Bobcat bagged near Chesterfield
By Kathleen Clark
CHESTERFIELD (Jan. 11, 2018) – An area hunter ended his 2017 hunting season with an exceptional hunt and story. Steven Rush of Pleasant Plains was coyote hunting at his family’s farm near Chesterfield on New Year’s Eve when he called in one of the state’s most elusive predators.
Rush said he had just finished a rabbit call meant to draw in coyotes when he could hear squirrels barking in the nearby timber. “That’s usually a good indicator something is coming,” he said. Just then, a male bobcat appeared from the tall grass field on the other side of the bean field from him. “I saw it for about 8-10 seconds before I took the shot, I knew it was a bobcat. It was about 150 yards away.”
Upon retrieval of the bobcat, Rush saw this one had two ear tags with “WIUBOBCT” stamped on them. The bobcat, a 25-pound male, was also wearing a Very High Frequency (VHF) radio collar. Rush, who is a recent alumnus of Western Illinois University (WIU) quickly recalled reading about a bobcat study the college was doing. While it seemed unlikely the bobcat had traveled from the study area that is based out of the west-central counties of McDonough, Fulton, Schulyer and Hancock, it turned out to be true.
Dr. Christopher Jacques, a biology professor at WIU and creator of the school’s Bobcat Population Study, confirms the bobcat Rush found in Macoupin County was the 13th male his research team had captured. On March 9, 2017, researchers captured and released the bobcat, which Jacques notes was known as M-13. This occurred outside Augusta in Hancock County. It weighed in at 20 pounds, nine ounces, and the last time there was contact with him was over 250 days ago. Jacques says that has been a problem with the males. They tend to disperse to find their own territory, and the limited (several miles) reach of the VHF collars has made it so several males are “missing in action.”
Jacques says while he suspects they are traveling south of their study area, where habitat is plentiful, there was no way to confirm that. That’s why he was excited to get Rush’s phone call and confirmation of the M-13 bobcat’s whereabouts. “I hope this helps get the word out and if anyone sees or harvests a WIU bobcat, they let us know.”
This bobcat traveled more than 111 miles before arriving in Macoupin County. That is a long way, but Jacques says it is typical of bobcats as they travel to establish their own home territory. This bobcat would have had to cross the Illinois River at some point, and Jacques remarks it would be interesting to know where, since bobcats don’t swim.
A past study in southern Illinois shows that once bobcats settle in on a place to call home, territories of the adult males averaged about eight square miles; those of adult females were about three square miles.
In recent years, bobcats have been increasingly sighted on trail cameras and out in the timber, especially in the wooded and creek bottoms of Macoupin County. Due to their increased population in recent years, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) stands by their estimate that there are more than 3,000 throughout the state. They believe that number could even be at the 5,000 mark.
After a 40-year absence of a bobcat hunting season, IDNR implemented a strict hunting season on bobcats for Illinois hunters. The 2016-17 season allowed for 500 permits and 141 were harvested (6,400 people applied for a permit). This year, 1,000 permits were allocated through a statewide lottery. IDNR is limiting the harvest number to 350 for the 2017-18 season. Wade Louis, who is serving as the interim Wildlife Diversity Program Manager states that as of first week of January there have been 171 bobcats harvested throughout the state. Numbers are expected to pick up this month and into February, since that is the bobcats’ breeding season and they will be on the move more.
Bobcats can be taken by hunting or trapping, and the season runs Nov. 10, 2017, to Feb. 15, 2018. Once a permit holder harvests a bobcat, they have 48 hours to report and purchase a Bobcat Registration Permit. Bobcat hunting is only allowed in the southern, western and northwestern part of the state. The eastern portion of the state does not have the robust population the rest of Illinois has.
As for the WIU study, its overall goal is to determine the density of bobcats in an agriculturally dominated landscape in west-central Illinois through capture-mark-recapture data from cameras and traps. This year, researchers are excited to add aerial telemetry (the process of finding and recording communication from the VHF collars) to their arsenal of data collection methods. A continuation of their grant has allowd for recently captured bobcats to be collared with GPS collars.
So far, researches have been able to pinpoint where bobcats do and do not reside within the four-county area. The study will be in its second phase through 2019, and currently 220 infrared-triggered remote cameras are being installed. The goal with these is to get a bobcat’s picture and recapture it on other cameras to get a sense of its territory and habits. The study includes regular updates to IDNR.
“Eventually, we will establish a methodology to validate the population throughout the state,” said Jacques. “This program can be implemented in northern, eastern and southern Illinois.” He says that the main focus is to help the state identify the population to aid in the management of bobcats.
Rush has had his 15-minutes of fame after sharing his hunt on Facebook. Amid the congratulations, atta-boys, unsolicited advice-givers and nay-sayers, he came across even more information about his M-13 cat. Trail cameras near Hettick, just north of Chesterfield, picked up what is believed to be the same bobcat traveling during the fall. “There was even a guy who direct messaged me a video he had taken of my bobcat during firearm season.” Rush plans to have the bobcat mounted by a taxidermist.
Now that there is proof of the research team’s studies in the Macoupin County and surrounding area, Jacques asks that if anyone spots a collared bobcat, they share it with the research team. Dr. Christopher Jacques can be reached at (309) 298-2155 and CN-Jacques@wiu.edu. His graduate assistant Ed Davis is available at ED-Davis2@wiu.edu.
1: Steven Rush had the hunt of a lifetime when he called in this 25-pound male bobcat on Dec. 31. It turns out this bobcat, known as M-13, was part of a population study on bobcats being conducted by Western Illinois University, more than 100 miles away.
A bobcat harvested in Macoupin County bore these tags indicating it was part of a population study by Western Illinois University. The bobcat also had a damaged VHF collar and had been MIA for more than 250 days.
A bobcat harvested recently in Macoupin County is shown after he was captured last year as part of a research study by Western Illinois University. The bobcat, known as M-13, crossed the Illinois River and traveled more than 111 miles in the past year.