I have been an outdoor person my whole life and because of these activities I have seen a lot of wildlife up close, but it was only a few years ago that I saw my first bobcat in the wild, not just with a wildlife camera photo. On the flip side, my wife, who is not an outdoor person, recently saw one on the edge of Route 12 while driving to work. Bobcat sightings are becoming more common as there are more and more of them.
How many of these are there in New Hampshire? According to wildlife biologists, the number is around 1,400. That’s a low of about 150 thirty years ago. The estimate is based on the species’ territorial needs. A bobcat needs about 15 square miles of habitat.
However, these wild cats are not evenly distributed across the state. The hotspot of Bobcat activity has always been here in the southwest corner of the state. According to New Hampshire Fish and Game, the Monadnock Region, the Lakes Region, and the Connecticut River Valley are now among the metropolitan areas.
One reason the bobcat population bottomed out in the 1980s was the state premium paid for killing them for 164 years – from 1809 to 1973. The premium was based on the belief that the animals were coveted wildlife and farm animals captured another factor in the decline. When abandoned farmland was replaced by old forest, the animals lost some of their favorite prey, such as cottontail rabbits.
The state responded to the low population by protecting the animal from hunting and trapping in 1989. Bobcats also adapted to the change in habitat by finding new prey, including the recently restored wild turkey.
Although they chase prey, much like a domestic cat, bobcats are primarily ambush hunters waiting in hiding. Prey types range from mice to deer and include pretty much everything in between. One reason for the increase in bobcat sightings is the attraction of prey concentrations to bird feeders.
Although they are larger than the typical house cat, bobcats are not particularly large. Males weigh an average of 27 pounds and females weigh 17. The largest New Hampshire bobcat recorded weighed 51 pounds, and a male killed in 2017 weighed in at 45 pounds, according to Fish and Game. If you see one and are not sure if it is a house cat, be aware that there are no spotted house cats. If it’s spotted, has tufted ears and ruffles, it’s a bobcat. If it also has long legs and huge feet, and it is in the north, it could be a lynx, another species of wild cat.
Named for their short 4 to 7-inch tail, bobcats typically live 2 to 5 years in the wild, although they sometimes live up to 14 years, according to furbearer biologists. Females give birth to 2 or 3 kittens in late April or early May.
Attacks on humans are extremely rare and usually result from rabies. Some of today’s turkey hunters, clad in camouflage and mimicking the calls of turkeys, were surprised to find that the animals chase them if they were mistaken for prey.
Today’s population estimates are based on a joint study by Fish and Game and the University of New Hampshire conducted from 2009 to 2014 that used trappers to catch the animals that were fitted with GPS collars that fall off in time should. The study, research and management of bobcats in New Hampshire are funded by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, which was also used to restore the wild turkey to the state. That source of income is an excise tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition, and bow gear, in effect since 1935.
Based on the joint study and the recovering population, NH Fish and Game proposed a limited hunting and trapping season (50 permits) in 2016. The proposal met with considerable public protest and was withdrawn. The surrounding states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine all have bobcat seasons.