SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Active at night, in the rough and rugged terrain of western South Dakota, bobcats thrive.
Recent daylight photos sent to KELOLAND News of a bobcat stalking a turkey near Wagner at dawn have highlighted the rarely seen cats. Senior wildlife biologist Chad Lehman said Game, Fish and Parks department officials have been radio collaring and tracking bobcats more extensively since 2016. He told KELOLAND News the most recent estimate of the bobcat population is roughly 2,000.
“Most of the bulk of that population, 70- to 80-percent, is going to be West River prairie,” Lehman said. “The remaining cats are East River, mainly along the Missouri River and a small population in the Black Hills as well.”
The population estimate takes data from radio collar data, research information and harvest data. Lehman said modern bobcat harvest data dates back to the early 1970s.
Hunting and trapping of bobcats starts Dec. 26 in both West River and East River and ends Feb. 15 in both West River and East River. Nonresident bobcat season is Jan. 8 to Feb. 15. Bobcats are unrestricted in West River but the limit is one in East River.
They feed mostly on rabbits and wild turkeys, Lehman said, and “rugged, more brushy habitat” is where they’ll be found. The best chance to see a bobcat is at night and Lehman noted daylight sightings of bobcats are rare.
Lehman emphasized the important role bobcats play in keeping rabbit populations in balance. When rabbits become over-abundant they can cause damage to native trees and shrubs.
“They can keep that species in check,” Lehman said. “From a sportsman standpoint, the trappers and hunters that hunt them, they really, really get after it and they really enjoy the recreational value of having them on the landscape.”
What makes a bobcat, a bobcat?
Lynx are the closest comparison to bobcats, but Lehman said lynx are taller, don’t have as many spots as bobcats and have taller ear tufts.
Lehman said lynx are mostly found in Canada and northern areas of Montana.
Weight-wise, Lehman noted bobcats are similar with females averaging about 15-16 pounds and males averaging 20-22 pounds.
Recently, the GFP radio collared an “exceptional male” bobcat that weighed 45 pounds.
“That’s a top-end, rare animal,” said Lehman, noting there’s no radio collar history of any bobcat getting close to that size. “That’s a really big cat.”