Bobcats once wandered throughout Ohio but, as more people settled in the state, the numbers diminished. Much of its habitat had been altered or destroyed and the species was often considered an unfavorable interloper on family homesteads.
By 1850, they were gone.
The bobcat is one of seven wildcat species found in North America, belonging to the scientific family Felidae, the same as that kitty on the front porch.
They began to repopulate Ohio in the mid-1900s. Since then, bobcat sightings have increased each year.
Mr. Bob has returned home.
The bobcat has short, soft, dense fur that varies from light gray, yellowish brown, buff, brown, and reddish brown on the upper parts of the body. The fur on the middle of the back is frequently darker than on the sides. Underneath, they’re whitish with dark spots or bars. The back of the bobcat’s ears are black with white spots and the tip of the ears and the bobcat’s tail are black.
Unlike its cousin, the African lion, the bobcat does not travel in a pride. It sticks to the life of a loner, staking out its territory and maintaining a low profile. Adult females have an extremely low tolerance for females that wander into their home range. Males are more open minded with other males that creep into their domain.
As carnivores, bobcats feed on insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds and a variety of mammals, even up to the size of deer. Like many cats, they’re patient hunters that prefer to lie in wait and pounce when their prey comes close. If their target spots the cat early and makes a run for it, the wildcat will usually give up the chase quickly, rarely beyond 60 feet.
Breeding normally happens from February through May. The gestation period lasts approximately 63 days, with females willing to use a variety of areas to birth their young; from rocky overhangs to snags, deadfalls and old dens. Newborns resemble the kittens most of us have seen on the farm — totally furred, eyes closed, completely helpless and utterly dependent upon mom for survival.
Litters average from one to six, with two being typical. Their eyes will open by around 10 days and they are fully weaned at eight weeks. Like the house cat, as they grow, they learn the ropes of survival while playing pouncing and hunting games with their littermates and tagging after mom during short exploratory trips from their hide. They will be ready to go out on their own by the following late fall or winter.
Bobcats typically have one litter per year, but will produce a second if the first is lost. As for the names of the family group, males are called toms, females are queens and the kittens are, well, kittens.
The majority of reported bobcat sightings prior to 2010 occurred in and around Noble County but, since then, reports have been made in 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties. From 1970 through 2013, there were 1,002 verified reports.
During the same period, a total of 2,175 unverified bobcat sightings were received — 226 of the sightings were received in 2013, compared to 242 unverified reports in 2012. There were unverified sightings from 61 counties during 2013 and from 86 counties since 1970. Unverified reports were obtained primarily through Endangered/Uncommon Species Observation Cards.
The Division of Wildlife’s research prompted the removal of the bobcat from the Endangered and Threatened Species in Ohio list in July 2014, though it remains protected (no harvest season). This may soon change.
Populations continue to increase around the state with nearly 500 confirmed sightings in 2017. The Ohio State Trappers Association (OSTA), a group that provided a great deal of help during the research and recovery plan of the bobcat, is asking the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) to consider opening a trapping season for the cat.
“With the need for demographic data for a bobcat population model and to estimate harvest rates, it only makes sense to ask for a range and limit specific season for trapping bobcats, not only to allow for use of this renewable natural resource, but also to provide the avenue for carcass collection needed for this research “¦ if the wildlife professionals of the ODOW feel opening a bobcat season of some type “¦ would be a proper change, we fully support, and are confident with, the ODOW’s decision,” the OSTA’s proclamation reads.
Bobcats, while currently protected, are sometimes caught by trappers who are targeting other furbearers. Every attempt is made to release the animals unharmed and notification and details are relayed to wildlife biologists. A limited season will allow the use of a valuable resource while providing important information about the state wildcat population’s health, distribution and expansion.
“In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Along the way
The current administration of the Division of Wildlife received a wake-up call following their pronouncement that they would be cutting funding used for programming by Ohio’s sportsmen’s clubs (outlined in The Courier’s Feb. 3 Field Notes column).
Many thanks to the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance for helping to get the word out and to Ryan Smith, chairman of the House Finance Committee, and to other House and Senate members who listened to the sportsmen of Ohio.
Due to this intervention, ODNR Chief Mike Miller had to walk back that poorly conceived plan and will need to look for other ways to grab the sportsmen’s dollars from our license purchases, plans that are certainly in the works and will be reported.
• Today and Sunday: Columbus Fishing Expo, the Midwest’s premier fishing expo, Ohio Expo Center, Ohio State Fairgrounds. Runs today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Today: Chili Cook-Off, 4:30 to 8 p.m. at the University of Findlay Koehler Center. This is Cancer Patient Services’ biggest fundraiser. Admission for adults is $10, ages 6 to 12 is $5 and kids 5 and under are free.
• Sunday to March 18: Winter Trap League, Fostoria United Sportsmen’s Club, 1324 U.S. 23 N, Fostoria. Traps open at 9 a.m., program starts at 10 a.m. It’s open to the public with no early sign-up needed, though a five-person squad is required. For information, 419-435-4953.
• Sunday: Sporting clays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• Feb. 17: Sportsman’s Day, Heritage Christian Union Church, 15738 Ohio 37, Forest. Enjoy vendors, displays, dinner and door prizes. Event includes an outdoor tent featuring an introduction to archery with Adam Ray and Bowtech; the seminars “Hunting Big Northerns” by Eagle Creek Lodge, Ontario; “Buck Hunting 101” by Dr. William Knapp; and critter calling with Dick Scheidt of Quaker Boy calls. Three fishing trips to Red Lake, Ontario and women’s Lake Erie perch fishing trips sponsored by Tibbels Charters will be among the door prizes. This event is free and open to the public except for a $5 donation for lunch. Vendors will be offering items for purchase. Doors open at 10:30 a.m., seminars run from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., music and presentation follow, then prizes will be drawn. Must be in attendance to win. For information, call 419-273-2089.
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.
He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.