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Wiltz: How big is too big for a bobcat?

Roger Wiltz poses for a picture with a bobcat in 1984. (Submitted photo)

I've been asked how my spring turkey hunting is going and I'll make a sorry confession.

After getting a gobbler or two that rivaled an old inner tube for toughness, Betsy said no more gobblers, and I don't blame her. She once hosted a big family dinner that featured an inedible turkey. I went to jake (young tom) hunting in the spring, and now I'm down to fall hen hunting. Yes, the antics of a spring gobbler are as entertaining as it gets, but I've moved on.

As you know, I'm compiling my first book. Primarily a volume of South Dakota fishing/hunting stories with a section of adventures beyond our South Dakota border, I got to wondering if there were any tales that readers wouldn't believe. Some proofreaders questioned my story about a bobcat. "Wiltz, did this bobcat really kill an adult pronghorn antelope buck? Could it drag that 90-100 pound buck to safety?" Read on.

We were deer hunting along the Grand River, and Dave, my partner, wounded a nice mule deer buck that ran into some country that much resembled the Badlands with its bizarre sculptured formations, washes, ledges, and caves.

In searching for the buck, I crawled into a cave. In the semi-darkness, some seemingly orange-colored varmint flashed by me and dove out the opening. Thinking fox, I scrambled out of the shelter and spotted the critter as it ran through the yellow grass about 75 yards downrange. I pulled up my Ruger No. 3 single-shot carbine and put a bullet through the back of its neck. When I got to it, I was shocked to find an absolutely beautiful bobcat.

Late the previous afternoon, Lew, our rancher host, Dave, and I walked out to a spot in the hay pasture about 200 yards south of the house. There lay an antelope buck with both sides of his backbone vertebrae completely eaten out with amazing precision. Our untrained eyes could detect no tracks, but we could see where the antelope had been dragged behind a haystack. I asked Lew if any mountain lions had recently been seen in the area. No lion sightings. It was indeed a mystery.

Now back to my cat. The badlands described earlier were straight west of the antelope carcass. When the bobcat was skinned out, a good quantity of pronghorn hair was found in the stomach. We had found the deadly assassin. The cat was illegal at the time, but I didn't know it. In an attempt to make things right, I donated the cat to Lemmon's Grand River museum where it is on display today.

Would people believe that a 20-25 pound bobcat could kill and drag a buck antelope? Well, I stumbled on some precedent. Under the "Predation" section of the book The Pronghorn Antelope by Arthur Einarsen, it states, "Nelson tells of experiences with bobcats and coyotes and considers them both destructive. He told of a bobcat which stalked a full-grown buck, and killed it by leaping upon its back."

There's more from Einarsen. "The bobcat was surprised while feeding on the carcass. It had made its kill in a mahogany thicket about 50 feet away, and had dragged the buck over boulders that averaged about 6 feet high to the den area."

Note that the bobcat strategy was the same with my cat and Einarsen's cat: Make a stalk using cover (in my case a haystack), make the kill, and drag it to shelter.

Why didn't we see tracks? First, the hay ground was hard. Second, I have been told by trappers that if the bobcat's claws are retracted, the paw is a mere furry pad that leave little evidence. My bobcat story, which is the truth, holds water.

The strength of a bobcat doesn't surprise me. Cats are strong as evidenced by their African leopard cousins that can carry an antelope many times their own weight into the high limbs of a tree with seemingly little effort.

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Right now is a very special time. Largemouth bass are in a pre-spawn mode, and will remain in that mode until lilacs are in full bloom. The good news is that they are relatively easy to locate. Most of our prairie lakes and ponds are formed by a dam built across a draw or drainage. Somewhere opposite that dam is an inlet where water, probably running rain water, empties into the body of water. Many of the big females will be found in these waters, anywhere from 3- to 6-foot depths. They will be moderately aggressive.

Tie your lure directly to your line unless you are using a spinner. With the spinner, use a snap swivel — not a leader, to avoid winding your line. Bass don't have teeth.

Other than spinners, plastic worms or Texas rigs work well. I'm going to try the dams around Burke, but I'd guess that Scotland, Tripp, and Carthage would be good to name a few, as well as Lake Mitchell. When it's lilac time, go with floating Raps and a lot of finesse.

See you next week.