YOUNGSVILLE — Hunter Jim Hemmer was ecstatic when he shot a 20-pound bobcat in January. Bobcats are a treasured prize for local hunters because they're timid, stealthy and relatively rare.
That's why Hemmer was shocked when he saw five bobcats in his backyard after bagging the first one. He fetched a spotlight and a video camera to make an amateur movie of the big cats. He could barely believe the footage glowing on his viewfinder.
And if two sightings didn't confirm that more bobcats were lurking around, Hemmer shot a second bobcat, weighing 32 pounds, a few days later.
"I had been trying to get a bobcat for five years," Hemmer said. "Then next thing I know there's five of them in my backyard, and I get two in a matter of six days."
Hemmer's feline encounters are more than luck, however. The bobcat population in Sullivan County is reaching one of its peaks, environmental sources said. During an average hunting season, Callicoon taxidermist Rod Smith gets about 10 bobcats. This season he took in 30, the vast majority of them from Sullivan County.
"It's been going up a little bit every year," Smith said. "They're just like coyotes anymore."
The bobcat population hits peaks and valleys, but it is flourishing in recent years because its prey are plentiful.
"You couldn't even find a rabbit in Sullivan County for a long time," said Lt. Deming Lindsley of the Environmental Conservation police. "Now the rabbits and the grouse are around, and so are the bobcats."
An average bobcat weighs 20 to 30 pounds, and is 2 to 3 feet long from nose to tail. They have short tails, brown spots, and tufts of hair at the tips of their ears. There's no solid estimate of the bobcat population in Sullivan, although they've always been a presence here.
If natural trends hold true, the bobcat population should fall again in a few years. Until then, don't worry. You shouldn't keep your dogs inside and stop your kids from playing in the backyard, Lindsley said. Bobcats are nocturnal and scared of humans, so you won't find them scrounging through bird feeders like bears.
"There's probably more bobcats around than people think," Lindsley said. "They'll take a chicken from a chicken yard, but they're not going to tangle with a dog or attack women and children and drag them off into the woods."
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