Predator Hunting: Bobcat Calling

By Predator Hunting Editor Judd Cooney

hunter with a bobcat he called and killed


When I saw large bobcat tracks crossing the road at the lower end of Gore Canyon below Kremmling, Colorado, I pulled the truck off to the side, parked in 6 inches of fresh snow, grabbed my .220 Swift, binoculars, and a couple of predator calls. Then I started trailing the cat through the brush-choked canyons. If nothing else, I figured I’d learn a bit about bobcat hunting habits.

Three hours later, when I heard raucous raven calling in the timber ahead, I switched to a slower stalking mode. Birds scavenge behind the bigger land predators, and I had taken many a coyote by paying attention to ravens, magpies and crows. I figured there was a good chance this time I might find a fresh bobcat kill.

I snuck up to the edge of a deep oakbrush-filled canyon and slipped in under an overhanging juniper. The ravens were still raising hob on the far side of the canyon, 200 yards below my vantage point.

When I saw a magpie hopping from branch to branch in the top of an oakbrush, I got plum excited. Since the birds were still in the trees, there was a good chance the cat was close by if not actually on the kill.

Noticing little things like that can make all the difference.

After patiently glassing the area for a half-hour or so, I decided to coax some mouse squeals from a favorite Circe call. But as I was bringing the call to my lips, I caught movement in a small opening. Then the mottled form of a large tom bobcat materialized as if out of nowhere. Didn’t take but a couple of seconds to lower the call, shoulder the rifle, and center the crosshairs on a shoulder. I squeezed the trigger, and the big cat literally dropped in its tracks.

I worked my way down to the cat and found a freshly killed yearling mule deer. From the sign in the snow, it looked like the cat had jumped the deer up the canyon and then ridden 50 yards on its back before delivering a fatal or paralyzing bite to the back of the neck.

The 50-grain bullet traveling at nearly 4,000 feet a second had blown a fist-sized exit hole from the pelt. At the time, even winter-prime bobcats were only worth $5 or $10, but I wasn’t going to let this one go to waste. This was my first spot-and-stalk Colorado bobcat, and I took my sweet time stitching the pelt back together.

I have taken many more since that long-ago morning, and while nowadays I am not as likely to combine spot-and-stalk with judicious calling, I still opine it is one of the most challenging, satisfying and effective ways to hunt bobcats. It requires patience and perseverance, the same traits that make the Western bobcat a successful alpha predator.

Bobcats do not like open country where they may become fair game for coyotes; the best cat-calling areas include heavy brush and thickets, dense woods and creek bottoms. Places where bobcats feel comfortable also harbor the small rodents, rabbits and birds they stealthily prey upon.

But as I’ve often said, you can’t hunt a critter where there aren’t any, so choosing a hunting area with a dense cat population is at least as important as the tactics employed. For most of you, that may mean a road trip to better bobcat country, likely out West.

Bobcat hunting regulations and laws vary by state. Montana and Nevada do not allow nonresident bobcat hunting. Yet Colorado and Texas—two states with abundant bobcat numbers—let nonresidents take an unlimited number on just a small game or predator license.

Iowa and Pennsylvania—two Eastern states with decent cat numbers—require a pricey furbearer license to harvest a one-cat season limit.

To get a wider perspective on the best bobcat hunting states, I spoke with professional predator hunters Al Morris of Utah, Byron South of Texas, and FoxPro president Mike Dillon who hails from Pennsylvania.

These guys all travel the country hunting predators, and I rightly assumed they would have a good handle on the situation and also tips for calling the cautious and often contrary felines.

Byron’s advice was to first scout your local area for bobcats before going to the trouble and expense of a long road trip. The secretive bobcat is native to most states, in better numbers than most hunters realize.

Failing that, he said his home state of Texas is a great destination for the sheer number of cats available. But it is mostly private land with severely limited access until late January after the deer seasons close. And even then, you may have to pay to play.

I have probably called in more cats in Texas than any other state. But Texas cats are not known for high-quality fur, and some I shot were almost as thick with prickly pear spines.

I once snuck a cat pelt taken near the Mexican border in with some prime Colorado mountain fur just to see my dealer’s reaction. He took about three looks, shook his head and offered me $25. I gladly took the money even though the Colorado cats in the same pile fetched $250 apiece.

He told me the only reason he offered me anything from the Tex-Mex cat was so he could get a good laugh playing the same trick on his buyer.

According to Byron, Arizona also has one of the higher bobcat populations, and because of better access would be his first choice for a bobcat road trip. The voters outlawed trapping on public land a number of years ago, and bobcat numbers are still on the rise.

I’ve also done some calling in Arizona, and in addition to lots of bobcats there’s a plenitude of coyotes and gray fox with lots of public land open to hunting if not trapping.

Byron’s second tier choices were New Mexico and Colorado where that nonresident small game license is all that’s needed to take an unlimited number of cats. He said he has also done well in the Southern states, specifically mentioning Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. He also feels Missouri and especially Oklahoma have good bobcat populations with reasonable regulations.

Big Al’s top choices were Colorado and Arizona along with Utah, which classifies bobcats as furbearers and requires a furbearer license and enforces a limit on the number of tags per hunter.

Wyoming is extremely hunter friendly with no license or limit on other predators such as coyotes and red fox. However, bobcats are classified as furbearers in Wyoming, and as such a nonresident furbearer license is required. Idaho also classifies cats as furbearers and requires a furbearer permit.

In fact, most Midwestern and Eastern states classify the bobcat as a furbearer and require a furbearer license. Typically, cats taken hunting or trapping are counted under the same limit; in the case of Pennsylvania and Iowa, that’s a single bobcat for the season.

Mike Dillon noted that Pennsylvania has a better bobcat population than most realize, and taking that one cat isn’t difficult if you do your homework and spend enough time locating good bobcat habitat to call.

According to Mike, New York is also a good bet for a bobcat in the East with no harvest limit and night hunting allowed. A $100 nonresident general hunting license is needed.

Florida is another good bet for bobcats in the East, according to Mike. There are plenty of cats, not to mention the sunny beaches where you may recharge your batteries after bushwhacking your way through the palmetto.

I spoke with several predator callers who told me California has some great bobcat hunting with a season that runs from mid October through February. The limit is five bobcat tags per year. Washington and Oregon also have healthy bobcat populations with liberal hunting seasons, although the bobcats are classified as furbearers and do require a nonresident furbearer license.

I don’t believe any two states enforce the same regulations, license requirements, seasons and limits, so be sure you get the latest information.

Fully understand the rules so you don’t end up the one being hunted—by the law.

If you are mainly interested in numbers and aren’t that motivated by fur quality, the Southern tier of states may be your best bet. Farther north and west, especially at higher elevation, the fur can be much better and also the trophy quality of the cats.

Once you locate a hunting area that meets your needs, and take cats there, you can probably return to the same place year after year.

When it comes to the actual hunting, Al Morris said most bobcats have a severe case of attention deficit disorder and as such require different calling and hunting tactics than the more patient fox and coyote.

Al, Byron, Mike and I agree that when specifically calling bobcats, the most productive method is to let an electronic caller run continuously while you vary the volume as needed.

Byron doesn’t like to give any incoming critter—feline or canine—time to think without hearing some sound from the caller. Al and Mike agree that a cat may lose interest quickly and wander off if there is too long of a pause between calling sounds.

Cats are also notorious for slow, stealthy approaches that can get them within spitting range before a hunter sees them.

Once while calling coyotes in a brushy Colorado canyon bottom, I stood up after 20 minutes with no response. A big bobcat that had stalked in without me noticing jumped. It was only 10 yards from the caller, but it dashed back into the oakbrush before I could shoulder the rifle let alone get off a shot.

Hate it when that happens, especially when Colorado bobcats are averaging $300, as they were that season.

Al once spotted a bobcat that had stopped on a ridge 300 yards away and was just sitting there, apparently listening to the caller. He let the caller play but began varying the volume, and 40 minutes later, he had enticed the cat to within 20 yards of the speaker.

Most of the serious predator callers I know, myself included, stay on a stand much longer for bobcats than for coyotes or fox. I generally stay put at least 45 minutes to an hour in good cat country, and while I’ve seen cats come busting in within minutes of my turning on a caller, I would say the average is 15 to 20 minutes, especially when calling in the Western mountains.

Bobcats primarily hunt by sight, which makes using a motion decoy something of a no-brainer.

Wearing full camo that blends seamlessly with the surroundings—including a face cover—and sitting motionless are other good ideas.

Al and Mike feel that higher-pitched sounds, such as birds and cottontails, work best for cats as these smaller critters are their main prey. Byron feels any prey sound that works for coyotes and fox will also work for bobcats. I’ve had good luck with woodpecker distress calls, FoxPro’s Lucky Bird and Baby Cottontail Frenzy, as well as my favorite Lightning Jack and Johnny Stewart’s Super Jack sounds.

When I first got serious about hunting bobcats, my most successful tactic was the mobile one described in the opening scenario. I would pick up a fresh track in the snow and follow it until I was in ideal cat habitat or had reason to believe I was close to the cat (the raven calling in that opening story). Then I would set up for twenty minutes or so and blow a bit on a mouth call.

If I didn’t see the cat, I’d get back on the track and repeat the process at the next likely hangout. It was fun, and I took a number of bobcats that way. But after I got my first good Plott hounds, the method fell by the wayside in favor of letting the hounds do the work.

Regardless, bobcats have always stood at the top of my list, and I still have a tendency to get a bit of “cat scratch fever” when I see one of the sneaky felines headed my way.

Bobcat populations are on the rise as a result of restrictive hunting laws in some states, decreased trapping everywhere due to lower fur prices, and increases in prey species abundance.

Get out there now and enjoy a hunt you may never forget.