Killer Bobcat Calling Techniques
By Troy Hoepker
From our parking spot we could see the magical place where we wanted to be, high on a hill overlooking the most beautiful predator habitat you’ve ever seen. It would be a half-mile hike to get there but we knew the long walk was worth it. There was never a shortage of coyote and bobcat tracks and seeing all of them on the way in left a predator caller’s heart full.
My calling partner, Mark Johnston, placed the caller on an open knob between a large cedar-choked vastness to the south and a skinny wooded draw to the north. A predator would have to commit to exposing itself if it wanted to see the source of the sound up on that knob. Further north, a large CRP field gently rose away from us with a smaller area of timber 100-yards away and a timbered fencerow leading directly at the position where I would sit and overlook our downwind side. The soft waning of cottontail cranked up as I was still getting settled. We were both fairly exposed sitting in a thin, sparsely covered CRP field but we were confident that our distance away from the caller would keep us unnoticed.
Peacefully surveying my surroundings, only a little over a minute into the sound playing from Mark’s caller, I was startled from my chair in surreal fashion at the sound of Mark’s rifle booming! I turned my head just in time to see a bobcat halfway between the cover and the caller in mid-air, five feet off of the ground in the middle of a complete backflip! The cat hit the ground running, returning where it had entered the clearing.
The incredible action-packed moment definitely woke us up and I strained to sit still after the chaos when Mark started the caller up once again. This was a spot where we keep calling even after a shot because there’s always a chance of another predator coming.
I was fairly confident in what I had seen to think we had a dead cat, but didn’t know how far we’d have to track it. A couple of minutes later, something caught the attention of my peripheral vision. Slowly turning my head to look towards the caller again, I was amazed to see an even bigger bobcat stalking the caller near the same spot as the first.
There wasn’t much subtlety in it, but I turned my body and picked up my rifle and bipod in one motion and sat it back down towards the cat. I was relying on a bobcat’s tendency to sometimes allow you to get away with movement without spooking. As my eye focused through the scope on the cat, I saw that he was stopped looking directly at me. I centered the crosshairs on the shoulder and touched off a shot. The bobcat was pounded by the bullet and hit the ground hard directly where he stood. He lay there without movement. Confident that he was down for good I took my eye out of the scope. The cat miraculously bounced up coming to his senses and bounded for the skinny draw not far north of the caller.
We finally got up to take up the track of multiple wounded bobcats each headed separate directions. We headed south after Mark’s cat first and good snow cover let us find some blood where the cat had gone. It wasn’t long and Mark spotted his cat lying dead in the snow under the trees. It hadn’t made it far, maybe 50 yards from where it had been hit. It was a nicely spotted female. Next we headed north in search of sign of the second cat.
We couldn’t find blood. As hard as that cat had been hit, I still had confidence we would find a dead bobcat somewhere. We went over it with a fine-toothed comb. We found nothing. After an extensive search of the whole area, we came up empty handed. I even came back the next day with my hunting dog and widened the search of the whole area but couldn’t find the cat. My speculation was that my bullet had splashed the cat’s shoulder and deflected. It remains to this day the only bobcat I’ve ever lost after it’s been hit.
There’s just something special about seeing a bobcat come in to your call. Even when you know you’re in a good area for bobcats it’s still a pleasant surprise every time they come to a call. There are a lot of differences in targeting bobcats versus coyotes from a calling perspective however.
First off, there are some generalities in bobcat behavior that differ from coyotes. Bobcats hunt with their eyes and ears first instead of their nose. A bobcat can certainly wind you also, but generally speaking they won’t from a distance and they won’t circle downwind to try. They are more of a sight hunter. Bobcats typically won’t travel as far to come to the call as a coyote will either. On occasion they will, but it will take them longer to get there when they do. Bobcats will become distracted or give up easier on the journey than a coyote will. A coyote doesn’t need much sound to key on, whereas a bobcat needs more continuous sound in his ears to keep him coming along from a distance.
When a coyote arrives at the sound, they are usually bolder with their approach, staying on the move or working towards scent when they can’t get eyes on the target. When bobcats arrive to the area they are more apt to stop and survey the scene from cover for a bit before committing to wide-open spaces. Both like to travel near cover, but it’s sometimes harder to get a cat to break from the cover. This is where caller placement is key.
When calling bobcats it’s always a good idea to add some mystery to the exact location of the sound. It works for coyotes also, but especially well on bobcats to hide the caller in some weeds, a bush or a brushy fence line. Something just thick enough that the animal can’t see directly into and forces them to approach closely to inspect the sound of dying rabbit within. Even corn stubble can work or as in the case of our hunt, Mark put the caller high enough from surrounding cover that the cats had to break cover to see over the rise. Bobcats use their natural camouflage so well that we don’t always see them when they arrive. We need them to break cover or move along the outside of it to spot them. Caller placement is so very important to the success of the hunt.
A moving decoy can certainly work, but really isn’t necessary with good caller placement. Mystery and making the animal hunt the sound is the equal to a predator keying on a movement decoy and I dare say, even better with coyotes and bobcats alike. Anytime you make a predator hunt within close proximity to verify with their eyes what their ears have heard, they are more likely to make a mistake when they are unaware they are being tracked.
Caller placement, staying perfectly still and making use of playing more continual sound are all crucial to getting a cat to expose itself. So many times, when a bobcat gets to your location it will pause in the cover, maybe under a cedar tree or hidden in the weeds and survey the scene. You likely won’t even know it’s there. As it sits, looking on trying decide what to do, if there is no sound playing for it to key on, it will spot your movement as you turn your head looking around. At that point it may not leave but it will definitely be alarmed. If it watches you move around enough, it’ll be gone and you will have never known it was even there. This is something cats do. Sit and watch. You certainly don’t have to play the caller non-stop the entire time, but playing sound more often than you would when calling a coyote isn’t a bad idea. Your goal is to keep that cat moving so you can see it.
In general, bobcats are much easier to kill than a coyote. They do exhibit some “stupid cat” behaviors from time to time. At times they’ll become absolutely fixated on the sound believing the realism even after sticking their nose right into the cone of the speaker or pawing at it. Other times they may even see you move or pick you out and continue to hang around. These are things a coyote will rarely do.
Before you can call them close you need to figure out how to get to them from far away. The act of calling a bobcat itself isn’t all that hard. Most of the battle lies with finding them. In some cases it’s luck and in other cases it’s based off good intel or from good scouting. Trail cameras, word of mouth sightings and finding tracks are reliable ways to get a start. I always suggest that whenever you see a bobcat, ask yourself, “Why is it here in this location?”
Whenever you see a bobcat or get a picture on trail camera, it doesn’t mean that calling the exact area where the cat was seen is always the perfect place. Instead, look around the area and find the nastiest, tangled, overgrown piece of ground nearby and head that way to call. Bobcats live in thick country and hunt primarily rabbits and mice. Sure they nab the occasional songbird, turkey or whatever, but find cover like I described with good rabbit and mice habitat and water nearby and bobcats are usually close as long as there is a viable population in your part of the state.
Bobcats are more of a nocturnal animal but they definitely move during the day also if motivated. Because they are largely nocturnal, finding their daytime hides and getting close to those areas doesn’t ask too much of them to come to the call. Early mornings, sunset times and even after dark times can be more hit and miss near these spots because cats are more likely to be out hunting. I equate it to knocking on the door when no one is home. I want them to be home when I call the area.
Most any distress sounds can work but I’ve found that bobcats really like busy sounds. I’ve called cats using various rabbit distress noises as well as bird distress sounds. Cats are also forgiving. If one sound isn’t working, another one might. Switching sounds on them can be a good thing.
Before you target a bobcat make sure that you are aware of the laws and areas of the state where they can be legally taken. Bobcats do carry their own set of specific rules under the law. If you’re up for the challenge to take on the most illusive game animal in Iowa, give a bobcat a call.