After returning from our son's home on the day after Christmas, I began checking phone messages. One message was from Greg Case, of East Troy, who sounded quite excited, saying that he and his daughter, Rebecca, had checked their traps on Christmas Day to find that each had caught a bobcat.
Although only beginners at trapping last year, they had been very excited to find an ermine in one of their traps.
Back in the fall while preparing their traps, the two had talked about how great it would be to catch a bobcat and, from that time on, the anticipation of the upcoming bobcat trapping season was foremost in their thoughts. Several seasoned trappers gave them pointers on where and how to make their sets.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL BOWER
Greg and Rebecca Case show off their Christmas day bobcats.
The season opened on Saturday, Dec. 21, and immediately after daybreak, the duo began to set their trap line between East Troy and Austinville, where Greg's parents live.
For the next four days, Rebecca and Greg crawled out of bed very early to check their traps. On Christmas Eve, with the family all together, the conversation included bobcat trapping.
Bright and early on Christmas morning, dad and daughter were walking into the area where the first trap had been set when they saw bobcat tracks in the snow. They also noticed a dead vole that the cat had killed but did not eat.
The duo continued to follow the tracks into the swamp, unsure of whether or not the cat had gone near their trap. However, as they approached the trap, the two were greatly surprised when they saw a bobcat in a trap that Rebecca had set.
They continued to check the trap line, finding only empty traps, that is until they went to check the last trap, one that Greg had set, and much to their surprise they saw another bobcat.
Both bobcat hides will be tanned and hung in the Case home to remind them of Christmas Day 2013. However, I doubt that they ever will forget the experience.
In Pennsylvania, the bobcat has had quite a colorful history. In 1915, the state Game Commission began paying a $6 bounty on the bobcat. This continued until 1919 when the bounty was increased to $8 and then to $15 dollars in 1923.
From 1916 until 1938, more than 7,000 bobcats were killed for the bounty. In 1937-38, only three bobcat pelts were turned in for the bounty; however, the bobcat remained unprotected.
Then, in 1970, the bobcat was reclassified as a furbearer, and the commission protected the bobcat for the next 30 years.
In 2000, a highly regulated trapping season was implemented.
Although bobcats were not significant in the fur trade, the passage of the Endangered Species Conservation Act, which prohibited the importation of endangered felids, created a demand for the bobcat pelt in the fur industry, with the price per pelt soaring from $10 to $125. Today, a Pennsylvania bobcat pelt could bring $42.
During the period of 1986 until 1995, the commission did a complete field study on the bobcat population, and it was decided that radio collars were to be attached to cats that were trapped. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to be part of this study.
Charlie Fox, who now is one of the state game commissioners, and I set many traps for bobcats and attached electronic collars on both the bobcats that we trapped and those accidentally trapped by trappers.
A trapped bobcat would be put in a barrel (the easy part because the cat would run into the barrel, thinking it was an escape); the barrel then was turned upside down, and the trap removed from the cat's leg; the lid of the barrel was opened slightly so that a blanket could be stuffed in the barrel on top of the cat.
After this was done, the lid was removed; the cat was held down by the blanket, which was carefully moved around until the cat's rump was found, and then the drug was injected.
The bobcat was removed from the barrel to determine sex, weight, measurements and have a radio collar put on. When finished the cat was put back in the barrel; the lid put back on and the cat was taken back to the area where it was originally trapped to be released when fully recovered from the drug.
Over the following weeks and months, we tracked the cat's movements, using a radiotelemetry unit, which would be marked on a map.
With the bobcat's population increasing so much from 2000 through 2010, the commission issued a lottery-type drawing to award a limited number of permits.
In 2010, the bobcat permits were unlimited; however, the hunting and trapping season for bobcats was shortened.
The first bobcat that I saw in the wild was on Barclay Mountain (state game land 36). I was on night patrol when I saw two young bobcats playing in the middle of the road. Naturally. I stopped my vehicle to watch. What a thrill!
Although bobcats are secretive predators, the sighting of one is not all that unusual. To outdoor enthusiasts, a sighting of a bobcat is a great wilderness experience, and one that won't be forgotten.
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.