Bobcat a big prize for Vermont hunters

Every foot step is strategically placed. Agile and almost angelic, his slow cautious walk is calculated like his every move.

He stops periodically and also looks up with a brief pause in between every step to mentally capture every detail of his surroundings. If it wasn't for the rock that gave way and wobbled under his giant looking, puffy, winter fur-coated paw; I would have never even seen him. It was the noise from the rock that caught my attention, the big cat was silent. That experience and memory was from Egg Mountain in Rupert and one of my first hunting adventures for the elusive bobcat.

Although I can count on my hands the number of live bobcats I have seen in a lifetime of hunting the beautiful Vermont landscape, bobcat populations are strong, healthy and well distributed throughout the state.

These solitary creatures are very smart and adaptable. If you see a pair of bobcats together its considered a family group as males and females only tolerate each other for the breeding season in March. The females give birth in June (usually to three kittens) and those kittens are off and on their own by December. With plentiful food sources and lack of competition from other predators like the wolf and lion (a void now filled by the coyote expansion into Vermont), the bobcat thrived in Vermont and had devastating effects on the habitat balance of other animal populations like voles, squirrels, rabbits, birds and even deer. Small domesticated dogs and house cats are an easy and favorite food source as well, because the bobcat is an opportunist that will give chase to any small animal for survival or sometimes just for fun.

To control overpopulation and protect the ecosystem, the state legislature placed a bounty on the bobcat from 1856 to 1971. Vermont's first regulated hunting season was established in 1976. The management and protection of this beautiful species and all others is regulated by state biologists and paid for, operated and monitored by sportsmen. Based on sound game management, historic evidence and a proven science, populations are monitored with strict regulated hunting and trapping to collect harvest data and biological information about the bobcat. Hunters and trappers in Vermont also double as a funding source to protect the bobcat and its critical habitat.

These smart and elusive cats are more than a challenge for Vermont's sportsmen and the harvest date is invaluable for the state and the future of the species. Annually, Vermont biologists harvest 20 to 30 bobcats, mostly through hunting and trapping, but that includes road kill and other accidents.

Severe winter conditions and habitat destruction are the biggest threat to this great cat, but thankfully we have conservationists and sportsmen looking after and protecting them. The very short and limited bobcat trapping season was from Dec. 1- Dec. 16 so sportsmen who didn't get out there will have to wait for next winter. The good news, for those brave hunters looking for the challenge against the elements, Mother Nature and this crafty cat, gun hunting season for bobcat is now open from through Feb. 7. There is not much available in the hunting woods this time of year, but bobcats are in, fur is prime and the meat is delicious.

Happy Hunting!


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