Cat Family

Classification: Fur Bearing Wildlife Species

Felis rufus

Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae

Other Names: Bay lynx, barred bobcat, catamount, cat of the mountains, lynx cat, pallid bobcat, red lynx, wildcat.

Status: Very valuable fur animal.  Official Montana furbearer managed and protected by regulated fur harvest seasons.

Identifying Characteristics: The bobcat is about twice the size of a domestic cat and is the smallest of our native cats.  Individuals exhibit considerable variation in color.  Base coloration can be light gray, yellowish-brown, buff, brown, or reddish-brown.  Underparts and inside of legs are white with black or dark brown spots.

Facial fur is often streaked with black.  Dorsal surfaces of the ears are black with a prominent white spot.  Short tuft of black hair is present on the ears.  This cat has a short tail, black only on the upper portion of the tip.  Bobcat fur is short, dense, and soft.  Retractile claws.

Total length: 28 to 37 inches.  Weight: 15 to 35 pounds.

Habitat: Utilizes wide variety of habitats; known to be an animal of patchy country.  Prefers rimrock and grassland/shrubland areas.  Often found in areas with dense understory vegetation and high prey densities.  Natural rocky areas are preferred den sites.

Food Habits: Snowshoe hares and jackrabbits are the most common prey.  Also feeds heavily on medium-sized rodents.  Will eat carrion.

Life History: May be active during all hours but is primarily nocturnal.  Solitary animal that is difficult to observe in the wild.  Usually mates during spring.  Litter size averages from two to four.  Gestation 50 to 60 days.  Young born May through June.

Similar Species: Lynx - bobcat feet are much smaller than those of the lynx.  Feet lack large furry pads characteristic of lynx.  Also have shorter legs than lynx.  Lynx has black color all the way around the tail tip.  Other cats have a long tail.

Bobcats are widely distributed throughout the United States and southern Canada in a variety of habitats, from dense forests, to mountains, prairies, farmlands, and even deserts. They are rarely seen in the wild because the species normally travels by walking, and their keen eyesight and hearing are always on the alert for possible danger. Very capable predators, bobcats hunt by stalking their prey.

Male bobcats are slightly larger and heavier than females. Most adult males weigh 20 to 22 pounds, while females average 18 to 19 pounds. Individuals may be much larger at times, especially in the northern states where many mature males may weigh 30 pounds. The heaviest recorded bobcat was taken in Maine and weighed 76 pounds.

Bobcats have short tails of 5 to 6 inches in length. The underside of the tail is whitish, and there is a black spot near the end of the tail. Lynx can be confused with bobcats in northern areas, but the lynx tail is totally black, top and bottom, over the entire end of the tail.

The bobcat has a face ruff of longer fur, and slightly tufted ears. The back side of the ears are dark in color, with obvious white centers.

Overall coloration is reddish, greyish or brownish on the backs, with lighter colored chins, throats, and bellies. Black spots are found on the front legs and bellies of bobcats, and some younger cats may be spotted almost all over the entire body. Spotting is less pronounced on older bobcats, which also tend to be darker in color.

Bobcats have retractable claws which do not show up in tracks. The claws are extended as the bobcat climbs a tree, catches prey, or defends itself.

Bobcat have 28 teeth, including four canine teeth. Meat is sheared off in sizes that can be swallowed whole, without chewing.

Male bobcats do not breed as a rule until they are nearly two years old. Juvenile females are capable of breeding in their first year of life. Litter sizes are usually 1 to 4, with 3 being the average litter.

Breeding normally takes place during February or March. Gestation is 62 to 70 days. Some female bobcats will raise two litters in a single year, and late born young often stay with the mother throughout the winter. Breeding times can vary a great deal, and bobcats might be born in any month of the year.

Male bobcats are driven away after breeding, and the males seek other females. Females raise litters alone, which require that they leave the young unattended to hunt.

Underground dens in rocky places are usually selected as first choices for natal dens. If these are not available, the female bobcat can choose a hollow tree, or the underground den of another species as bobcats do not dig their own dens.

Bobcats are dependent upon rabbits in all areas. Bobcat population densities often follow the cyclic densities of these rodents. Most young bobcats are on their own by October, and significant mortalities occur when there are few rabbits for the young bobcats to prey upon.

Bobcats have keen senses of vision and hearing. The sense of smell is also developed, but bobcats are more dependent upon sight and sound to aid their particular style of hunting.

Territory sizes vary according to population densities, prey species densities, and region of the country. Males have much larger territories than females in all regions. A male bobcat's territory will often overlap several females as well as another male or two. A typical female will have a territory size of about 6 square miles, whereas a male's territory might be as large as 60 square miles. Bobcats do not utilize all of their territories, but seem to have circuitous routes that are traveled regularly. This habit allows constant reproduction of prey species within the territory.

Many female bobcats will not travel further than one mile in a night. Both male and female bobcats stop traveling after enough food has been killed, and both sexes rest after feeding. For this reason, the times it takes a bobcat to complete its circuit varies a great deal. Most bobcats return to a particular point on their circuit every week to three weeks.

Bobcats do not fear the water as much as other cat species. Bobcats commonly wade and swim, and many bobcats do not hesitate to attack a beaver in shallow water.

Bobcats are skilled tree climbers, and they do not hesitate to bound up a tree to avoid persecution. When they are treed at night by dogs, they often do not stay long but jump at the first opportunity. When they are treed during the daylight hours, they are prone to staying in the tree for longer periods.

A good degree of curiosity indicates that bobcats are somewhat intelligent. However, a bobcat is also moody or indifferent at times, which may indicate that the species responds most actively when it is hungry.

Bobcats are capable of good speed for short distances, but they normally walk while traveling. When a prey species is noticed, the bobcat will usually stalk the prey slowly until it is within leaping distance. At other times, a bobcat may conceal itself behind a rock or on a limb as it waits for a victim to come within striking distance.

Bobcats rely on cottontails, jackrabbits, or snowshoe hares for 75 to 90 percent of their diets. Venison is the next largest food item, followed by mice, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and occasionally skunk, beaver, muskrat and birds. Adult deer can be killed by bobcats. This is most apt to happen during winter months as other food items become more difficult to catch.

Significant mortalities of juvenile bobcats can occur during the first winter season. The young bobcats are not as skilled at hunting as the adults, and many do not survive their first winter when the weather is severe and rabbit populations are at a low cycle. Juvenile bobcats are also vulnerable to predation by mature male bobcats, coyotes, eagles, and fishers. Mountain lions and wolves occasionally kill adult bobcats. Predation by either species is not thought to be significant.

Bobcats are vulnerable to rabies, feline distemper, mange mites, tapeworms, roundworms, lice, and bubonic plague.

As significant predators of rabbits, bobcats help to stabilize rabbit population cycles which benefit many predatory species. More rabbits are killed when they are very abundant. During periods of low rabbit populations, many bobcats become malnourished and vulnerable to a variety of diseases and exposure to harsh weather conditions. These controls limit bobcat survival, and protect breeding populations of rabbits during these low cycles.

Adult bobcats do prey upon deer, especially when rabbits are spare and the deer are most vulnerable during winter conditions of deep snow. A bobcat usually eats no more than 2 or 3 pounds of meat per day, and the deer carcass often serves as a food source for other species as well. Some bobcats in western areas do prey upon sheep, and a single bobcat has been known to kill dozens of lambs in one night.

A bobcat is considered to be old at 10 years of age.

  Best Management Practices

Special Regulations Note

BOBCAT -- STATEWIDE SEASON DATES: Trapping Districts 1, 2 and 3: December 1 - February 15 of the following year. Trapping Districts 4, 5, 6 and 7: December 1 - March 1 of the following year. License must be purchased prior to December 1. Season will close in 48 hours upon reaching the trapping district quota or on the season closure date, whichever occurs first.

  Current Regulations

Limit: Persons may take and possess seven (7) bobcats each per season in Trapping Districts 1, 2 and 3. There is no per trapper limit in Trapping Districts 4, 5, 6 and 7. The bobcat season on the Flathead Indian Reservation is closed to all trappers (members and nonmembers).

Trapping District 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Bobcat Quota 275 200 250 100 200 50 600

Hunting Season: Bobcat may be taken by hunting (MCA 87-2-601). Bobcat hunting is open each day one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset during the open season. Bobcat chasing is open each day from two (2) hours before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset in the hunting districts where mountain lion season has closed (check mountain lion closures at 1-800-385-7826). Bobcat chasing is open each day from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset in the hunting districts where mountain lion season is open. Bobcats may not be taken until legal bobcat hunting hours. Bobcats may not be hunted except during legal bobcat hunting hours. Dogs may be used to hunt and chase bobcats within prescribed seasons.

Dogs may be used to take bobcat (MCA 87-3-124), but no other animals defined by law as furbearing animals. Dogs may be used to hunt or chase bobcats within prescribed hunting hours and seasons.

Persons with a valid trapper license may legally chase bobcats during the open season and anytime after the season is closed in the Trapping District, or until April 14. A trapper license must be purchased prior to December 1 of the current year to be valid.

Landowner permission is required to hunt on private land, including releasing dogs or chasing bobcats during the chase-only season.

Chase-only Season: Trapping Districts 1, 2 and 3: February 16 - April 14. Trapping Districts 4, 5, 6 and 7: March 2 - April 14. Bobcat chasing is open each day one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. Dogs may be used to chase bobcats within prescribed seasons. All Wildlife Management Areas, National Wildlife Refuges and Deer, Elk and Mountain Lion Hunting District 282 are closed to the bobcat chase season.

It is prohibited for a hound handler or bobcat hunter to release dogs on a bobcat track, or allow dogs to chase a bobcat, or hold a bobcat at bay, when the season is not open to hunting or chasing bobcats.

Bobcats may not be trapped to be later released for hunting and/or chasing with dogs. Wild furbearers captured alive must be immediately killed or released. It is unlawful for a person to possess or transport wild furbearers alive (MCA 87-3-11).

Quotas: Current harvest quota information may be obtained by calling the appropriate Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional office during normal business hours or by calling 1-800-711-TRAP (1-800-711-8727) 24 hours a day or the FWP website at The toll free line and website are updated by 1 pm. (MST) every day. Furbearer seasons will close in 48 hours when a species quota is reached prior to the end of the regular season.

The Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission has authorized the department to initiate a closure prior to reaching a quota or subquota when conditions or circumstances indicate the quota may be reached within the 48-hour closure notice period.

Reporting: Trappers or hunters are required to personally report their bobcat harvest within 24 hours by calling the Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional office during office hours (8 AM - 5 PM weekdays) in the trapping district where the animal was taken so that FWP can monitor quota levels. Reporting can also be made after office hours and on weekends by calling 1-406-449-1065.

Pelt Tagging: Trappers and hunters are required to personally present the pelts of bobcat for tagging to a designated Fish, Wildlife & Parks employee residing in the trapping district where the animal was taken within five (5) days of harvest. Trappers or hunters unable to comply with the five day pelt tagging requirements due to special circumstances or the unavailability of local FWP personnel must still register their pelts within five days of harvest by calling the proper regional office to make arrangements for tagging by FWP personnel at a later time. Pelts not presented or registered to department personnel within 5 days are subject to confiscation.

Skulls: It is mandatory that skulls of bobcat be turned into Fish, Wildlife & Parks in good condition, at the time the pelt is presented for tagging. The skulls will be retained by Fish, Wildlife & Parks for processing and examination and then returned to the owner if desired. Good condition is defined as fresh or frozen and securely wrapped in such a manner as to have prevented decomposition in order that all tissue samples are suitable for lab analysis.

Trappers are requested to be able to identify or have skulls sorted by sex for bobcat before presenting them to FWP personnel.

Export: A federal export permit is required in addition to a Montana CITES tag before the pelts of bobcat and otter may be exported from the United States. Apply to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 600 Central Plaza, Room 209, Great Falls MT 59401.