Conservation and Trapping Science

Bobcats faring better than revelations suggest
Nov 26, 2021 17:45 ET

[Reprinted from original]

Quietly, bobcats are on a pretty good roll nowadays.

Once scarce across Kentucky, the native wild felines now are much more common than many people realize. Even those who spend lots of time outdoors seldom see them. It is primarily people like deer hunters who log numerous hours in still, silent vigils who have the most opportunities to view bobcats doing bobcat business.

That is because bobcats are super sneaky and have excellent senses of sight and hearing that help them avoid and stay undetected from potential dangers like humans. They could be formidable in direct conflict, but bobcats’ instincts are to stay out of sight and out of mind. The strategy works well.

The cats are nocturnal but active some in daylight hours. Despite that, they manage to ghost around without exposing themselves to many people. When they do get seen, sometimes the viewers are not familiar enough with them to recognize what they behold.

A bobcat really looks about like you would expect it to look, except that it typically isn’t as large as one might anticipate. The cat usually ranges in nose-to-butt body length of between 2 and 3 feet. Add to that a “bob” tail (hence, the name) of only 4-7 inches.

One of these wild felines routinely can weigh as little as a dozen pounds (smaller than some house cats) to as much as about 33 pounds. The largest are the males, and rarely some of these can reach about 40 pounds.

Bobcats have been mistaken for mountain lions, but an adult lion could weigh 100-170 pounds, so the comparison is not close. Still, people tend to see unfamiliar animals as larger than they really are.

The bobcat is subtle in appearance, so seen in poor light and at some distance, one could leave doubt in the mind of the viewer. Its coat could be a variable shade of gray to reddish brown to yellowish khaki. Atop that is a random speckling of dark, mostly black spots, blotches and short streaks. The effect is excellent camouflage, especially on the leafy ground of woodlot and forest habitats where it mostly lives.

The short tail on old Bob is perhaps its most identifiable feature, separating it from other cats smaller and larger. The other, with a good, close look, might be the pointy eat tufts that a bobcat sports. One other is a poofy ruff of extra fur around the sides of the bobcat’s lower face.

Unlike coyotes that may chase down prey, bobcats stay true to their sneaky nature. A cat may lurk around a likely ambush point and intercept a meal candidate as it moves by too closely. In many instances, a bobcat may see prey at a distance, then slip in with slow, halting stalk until it is close enough for a last moment rush and pounce.

Bobcats probably prefer rabbits to any prey, but they make good use of squirrels, songbirds, ‘possums, young raccoons, small rodents like mice and voles, and wild turkeys. They do take some deer, primarily fawns, although there are documented instances of larger bobcats killing and feeding on adult whitetails.

Over past decades, Kentucky has gone from full protection for bobcats, to minimal hunting, to considerable hunting/trapping opportunities. All this is based on bobcats’ recovery from overexploited populations as late as the mid-1900s. Managers cautiously opened opportunities as cats made their rebound, although the careful management probably lagged behind the secretive bobcats’ renaissance.

The latest in bobcat hunting regulations is a recently installed earlier start to the hunting season, now the third Saturday in November. That change was so recent that it did not make the printing of the 2021-22 Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide. (My bad on that, readers; I have recently written that the season starts just today, the way it has been in previous years and the way it was listed in the guide, printed before late legislative approval of the change. The new regulations are listed in updated form on the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website,

While the newly adjusted season offers seven more days of hunting, Nov. 20-Feb. 28 this year, there is a new requirement. A bobcat hunter, in addition to a hunting license, now must carry a new Kentucky bobcat permit to hunt and take any of the felines. The gentle part of that is a hunter can get the necessary permit for free on the KDFWR website in the license purchase section.

It is a data thing. Bobcat permits are required to monitor the extent of bobcat hunting.

The bag limit on bobcats, something else that reflects their population growth over the years, is 5 per hunter per season. However, no more than 3 of those cats can be taken with a firearm. That leaves more slack for trappers and hunters using bow or crossbow.

Also in the interest of study, hunters and trappers who take bobcats are asked to submit lower jaws of harvested cats, samples that provide age data for population studies. Those who provide the jaws can find out the age of their cats.

As incentive to provide cat jaws for the study, a hunter or trapper gets one additional bobcat on his bag limit next year for every two jaws submitted. Bobcat pluckers can get details and instructions for jaw contributions on the KDFWR website.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at