Ashland, Wis. — If the early numbers bear out down the line, the state’s 2014-15 bobcat harvest will have increased from last year.
The state’s preliminary harvest sat at 274 animals as of late April, according to John Olson, the DNR’s furbearer ecologist.
“What occurs now with bobcats, fishers and otters – the harvest must be reported within 24 hours, then the animals have to be registered, as well. What we have now is the final reported harvest. The actual registration takes a while because it’s handled by game wardens and biologists around the state. Those stubs are then sent in to a central person, the information is entered into a computer, and when we get that, it’s the final harvest,” Olson said.
“The reported number is usually very close to the final. The final is expected in May in time for our late May furbearer committee meeting,” he said.
There are two bobcat zones in the state – north and south – with the south zone having a season for the first time.
In the north zone, the total bobcat quota was 240 cats. The state portion was 175 cats, with a reported harvest of 165. The tribal quota was 65.
The south zone had total quota of 50 cats,with the state portion at 45. The reported harvest was 39.
The south zone is also split between state and tribal trappers because there is some ceded territory on east and west sides of the south zone.
So for the state side of the ledger sheet, the combined north and south quota was 220 cats, with a reported harvest of 204 animals.
The balance of the harvest went to the six Chippewa tribes, Olson said.
Success rates in the north continue to climb.
“In any year, weather heavily impacts harvest. Success rates have been going up every year, especially since the longer season. In southern Wisconsin, this is the first year of harvest since the 1950s,” Olson said.
“In the north, we have success rates for each period and zone. In the south, being it was the first season in a long time, we took a conservative estimate. We came out really, really close,” he said.
Olson used a 60 percent success rate in the south zone to set tag numbers once a quota was pinned down.
“I expected to see high effort there – people were excited to get tags,” he said.
In the north zone, success in first season is usually lower than the second – the ground is usually not frozen, so trappers can set traps. And there is usually little snow that would aid in tracking for hound hunters. The highest success rate in the early season has been 46 percent – the second season has been 74 percent.
“Success is often a reflection of good hunting conditions. This last year had good conditions, even during period one. Snow depths were never excessive. It was a really good season for most people involved,” Olson said.
The better part of the harvest in the south zone occurred just south of Hwy. 64 where there is good habitat.
“Bobcats have been there for some time. There is some public land there, good access,” Olson said.
“It appears everything went well in the south. There were no complaints or problems. Everyone handled the first season very well. Reporting occurred promptly; carcass submission was very good.”
The DNR has had “emergency closure” authority for several years that is similar to what’s available during the wolf season. That authority has never been used.
This year’s harvest again leaned toward male cats.
“What we’ve seen over time is that it’s difficult to determine sex of young bobcats. People are selecting for size. They may release small cats from traps, or if they are treed. The larger cats are normally males and that allows females to remain on the landscape. We’re seeing a lot of larger cats. We have had a number of carcasses pushing 40 pounds – some over. There was a lot of fat on carcasses that we looked at this winter,” he said.
Still, conditions always vary across the state for any wildlife species. Even though most cats were more than healthy, Olson learned of two or three bobcats that starved this winter.
“I had one in Drummond where three cats came into town. There was one in the town of Mason that was trying to chew on a goat. It was nothing but skin and bones. Even though it was alive when it was going after a goat, it was essentially a dead cat,” he said.
Bobcats breed at least nine, if not 10, months out of a year.
“They will breed at any opportunity. If they have plenty of food, yearlings will go into heat and breed.”
Olson has noticed that the snowshoe hare population across much of the north has declined dramatically.
“That is the basis of bobcat prey. With the lack of snowshoes on our northern forests – could be a number of reasons – bobcats have moved more toward where food is available – closer to cottontails and squirrels where people live. We see them more often because they’ve had to shift habitat use to find food. Sawyer County trail cams are picking up bobcats around farmsteads more often than ever before,” he said.
During the 2013-14 season, the bobcat quota in the north zone was 240 animals – 135 for state hunters and trappers, and 105 for tribal members.