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Dozens of bobcats harvested in first South Dakota season

January 17, 2013 at 07:19 AM

The Associated Press

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — When it came to trapping animals, Christmas arrived early for Mitch Johnson.

The Yankton man sought the prized bobcat in South Dakota’s first season for the furbearer east of the Missouri River. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GF&P) commission approved the Dec. 8-30 season for licensed hunters and trappers in Buffalo, Brule, Charles Mix, Bon Homme and Yankton counties.

“I got (my bobcat) Christmas Eve in northern Yankton County, along the James River, in a thick cedar tree-covered area. I caught him in a trap,” Johnson said.

“It was Christmas Eve, but it felt more like Christmas morning. Every time I checked the traps, it’s very hard to explain the anticipation. It was a unique experience.”

Johnson admitted he was concerned about the approaching end of the 23-day season.

“I knew I was running out of time. Actually, I didn’t get my traps out until a couple of weeks into the season, but I had family obligations,” he said.

“I was excited to get (my bobcat) before the snowstorm. Once you get the freeze in the ground, trapping is more difficult.”


Johnson’s experience mirrored the feelings of other hunters and trappers, according to an area conservation officer.

Game warden Sam Schelhaas of Yankton County said he was pleased with the initial East River bobcat season.

“There was apprehension as we went forward with this first season, and nobody really knew what the number was going to be,” he said.

“In my opinion, the bobcat season was a success. In the five counties that we had the opening, we had 33 bobcats that were harvested.”

Charles Mix led the way with 14 bobcats, followed by Yankton with seven and Bon Homme and Brule with six each. Buffalo didn’t record any harvested bobcats.

Sports enthusiasts welcomed the ability to seek bobcats east of the Missouri River, Schelhaas said.

“I think there were a lot of really good comments from a lot of trappers,” he said. “They have been trapping for a number of years, and they knew there were bobcats around. Now, they had the opportunity to get a chance to trap them. Not everyone was successful, but that was part of the fun of it. The people I talked to were excited and happy.”

The seven Yankton County cats consisted of four females and three males, Schelhaas said. Six were trapped and one was shot.

The majority of cats in Yankton and Bon Homme counties were trapped among the river hills and along the Missouri River, primarily along Lewis and Clark Lake. The cats were large sized, with one cat weighing nearly 30 pounds and another one 20 pounds.

“Everybody I talked to considered it a trophy. Of the seven that were tagged in Yankton County, only one decided to sell the fur,” the game warden said.

“Out by the lake, we had one trapper who got two cats in legholds in two different traps. He was able to take one and release the other one.”

This initial year, the East River bobcat season was limited to one cat per hunter or trapper. Schelhaas wasn’t aware of any violations.


Johnson, like many hunters and trappers, was aware of bobcats from trail cameras, tracks and the available food supply. He actually trapped two cats, harvesting one and releasing the other. Surprisingly, he trapped his cats in areas where he expected to find fox and coyotes.

“I had seen some bobcats in several areas where I deer hunted in the past. There isn’t a high (bobcat) population, but I do think we have a pretty viable population,” he said.

“I talked to several friends, and they were real excited, especially at the beginning of the season. I didn’t hear much negative from anyone.”

Johnson characterized his harvested bobcat as a large male. He didn’t have it weighed, and the carcass was sent to officials in Sioux Falls for testing in accordance with regulations.

“What they learn will bring in lots of information about the cats,” he said. “I think they will pull quite a bit of valuable data.”

When it comes to the bobcat season, the data collection will prove as valuable as the sport itself, Schelhaas said. Biologists will compile data such as the bobcats’ age, gender, litter rates and food sources.

“We have known there were bobcats in the area for years. Most of the deaths came from roadkill or things of that nature,” he said. “This is the first time we will get some data and information on bobcats east of the (Missouri) river. I believe this season will have a positive impact and will help the future of the bobcat population.”

The five East River counties contain prime habitat, Schelhaas said. Those factors include large tracts of river hills, the Missouri River banks, the James River with trees and rolling hills, uninhabited areas and adequate food sources.

GF&P officials believe some of the South Dakota bobcats migrated from Nebraska, Schelhaas said.

“The bobcats are looking to expand their territories,” he said. “During the freeze, they go over the river (from Nebraska) and set up their home range in South Dakota. And right now, the river is way down (because of drought). We believe the bobcats are good swimmers. We imagine they are crossing the river at a smaller stretch like the Springfield area.”

With outdoors enthusiasts trapping among the hills this fall, the cats were aware of the human presence even before the East River season, Schelhaas said.

“I have gained a lot more respect for the bobcats,” he said. “A lot of people in Yankton County trapped for them, but it’s a tough animal to trap. They are very wary of traps and human activity in the area.”


The East River bobcat season was conducted as an experiment, Schelhaas said. The Division of Wildlife will now analyze the data and make its recommendations to the GF&P commissioners. Those recommendations could include changes in length of season, number of cats per license holder or some other variations.

“You don’t want to lose too many bobcats, so they kept it conservative this season,” the game warden said. “I think it will help determine whether we will have a more restrictive season, a more conservative season, a more liberal season or no season at all.”

Schelhaas remains optimistic that the East River season will continue into future years.

“I think we have more bobcats than people suspected,” he said. “We hope to continue managing the animals properly, and it looks like we can support another season.”

Johnson strongly supports continuing the East River bobcat season and the GF&P management practices so far.

“I do like how they went into it slow, with the one cat per person limit. I think it’s pretty important,” he said. “It’s a really secretive animal, and it’s hard to get a lot of data out here. I would like to see something similar next year.”

With the success of the recent season, Johnson sees the possibility of increasing the limit to two cats per person or some other formula. He strongly recommends holding another round of public meetings to gather input from landowners, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation officials.

“This season, these cats were considered once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some people,” Johnson said.

“At the same time, if there is a viable population, there is no reason why we can’t have more opportunities in the future.”


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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