Bobcat Hunting Takes Off in Illinois After Reintroduction of Season

State expands both permits and limits but some groups dispute cat numbers

Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017

By Dwain Hebda

Under a new state law signed last week, the state of Illinois is expanding both the number of permits and the season limit of bobcats that can harvested there.

Illinois resumed bobcat hunting and trapping last fall for the time in more than 40 years. House Bill 3399 doubled the number of allowable permits to 1,000 and the total number of bobcats that can be harvested per season to 350. The new law also clarifies in which counties bobcat hunting is legal, outlawing it in 33 Illinois counties and portions of three others.

Those counties in which bobcat hunting is not legal are Boone, Bureau, Champaign, Cook, DeKalb, DeWitt, DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Henry, Iroquois, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Knox, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, Livingston, Logan, Marshall, McHenry, McLean, Ogle, Peoria, Piatt, Putnam, Stark, Stephenson, Vermilion, Will, Winnebago, Woodford, the area north of U.S. Route 36 in Edgar and Douglas counties and north of U.S. Route 36 to the junction with Illinois Route 121, and north or east of Illinois Route 121 in Macon County.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), which manages hunting in the state, will distribute the 1,000 permits via a lottery system, as more than 1,000 applications have already been received. Last year, IDNR reported 6,400 people joined the lottery for a shot at one of the 500 available permits.

The move comes just six weeks ahead of the 2017-2018 bobcat season, which opens November 10 and runs through February 15.

The new law hasn't come without controversy. The Illinois Bobcat Foundation argues that current bobcat population figures are out of date and skewed to the southern portion of Illinois which has a higher population of the cats due to more favorable habitat.

An Illinois bobcat being monitored by Western Illinois University. (WIU via The Chicago Tribune)

IBF unsuccessfully pushed for legislation that would have suspended bobcat hunting for two years on the premise it would allow a $100,000 IDNR study on bobcat numbers in northern counties, currently underway, to be completed.

The study is supported by the Illinois Bobcat Foundation, Illinois Humane Society, National Trappers Association, Wildlife Restoration, Illinois Trappers Association, The Nature Conservancy, Illinois Musky Tournament Trail, Western Illinois University and landowners in four of the state's central western counties.

The Foundation also questioned IDNR's ability to limit harvesting to the 350 animals the law permits. Illinois hunting regulations limit hunters to one animal per season and each bobcat taken must be tagged, a stipulation that theoretically gives IDNR a running headcount on how many animals have been harvested.

IDNR also suggested the odds were good hunters wouldn't get anywhere near the allowable total. Last year, 141 animals were taken among the 500 permit holders, a 28 percent success rate. This total included 11 bobcats that were salvaged carcasses from traffic strikes, which incidentally, count toward a permit-holder's bag limit for the season.

Among once-endangered species, bobcats have done well under environmental protection. In just 22 years on Illinois' first official list of endangered species (1977 to 1999), the animal rebounded handsomely from decimation due to years of unregulated harvesting and loss of habitat.

The Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at Southern Illinois University reported in the 1990s that bobcats could be found in every Illinois county but three. Some estimates place the current bobcat population in the state as high as 5,000 and its rate of increase as high as 9 percent annually.