Monday, November 20, 2006

Bobcat kills of white-tail deer rare, but not unheard of

Bobcats are 'pretty effective predators.'

By Mike Leggett
Sunday, November 19, 2006

Spicewood hunting guide Richard Davis volunteered to spend the night sitting up over the dead deer's carcass.

Davis figured he would have at least a chance to get rid of a mountain lion that had made its way into a 10-acre enclosure on the Nolan County ranch close to Sweetwater and killed a very large whitetail buck. The cat had fed a little on the carcass and had then covered the head and hindquarters with grass and dirt.

"We found the deer on a Saturday morning," Davis said, "and we just walked away from it. (The ranch owners) have lost probably $100,000 worth of deer over the years to cats, mostly does and fawns." If the deer killer came back, and Davis could kill it, that would be one pressure off the deer.

Outfitted with night-vision goggles and a rifle, Davis took a position about 75 yards away from the dead deer and waited. "About 1:30 in the morning, there were some deer out in front of me and they all spooked. That's when I saw this cat coming. It went over and began feeding on the buck. I turned on a red light and could see it behind the deer."

But the mountain lion Davis expected to see instead turned out to be a huge bobcat. And although he had doubts about whether even a big, mature bobcat tom could overpower and kill a 200-pound whitetail buck, Davis knew the cat was there feeding on the deer. "I'd never known of a bobcat killing a deer," he said. "But I shot it."

The cat flipped over and disappeared into the darkness. Davis found it the next morning about 50 yards from the dead deer. Upon being skinned, the deer showed numerous tooth and claw marks, all of which perfectly matched the claws and canines of the big bobcat, which weighed more than 45 pounds on ranch scales.

A 45-pound bobcat might be compared to a 350-pound whitetail. There are some but they're rare. And splendid athletes that they are, it just boggles the mind that a bobcat could catch, kill and eat a mature whitetail buck. Don't be so surprised, said Mike Tewes, a professor and feline research expert at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

"Bobcats do kill adult deer," Tewes said. "In Texas, their most common food is cottontails and other rodents, but especially in the northwest, they feed on deer a lot. Up there it's one of their main foods."

Tewes has done extensive research and trapping, mainly on ocelots in South Texas and Mexico, but in the course of that work he's caught and released many bobcats and has seen his share of mountain lions. Chickens and pigeons are the preferred bait for the live traps he uses to catch ocelots and bobcats, but he'll occasionally come across the fresh remains of deer killed by bobcats.

"It's not common but it's not uncommon," Tewes said. "I even had a neighbor here in Kingsville who had a pet deer in a pen at her house and a bobcat went in and killed the deer. They're pretty effective predators."

Bobcats, much like their larger cousins, typically kill prey larger than themselves by attacking from beneath, Tewes said, hanging on with their claws and burying their canine fangs in the deer's carotid artery. That shuts off blood to the brain and the kill is completed fairly quickly. "You may have to look close but you can see the marks in the neck," he said.

Tewes said bobcats in Texas kill deer infrequently. Whitetails make up just 6 percent of their diet, according to long-term studies. In the Northeast, those numbers rise considerably, to 27 percent in Maine and New Hampshire and 32 percent in Vermont. "It's higher where those deer gather in 'yards' during the winter," Tewes said. stories/outdoors/11/19/19bobcat.html

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