2009 Wisconsin bobcat season
Ten years ago I was fortunate enough to draw a coveted Wisconsin bobcat tag. At that time it took about six years to draw a tag, but now it takes nine or ten years because of the limited amount of tags. I hunted National Forest in Northern Wisconsin, the only bobcat zone at the time. I was unsuccessful in filling that tag. Even though I had an opportunity to kill a bobcat early in the season, I instead chose to pass on the opportunity.
We had deep snow early in December and the hounds were able to put a cat in a tree for me, I chose to pass on the opportunity because I was told that the cat was small. Never having harvested a bobcat before, I asked the handlers what they meant by “small”, and they informed me that it would be like shooting a spike buck. I have shot several bucks in my lifetime, including some Pope and Young class bucks, so I knew that wasn't the cat that I wanted to shoot.
This proved to be the only opportunity I was presented with during that season. Even though I didn’t punch my tag that year, I didn’t leave disappointed. I had a great experience and enjoyed great camaraderie with a group of guys that I hadn’t hunted with since I had a killed a bear with them several years prior.
Fast forward to the 2018-2019 Wisconsin bobcat season
Now in Wisconsin, we have two bobcat seasons and two bobcat zones. I drew a tag for the 2nd season in the southern zone. The southern zone contains mostly private land, with a couple sections of large public forest. The 2nd season is typically geared toward hunters, hounders and those that predator call, while the 1st season is geared toward trappers. I am a trapper, but I don't typically have enough bobcat sign on our properties to be able to target them during the trapping season.
My season started the day after Christmas, so I took vacation from work over the 5 days following Christmas, thinking that we would likely have some snow. I was completely wrong with this assumption, I never had the opportunity to hunt in December. This is somewhat of a rarity, as we typically have snow on the ground during the holidays.
As we moved into January, we continued with the trend of no snow. I had made arrangements for this hunt months in advance, knowing it was a once in a decade tag, and knowing that we had family plans at the tail end of my season. We were traveling to Florida for a trip to Disney World with our 6 and 4 year old boys. As we approached the dates for our trip to Orlando I watched the forecast, there was no snow in the future! I was starting to grasp the idea that my season was never going to happen.
The night before we left for Florida I received a text message from a friend that I had planned on hunting with that told me that they were to receive a dusting of snow the following morning and I should plan on being ready to hunt. This was disheartening to say the least, since we were flying to Orlando in the morning. At this point I thought that my only chance to hunt was if by some miracle we received snow in the last few days of January and I could make it work with my work schedule.
Midway through our family trip, I got a text from my father-in-law telling me that the weather was not looking good for my return. He told me that they were calling for 30-50 degrees below zero for several days after my return, sub-zero temperatures are far to cold to hunt with hounds. Disappointed would be the best way to put it, but at this point I didn't have much hope in being able to hunt anyway. This was going to run me through the end of my season, leaving me with no opportunity to hunt. I’m not the only one, as I knew of a handful of guys that were sitting on bobcat tags and no opportunity to hunt them with hounds.
We flew back to Wisconsin and I got a call from my father-in-law telling me that we would have one opportunity to try and kill a bobcat. He said that they were forecasting snow the following evening and I should come down to hunt, after that day the temperatures were going to dip to below zero and none of the handlers were willing to run their hounds in sub-zero weather. I agreed to make the drive to his place and make a go at the only opportunity that I was going to get.
The snow flew and when we woke up the following morning it was still flying and it continued to fall all morning. We headed to the public forest, but the powdery snow that was still falling made it extremely difficult to find a track to release the hounds on. Finally one of the hound owners told me that it was too difficult to make it work and he was going to call it quits. I was disappointed, but I completely understood.
He followed this statement up by stating that even though we would be in sub-zero temperatures the following day, he was willing to give it a go! This was unbelievable; mind you I had never met this man before. This is something that I had never expected. He asked if I wanted to hunt the following morning and of course I told him yes, but I needed to make sure that I could get off work. After checking with work, we finalized plans to meet up the following morning in the large section of public forest.
He beat us to the forest the following morning and when we made our first communication he told us that he already located a bobcat track. He went on to tell us that a friend of his was sitting on another track on some private land nearby, he asked me what I wanted to do. I informed him that I was willing to do whatever he wanted, as I was humbled that these guys were nice enough to help me out with trying to fill my tag. They conversed over the phone for a couple minutes and ultimately decided that we would run the track in the public forest.
He let his dog loose and BOOM, he was on the track! Then he said that we needed to head up the road to cut off the track and when we arrived to the area up the road, the dog had hung up. This is all new to me; we were watching the dog on GPS and listening all at the same time, the technology is amazing. The dog continued to bark, but he wasn't moving very much. He told me that he wasn't sure what the dog was doing and that I should grab my shotgun and pistol, as we were about to march into the woods to see what was going on.
I grabbed the guns and we started trekking, while the others sat in their trucks because it was now five degrees below zero. He listened to the dog and watched the GPS as we walked closer and closer to the dog, pretty soon we were about 120 yards from the dog and presumably the cat. Before we could get any closer, the dog started running back toward the trucks, but we couldn't see anything as we were covered by heavy conifers and scrub oaks. He looked at me and said, “they are going to run right past the trucks!”
We began to run back toward the trucks as well, just as the two-way radios began to scream. My father-in-law yelled that the dog just came past them at about 30 yards. He decided to let another dog out of the box and that was the last radio communication that we had. We were on a dead sprint through the woods, with a fresh 8 inches of snow. As we got closer to the trucks we could hear voices yelling, but we were unable to make out what was being said.
I just kept following the voices and past the trucks we went. About 75 yards past the trucks we located the other hunters. They were holding the dogs and they had the bobcat on the ground. I came in to the small opening and ended the chase with a single shot to the cat’s head with the .22 pistol that I had been carrying on my hip.
Wow, what a different ending to how my season could have ended just a few days prior! Just days earlier I thought that I was going to end my season by not even hunting, and then I thought that it was going to end after a failed hunt in fresh snow. Talk about a season of highs and lows! I likely won't have another Wisconsin bobcat tag in my pocket for another decade, so for this season to end the way it did is an incredible feeling. I know many hunters that never had a chance to fill their tag, fortunately things came together at the very end of my season.