central and southern Wisconsin, mostly in the valleys of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, but recent sightings have been reported as far south as Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties. The state's management goal is to maintain a population of 3,000-5,000 bobcats, and due primarily to high pelt prices, regulations had to be tightened to restrict harvest to biologically safe levels. Approximately 200 cats are harvested each year, fairly equally divided between trapping and hunting with dogs, with relatively few being taken by hunters using predator calls. Weather conditions may swing the pendulum towards one group, with most trappers preferring dry weather with above freezing temperatures while hunters with dogs would rather see moderate snow cover for tracking. Because 45% of the bobcats trapped in Wisconsin are caught in fox and coyote sets, the seasons were made concurrent to ensure that cats taken accidentally could be legally kept by the trapper if he or she had a possession tag. Under normal weather conditions, a 2-2½ month harvest season is ample for bobcat harvesters without causing harm to populations.
To hunt bobcat, you must have a small game license and a DNR permit and carcass tag on your person. Approximately 8000 people apply for the 2000 available annual bobcat harvest permits, which generally results in about 10% success rate for permit holders. What makes bobcat hunting so intriguing is the challenge. If trapping, hunting with dogs, and calling only generates a one-in-ten success rate, the "call hunter" really has his hands full with this cat. There's a lot more to hunting these animals than simply going into the woods and imitating a rabbit distress call. To be successful, you will need to first be lucky enough to get a permit and secondly be a very keen predator yourself. Tiny mistakes that you can get away with against a deer or a bear will send a bobcat running, without even a clue that he has been around. Learning to think like a predator requires the hunter to get to know the habits of the prey. Key types of bobcat behavior are the preferred habitat and food sources, and when you know where they live and what sounds signal an easy meal, you've gotten a good start down the road to bobcat hunting success. Learning to be versatile and adjust to all types of terrain is important, and just like deer hunting, you'll need to spend time scouting for sign. Tracks are always a good sign of bobcat activity in an area, and scat droppings can be a very informative bit of information. Scat can inform the hunter of what the bobcat has been eating in recent days, and this can be helpful in selecting the type of distress sounds needed to entice the cat. If the bobcat has eaten something once, it will more than likely eat it again, and this is a primary reason why some distress calls seem to work better than others at certain times. The most common calls for bobcats are the snowshoe hare and the cottontail rabbit distress callers. These hares and rabbits are abundant in the same areas where bobcats reside and are the major source of food, but hunters should not forget about the sounds of other prey species. The coarse cries of the white-tailed jackrabbit will often lure the wary cat in, and almost any distress call can capture their attention if they are hungry. Getting a cat to come your way is no guarantee that the hunt will end successfully, as bobcats are suspicious even when they are very hungry. Everything on the way to your hunting position has to look, smell and sound natural. The calling sequence is often critical, and novice hunters tend to make unnatural sequences as well as sounds. Calling from an unnatural position can also be as big a mistake. If your going to use a rabbit distress call, set up in a brushy area where you would hunt rabbits if you were a rabbit hunter. If you don't hunt rabbits in cow pastures, don't expect the bobcat to hunt rabbits there either. Don' call too long, as continuous calling sequences of several minutes can represent danger to the bobcat. Human lungs are different from rabbit lungs, and producing a short and erratic series of sounds is more realistic. A good calling sequence should last about one minute and attempt to represent a natural occurrence to the bobcat. After the best one-minute performance you can give, be silent for at least three minutes, and be alert for this is the time that you will most often spot the cat. The less that you have to call, the less risk that you run of educating the resident bobcats, and the term "call-shy", if valid, will certainly spoil your hunt. When you're ready to move to a new calling position, observe five minutes of silence before moving, and use this time to carefully look for approaching cats, as sometimes this extended silence may make them nervous and they may make a move. If rabbit distress calls aren't working, try something else, but remember that bobcats are a fairly large predator, and bigger predators often want bigger meals. Sometimes rodent or small bird distress calls will be effective, but most often a rabbit or puppy distress call will work better on bobcats. Carry plenty of firepower when hunting bobcats. At least a .22 caliber centerfire cartridge is needed, and some popular calibers are .222 Rem, .22-250 Rem, .220 Swift and .223 Rem or in some cases 10 or 12 gauge shotguns will suffice with BB shot or larger. Try concentrating on days below 45 degrees, as colder weather causes bobcats to consume more food in order to generate the energy required to maintain body temperature. Remember, bobcat may only be hunted north of Highway 64 and only by permit, and you must give your bobcat carcass to the DNR for research when your pelt is registered. You must immediately attach and seal the valid pelt tag through the opening of the animal's mouth to the opening of its eye beneath the skin as soon as the cat is harvested, and this tag must remain with the pelt until removed by a taxidermist or fur dresser.