As a game animal, the bobcat is worthy quarry. Smart, sneaky, and sly, wildcats are challenging hunts. If you’re into that sort of thing.
My general disdain for cats notwithstanding, I tend to leave bobcats alone. When I happen across them, I’m earnestly chasing deer or hogs. Sometimes turkey. Not about to spoil a hunt like this on a random passerby. I’ve heard they’re good to eat, but...eh. I won’t be selling fur any time soon, and as far as I know, no banks – in my part of the world, at least – accept cat pelts as legal tender.
This is not to say I’ve not whacked a few – I just need a different set of reasons to pursue them than other mentioned game and have let far more go about their business than I would a coyote or other such vermin.
This includes predator hunting. I called one in while hunting South Carolina about a decade ago. I was after song dogs, but this old cat snuck up an irrigation ditch right beside my stand without as much a rustle of a leaf. I just happened to look down and saw those striking eyes staring up at me. I shifted the rifle for a shot. Just didn’t hit me right. After about 10 minutes, he ambled off.
A month ago, Krunk and I were suffering through the the final series of that God-awful dying rabbit squeal on the Johnny Stewart. From the corner of my eye, just the tiniest flick of white in the tall grass. I whispered to Krunk to hold still.
The cat sat peering in the broom sedge, not moving a muscle. My MOJO predator decoy kicked its batteries the previous setup and hung limp in the field. Surveying the situation, the bobcat finally grew bored and slinked away. I would have whacked him first clear chance.
What’s the difference? Who knows?
In Florida, the legal season for bobcat starts December 1st and ends March 1st. This time of the year, toms are on the prowl sorting through receptive females. The weather is nice, deer season is about over, and small game seasons are in effect on a lot of public land. It's primetime for a cat hunt.
Calling bobcats is but one strategy. On average, they come to call at a slower pace than coyotes or fox. That’s their wrinkle. While the canines possess superior smell that makes them difficult to hunt, the bobcat has the ultimate patience. Though some will barge on in like a stumbling college drunk, typically budget 30-40 minutes per set-up.
Wounded rabbit calls work. So do wounded birds. I have the Johnny Stewart Electronic call with interchangeable digital cards. Amongst these is the frightened chicken and distressed woodpecker. Most of the time, though, a mouse squeak or rabbit squealer will do.
Pick your calling locations around easy thoroughfares next to cover. Firebreaks, cowtrails, bike paths, paved roads – it doesn’t really matter. Edges of fields are always money. Any place you find prey animals such as agriculture areas or corn feeders. Stay absolutely still and let loose a series of calls once every 7-10 minutes or so. A decoy can help take those staring eyes off you. Trust me - calling in a bobcat is startlingly good fun, even if you don’t shoot.
Speaking of feeders, there’s another way you can come across a wildcat – sheer luck. Yesterday afternoon, I was holding sentry by a feeder awaiting a pig for the cooler. I knew the cat was coming by the squirrels. They make a huge ruckus when a predator walks by, much more so than they do with deer or anything else. This may be why the cats are largely nocturnal – the chorus of raucous tree rats has to make their diurnal stealth work nigh impossible.
Sure enough, the cat bolted out of the palmettos towards a feeding squirrel that jumped about 6 feet up the side of an oak. The cat threw his paws on the bark resembling my husky when she chases squirrels. Foiled, he moped around for a moment as I contemplated things.
On this ranch, bobcats are a serious enemy to the landowners' turkey efforts. It’s a shoot-on-sight policy that’s common on private lands that host spring gobbler. But I really wanted a hog and didn’t want to stir things up by cracking my .300.
The cat regained his composure and trotted off into the world accompanied by his squirrel soundtrack. He was only 15 pounds or so. I probably should have popped him, but besides the hog hunting, I had another reason for not lowering the hammer.
On the way to the ground blind earlier that evening, out in a clearing between a swamp and the scrub oaks, a big tom was posted up. This was a trophy cat. I’ve long wanted one for my trophy room. Of the peculiar quirks I use to justify shooting a bobcat, a mount is one of those. I’ve looked up and down many, many felines, and here was The One.
As I closed the 75 yard strike, I knew I had bagged my mission. The cat was 25-30 pounds with a gorgeous coat. At the shot, another bobcat scrambled off, probably a hot female. His paws were as big around as a 100-watt light bulb, with those sharp retractable turkey-killing claws. He’ll be on his way to the taxidermist next paycheck.
Again, bobcat hunting may not be for everyone; after this hunt, it probably won’t be for me for a while. Still, when the mood swells and opportunity arises, it’s as exciting as chasing any other wily animal in the woods.