November 25, 2004

First Bobcat Harvested in Scotland County

While bobcat sightings are still unusual they are becoming less of a rarity. The wildcats numbers have expanded enough that the Missouri Department of Conservation opened the bobcat hunting and trapping season statewide in 2003.

Scotland County had its first- ever bobcat checked in by MDC Conservation Agent Gary Miller. Miller tagged the female cat for a hunter who took the animal on November 15.

The new season, which opened November 15 and runs through February 15 also includes badger, gray fox, red fox, opossum, raccoon and striped skunk. The hunter simply needs to possess a valid small-game hunting permit. These animals may also be taken by trap during this same season.

According to the Missouri Trappers Association, record-high prices are being paid for the animals fur, an average of $64 per pelt which is more than double what they brought last year.

MDC and MTA records reveal that the bobcat harvest in Missouri, mostly from trapping, has more than doubled since the 2000 season to more than 2,500 animals. The largest harvests have been in the northwestern counties of Andrew, Nodaway, Gentry and Harrison. The significant population increases prompted the opening of the statewide bobcat hunting and trapping season for 2004, the first statewide season in decades.

In Missouri, trappers who take bobcats or otters are required to present the pelts to conservation agents for examination and tagging. Besides protecting these and similar-looking species from unregulated trade, the tagging requirement provides information that is valuable to MDC officials who are responsible for ensuring that the legal harvest of otters and bobcats does not lead to the species decline.

The bobcat is a member of the Cat Family, which also includes lions, leopards, tigers, pumas, lynxes, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and servals. The common name refers to the short or bobbed tail.

The predominant color is yellowish to reddish brown, streaked and spotted with black. Although the bobcat is only a medium-sized member of the Cat Family, it is one of the largest wild mammals in Missouri. Its total length ranges from 22 1/2-50 inches (571- 1,270 mm), and its weight from 10-40 pounds (4.5-18.1 kg). The bobcat is distinguished from the domestic cat, which sometimes lives in the wild, by its distinctive color pattern, larger size, pro-portionately longer legs, much shorter tail, and 28 teeth.

In the wild, bobcats may live to 10 or 12 years of age and in captivity up to 25 years. They have a very strong odor which is characteristic of their dens.

Bobcats are generally quiet but may give high-pitched screams or low growls. During the breeding season when they are more vociferous than at other times, their caterwauling consists of squalls, howls, meows and yowls. When captured, they growl, hiss and spit.

In Missouri, bobcats live primarily in the Ozark Highland and in the Mississippi Lowland where they are sparse. Scattered populations occur along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and in northern Missouri.

The bobcat lives in heavy forest cover, preferably second-growth timber with much underbrush, broken with clearings, rocky outcrops and bluffs, and in timbered swamps. During most of the year, a fresh rest shelter such as a thicket, standing or fallen hollow tree, or a recess in a rocky cliff is used each day. In the breeding season, similar but usually more inaccessible places are chosen for a den. The nest is made of dried leaves and soft moss.

In Missouri, males have an annual home range of 18-28 square miles (28.8-44.8 square km) while females have smaller ones. Within these home ranges, individuals may travel 3-7 miles (4.8-11.2 km) a night. The home range is marked by scent places containing droppings or urine.

Bobcats are curious and investigate many objects along their way, which accounts for their customary zigzag trail.

In locating prey, a bobcat depends more upon its keen eyesight and hearing than its sense of smell. When stalking, it usually creeps stealthily along, then pounces on its prey; or it may crouch on a game trail or tree limb and await an unwary victim. Bobcats can kill animals as large as deer by biting the throat at the jugular vein.

Bobcats are both nocturnal and diurnal, but most hunting occurs around sunrise and sunset. They are active all year. However, they often remain in a resting place during a storm and avoid deep, soft snow because of difficulty walking in it. Bobcats are capable of swimming and readily cross streams. They are good climbers and take to trees as a refuge from dogs, or for resting or observation. They often stretch against some hard snag to sharpen their front claws, much in the manner of domestic cats.

A study of the food habits of 41 bobcats in Missouri showed the following foods and their percentages by volume: rabbits 67.0; mice, rats and shrews 0.7; squirrels 9.9; deer 8.6 (some of which is probably carrion); opossums 1.9; domestic cats 1.7; wild turkeys 7.9; quail 1.7; undetermined meat 0.5; and grasses 0.1.

Bobcats gorge when food is plentiful, and may not feed again for several days. They seldom return to feed on an old kill unless food is scarce. They waste considerable meat and kill more than they eat. They use their feet to bury any surplus food under snow or leaves.

Breeding begins in December and may extend into June. After a 50- to 70-day gestation period, the litter of usually two or three young is born. Most litters arrive from mid-May to mid-June, but some are born as late as September or October.

At birth, each kitten weighs about 12 ounces (340 g) and measures 10 inches (254 mm) long. They have spotted fur and sharp claws. When about 9 to 11 days old, their eyes open. They soon come outside the den where they gambol and play, although they return inside to feed. Weaning occurs around 2 months of age, but the young stay with the female until fall or even later. Some females mate when 1 year old.

Information for this article was provided by the MDC and was abstracted from the revised edition of The Wild Mammals of Missouri by Charles and Elizabeth Schwartz.

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