My initial close-up-and-personal encounter with a bobcat was a hair-raising experience. (If I had such an experience today, I’d have to describe it differently; I don’t have enough hair to raise.)
I was probably around the age of twelve when one dry summer day, I tagged along with my dad as he headed out to run his trap-line; he worked in Predator Control for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at the time. Dad parked the Jeep on a dry hard-packed red clay road between Creston and Ashland in Natchitoches Parish to check one of his steel traps. Only a depression in the red clay remained; the trap was gone. Something had jerked it, chain and drag hook attached, out of the ground and vamoosed.
This was by design; he never staked a trap but allowed a critter to take off, chain and hook in tow, rather than risk the chance of finding only a foot in the trap. It was usually a simple matter of following the trail left by the drag hook until the animal was encountered, usually tangled in a thicket not far away.
It hadn’t rained in weeks and the red clay was like concrete; the trap was gone but there was no track to indicate what had gotten in the trap. It could have been a coon, skunk, possum, fox or bobcat but without a track, it was speculation at best. Dad suggested that we spread out; him going one way and me another to see if we could find any sign indicating which way the animal had gone.
It was exciting for me; it was like I was on safari sneaking through the Serengeti in Tanzania after a wounded leopard. As I moved cautiously along, I noticed a log up ahead that had been freshly disturbed; something had recently knocked off a chunk of bark. I approached to within six feet or so to check it further when something caught my eye. There was a brushy sapling growing next to the log and when I happened to look up, I saw something that stunted my growth for a few years; I was staring into the menacing yellow eyes of a big bobcat with lip curled to reveal fangs I could have sworn were four inches long. Two more steps and I wouldn’t be sitting here telling you this story; I’d have died of fright. Back pedaling quickly, I yelled – more likely squealed like a little girl – to my dad, he came and dispatched the cat.
Last week, I learned of another close encounter with a bobcat. Sixteen year old Reagan Dupree, my nephew’s son, was walking to his deer stand along a pipeline in the dark. The stars and sky were bright enough that he didn’t need to use his flashlight to find his way to his stand.
As he walked along, he was aware of footsteps that were matching his. He’d walk; he would hear steps. He would stop and the steps would cease. Realizing that something was following him, he flipped on his light and there a few yards behind him matching him step for step was a big bobcat.
It is highly unlikely that the bobcat would attack; he may have been attracted to the snacks Reagan had in his pocket or it may have just been curious. Whatever the reason, Reagan did what any teen with a gun being stalked by a bobcat would have done. Since bobcats are considered predators of game species, the state has approved the taking of one bobcat a year by Louisiana residents who are big game license holders. The big cat had stalked its last quarry.
I talked with a wildlife biologist for his take on the prevalence of bobcats in the area today.
“Timber thinning and clear cutting have created prime habitat for rabbits and wood rats, primary food sources for bobcats. Bobcats can also have an impact on wild turkeys but if you think about it, there are lots of predators, such as ‘coons, hawks and coyotes, that will prey on turkeys; their eggs, poults or sometimes mature birds. Bobcats are just one of a host of critters that will eat a turkey,” the biologist explained.
I was on a deer stand once and I let a bobcat that I called up sneak away after he looked up and saw me; it was a neat experience. However, if I saw one stalking me or chowing down on one of my beloved wild turkeys, he wouldn’t be so lucky.