Are there bobcats in Tennessee? Are bobcats dangerous?

Bobcat in fall colors

Bobcats can be confused for mountain lions, but a bobcat is much smaller and only weighs about 10-40 pounds on average (photo by Carol/stock.adobe.com)

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We begin this examination of the majestic bobcat with a controversy.

In fact, it may very well end with a pitched battle between the agents of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency and their Indiana counterparts. 

At the center of the controversy is a map on the TWRA website that purports to display the parts of North America where one might encounter a bobcat in the wild. 

I really didn’t need the map.

I knew the answer, which is: “Duh, bobcats are everywhere. From deep into Central America well up north in Canada, bobcats roam this mighty land eating small mammals and looking cute as heck.”

However, I was in search of the answer to a simple question.

Are there bobcats in Tennessee?

Do bobcats live in Tennessee? The short answer is yes.

This TWRA map – this purple abomination – contained a mistruth that shook the very core of what was going to be a very book-reportish column and turned it into something steeped in controversy, shame and regret.

First of all, the multi-color, non-interactive map has a legend that features 12 categories when only three are needed. Purple for where bobcats are permanent residents and white for where they ain’t.

And of course, blue for oceans and lakes and rivers in which bobcats – which are not a type of fish – do not dwell. 

TWRA, we don’t need red for breeding residents or yellow for passage migrants or pink for introduced or green for vagrants. And we certainly don’t need wavy lines or other nonsense. 

It’s your map. There are three colors. Let’s tighten things up, TWRA. 

The upper half of the map, Canada and the great white north, is covered in white. This indicates that even bobcats prefer to avoid barren, frozen wastelands.

The rest of the map, except for a swath of California, a sliver of ground that looks like Delaware and a square that might be located in Colorado, is covered in purple, which is right and good.

The bobcat is ubiquitous. 

A bobcat sits in a desert
Bobcats can be found throughout the United States, including in Tennessee (photo by colloidial/stock.adobe.com)

Where do bobcats like to live?

Bobcats can be found in a variety of habitats but prefer heavily forested areas, swamps, farmland and rocky terrain.

Surprisingly, as we look back at the map to the Great Lakes region, we see something shocking. A massive white space covering Ohio, much of Indiana, Illinois, a small part of Missouri and half of Iowa.

That is a massive area that the TWRA claims contain nary a bobcat. 

As we know from our discussion surrounding big cats and whether they live in the mountains or not – they don’t. But we also know some of our friends are distrustful of the TWRA. 

Read Also: Bobcat vs mountain lion: Are there wildcats in the Smoky Mountains?

I have always considered myself to be a staunch TWRA supporter, but as a former Hoosier who lived in both the north and south of the state, I looked at this TWRA map and knew something was wrong. 

I quickly began an arduous research process that included Googling “do bobcats live in Indiana” and clicking on the link from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“Bobcats, the only resident native wildcat in Indiana, are common in southern and parts of central Indiana, and increasing in northern Indiana.

They are rarely seen because of their ability to blend into their surroundings and move silently,” the site said.

Somebody is lying here folks, and it’s that dang map.  

Do bobcats and mountain lions live in the same area?

On a side note to our big cat discussion, the controversy about the existence of big cats in addition to bobcats in Tennessee also exists in Indiana.

I had a teacher at Mitchell Junior High School who swore he’d had a plaster cast of a big cat paw print he’d taken somewhere down in Paoli.

Indiana wildlife officials, he said, confirmed the cast was of a big cat but said he must have made it somewhere else and brought it there. 

The Indiana website – which features a helpful illustration provided by Missouri comparing a bobcat to a mountain lion – has the following paragraph: 

“The Indiana Division of Fish & Wildlife occasionally receives reports of large carnivores such as mountain lions, gray wolves and black bears.”

“There are currently NO breeding populations of these species in Indiana. But one of these animals may pass through Indiana from established populations in other states.”

So there’s that. 

a bobcat in the wild
One key characteristic of a bobcat is its pointy ears (photo by Carol/stock.adobe.com)

What is a bobcat? What does a bobcat look like?

Ok. Back to bobcats. 

You might be saying to yourself, “Gee John, I live in Northwest upper Saskatoon Canada or in some barren spot in Delaware or Rhode Island or – check notes – the entirety of Ohio and I’ve never seen, heard about or knew of the existence of a bobcat. What is it?” 

Well, friend, I’m here to help. 

A bobcat is basically a little lion or cougar-looking thing with a short, stubby bobbed tail. Their meals consist mostly of small mammals, including rabbits, mice, rats, squirrels and shrews.

They will also occasionally eat deer, turkey, snakes, feral cats, other small animals and grass.

It’s not a surprise you’ve never seen one. They’re the ninjas of the animal world, really good at moving with stealth in the dark and not arousing attention. 

They are elusive creatures with keen eyesight who usually are only seen at dusk or dawn.

The TWRA website’s description is better than Indiana’s, so here it is: 

“A large mammal with long legs, stubby tail, broad face, short snout, and prominent pointed ears that sometimes have tufts. The short fur is tawny-colored with black spots and streaks.”

“Facial fur has black lines and a ruff of fur extending from the ears down to the lower jaw. The backs of the ears are solid black with a central white spot. Underparts are white with black spots.”

Editor’s note: If you’re looking at the underparts of a bobcat, something has either gone drastically wrong in your life or it’s about to.

The upper legs and tail have black barring and the tail tip is black. They have sharply curved claws that can be retracted.

Males are usually larger than females.

  • Length: 22.5-50.0 inches
  • Tail: 3.8-7.9 inches
  • Ears: 2.5-2.8 inches
  • Weight: 10.0-40.0 pounds

Read Also: What do black bears eat? Do they have a favorite food?

Where can I see a bobcat in Tennessee? 

The best places in Tennessee feature a lot of underbrush but don’t go looking through the underbrush for bobcats.

Bobcats have keen senses of sight, hearing and smell. You won’t find them.

If you do find one, you’ll be unhappy you did.

Are bobcats dangerous?

A bobcat could claw and bite the heck out of you, but generally speaking, they don’t historically pose a major threat to humans.

Technically, if they hit the right spot, I reckon they could do some damage. In reality, though, they wouldn’t provoke a person without something being seriously wrong.

If you see a bobcat in the wild and it doesn’t get away quickly, there’s a good chance it has rabies. There is no situation in which you should engage a bobcat in the wild.

It’s also worth noting that bobcats could pose a risk to your pets.

A bobcat kitten
A baby bobcat is also called a kitten (photo by hkuchera/stock.adobe.com)

When is bobcat mating season? 

I am concerned you asked that question, but the answer is on the TWRA website so you’re not the only one. Take that for what it’s worth.

Bobcats breed from December through the summer – which, ya know, good for them. The height of their mating season is in March. 

Can I hunt bobcats? When is bobcat season? 

Yes, you can. Bobcat season is from mid-November to late February, but always double-check with TWRA officials for the latest news and information. 

They may be hunted or trapped. Bobcat pelts must be tagged before being exported. 

Get with the TWRA if you would like to know more.

What do I do if I see a bobcat?   

Remain calm. Be smart. Stay alert. Keep a safe distance.

In truth, you are in very little danger from a bobcat unless something is wrong (for example, if the bobcat has rabies). 

That being said, it’s best to stay alert.

For example, there’s a video that got a lot of play last fall when a woman in some suburban neighborhood that must not have been in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, or that part of South Dakota, was walking from her home to her car when a rabid bobcat came screaming into the picture like it was shot out of a cannon.  

Certainly, you don’t want any part of a bobcat.  

Just in case you missed it, we’ve reshared that video below.

Have you encountered a bobcat? Let us know in the comments.

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