FARMINGTON - Bobcats are very hard to hunt, but a lucky bunch of friends, some of whom have hunted together all of their lives, brought in three of them within a 24-hour period recently.
All of the men in the hunting party said it was Tuffy, a Treeing Walker hunting dog owned by John Donald of New Sharon, that made it possible.
Donald, a New Sharon dairy farmer from the Triple D Dairy on the Weeks Mills Road, hunts whenever possible during the bobcat season with friends Bruce Dyke of Wilton, Tony Bachelder of Buckfield, George Richardson of Turner and Barry Hammond of Livermore Falls. Donald said often his good friend Russell Black of Wilton also joins in.
Donald said he's hunted with Hammond for 15 years or so and Bachelder and Black, "since we were knee high."
The three men that bagged the three male bobcats, each weighing 25 to 30 pounds, were extremely excited while posing for a picture with their prizes.
"They're not world records, but they're good size cats. Bobcats are the most challenging game you can hunt right now in the state of Maine," Donald said. "And there is a lot of competition right now because more people are doing it as the cat population grows. Chesterville seems to be a real hot spot right now."
There is no limit on the number of bobcats you can take per season and Donald said there's a reason for that.
"It's a very hard animal to hunt so there is no chance of anyone getting too many of them because the cat usually wins. They are smart little critters, but they just had a bad week," Donald said with a proud smile.
All three were bagged in Franklin County.
Donald said he began hunting bobcats in this area when he was 23 or 24 years old.
"Then there was a 15-year or so stretch when I first bought the farm that I was too busy to do it, but the cat population wasn't very good in those years anyway. The cat population is the largest it's ever been in Maine now. I've hunted most everything in my day, but I love hunting with dogs, working with the dogs and training the dogs."
Donald has five Treeing Walkers that he has raised and trained.
"I usually have one going and one in training at all times. On a hunt, I'll only bring one, sometimes two," he said. "The more dogs in the fray, the less chance you have of getting a cat."
"I love listening to the hounds," he said. "You can tell what the hounds are doing during a hunt just by listening to them."
"With experience and good training, a dog can track even a cold trail that is 12 or 14 hours old. Then he'll jump the cat and the hunt is on. Sometimes they will tree the cat and sometimes they will bay them up (the dogs surround the cat)."
Last season, Donald got 14 bobcats, his best season ever. "I usually get six to eight, hunting a couple of days a week," he said. "Some guides hunt hard all season and only get three or four cats. And we've hunted some years when we only got one cat. The dogs make all the difference."
Donald and his friends all said that Donald's dog, Tuffy, was the reason for their incredible luck getting three bobcats in a 24 hour period.
"I've been hunting bobcats for over 40 years and Tuffy is as good a dog, in fact the best dog, that I have ever seen," Barry Hammond said, after returning from a hunt with Donald. "He's phenomenal. He's definitely one of the top four or five cat dogs in the state."
"I raised him from a pup," Donald said. "He's turned out to be a great one."
Donald describes the bobcats as magnificent animals.
"It's rarer to shoot a good cat than it is to shoot a good buck," Donald said. "We're blessed to have them here in the state of Maine to hunt. They are very cunning animals and the hardest thing in the state to hunt with a hound."
He said if a bobcat can get a little head start on the dog it will go into blowdown holes and into low lands and swamps then backtrack and do a figure eight."
"They are so smart. They're very crafty," Donald said. "A cat might run eight to 10 miles in one hunt."
"Last season, we shot eight bobcats with a gun and six with a camera," Donald said. "We always leave the females and the kittens whenever possible.
Donald has a nice collection of mounted cats from previous hunts. He said once bagged, the cats are sold for their fur as many people like to make fur rugs out of the hide, or taxidermists buy them.
"It's very enjoyable," he said. "There is nothing else I'd rather do than be out on a cat hunt with a good dog and good friends. There's something about seeing a fresh (bobcat) track on the snow. There's no money in the hunt (mostly because of the expensive dogs required), just the passion for the hunt."