Whenever I make my treks into the backcountry of New Hampshire, rarely is there a time where I am not surprised by the animal kingdom that exists within its boundaries. Just when I think I have a particular critter figured out; I study, observe, or track activity that completely contradicts my previous understanding of that animal’s behavior.
Take the bobcat for instance; a shy, reclusive feline that stalks the deep woods of the state, feeding on a wide variety of small mammals such as mice and voles, and larger critters like woodchucks, wild turkeys, and even deer on occasion. Up until a couple years ago, if someone had asked me who would win the battle of a bobcat vs. raccoon, I probably would have put my paycheck down on the ‘coon. From a wildlife control standpoint, the raccoon is one of the most moody, unpredictable, and downright ornery critters the region offers. For as pudgy and cute as they appear, they can go from frumpy forager to “raging bitch” in less than a second; spinning on a dime, and not backing down until you look like Mrs. Peterson’s house cat after a Fisher attack. Bottom line – they’re a critter I feel much more comfortable handling on the end of a 4 foot catch pole - synched nice and tight! I’ve seen footage of raccoons chasing full-sized Eastern Coyotes off of gut piles, and shredding drywall and roof shingles like graham crackers; so despite the bobcat’s sharp claws and “surprise attack” stealth, it would take some serious documentation to sway my opinion of the “cuddly wildcat” going toe to toe with the raccoon.
That serious documentation is exactly what Tony Hudon stumbled upon when he went to check his trail camera one January afternoon in 2014.
“When I got out there to check my camera I didn't notice anything right off” says Tony, who had the camera setup in a heavily wooded area of Henniker, NH to capture images of the local deer herd.
”I didn't notice anything right off (to indicate) there was such a battle, but after I checked my camera and saw what had happened, I looked around more and found raccoon hair and a little bit of blood in the direction where (the bobcat) hauled it off”.
What Tony captured on camera was a heavy dose of nature’s reality that “wildlife watchers” and “everyday residents” are rarely exposed to. The scene plays out with an unsuspecting raccoon foraging alongside a doe in the midst of New Hampshire’s harsh winter. A few frames later present the prime example of survival of the fittest, as a bobcat appears out of nowhere and pounces on its prey. As the frames continue, it’s clear the struggle doesn’t take any longer than a few minutes. The raccoon, in flight response, attempts to climb a tree which is quickly intercepted, and the coon is carried off by its captor.
I can’t help but wonder if the scene would have played out as quickly and efficiently if the raccoon knew what was coming – perhaps if they squared off over a carcass, or in a den location. However this is not how the bobcat survives and Tony’s images prove that the feline’s uncanny ability to patiently stalk and “wait out” its target for the perfect opportunity pays off in a big way.
“When I saw the pictures and blew them up on the computer, I was very surprised and excited because I knew it was a rare picture” says Tony. “I started sending them to some of my close friends because I knew they would be amazed as well.”
Local hunters, trappers, conservation officers and even biologists all agree that the images captured, while not necessarily surprising, were absolutely amazing from a documentation standpoint. As a trapper, conservationist, and passionate wildlife enthusiast, I’m always walking the woods while thinking up random scenarios. I could certainly picture the bobcat vs. coon battle royale, but to see it actually documented in footage is without a doubt something special.
I’ve presented these images on the heels of a current hot-button debate in the Granite State. Bobcat sightings in New Hampshire have exploded in the last few years, and it’s extremely difficult to walk the woods without finding some kind of sign from a traveling wildcat. The influx in sightings, accompanied with scientific studies have prompted the NH Fish and Game Department to entertain the idea of a limited hunting and trapping season for bobcats; a season which has been temporarily closed since 1989. Anti-trapping and hunting supporters, joining forces with extremist animal rights advocates, have argued that the bobcat is an apex-predator, and as such, should be left alone to “self-regulate”.
To argue that the bobcat be left to “self-regulate”, in my opinion showcases an extreme disconnect many people have with the wildlife that surrounds them, as we trade a full understanding of nature for a keyboard and computer screen.
These images haven’t been posted to somehow portray the bobcat as a vicious killer, but rather present nature’s interaction in its true and raw form. Above anything else, its important to understand the balance of nature, and additionally man’s role and understanding within that balance.
As for Tony Hudon; his bobcat images have been busy fueling their own web-based celebrity stardom.
“I have heard many crazy stories about the images in the past year and a half. I've been contacted by Mossy Oak and some radio stations out west asking about the picture” Tony eagerly states.
However while the image series has gained popularity for all the right reasons, it hasn’t come with some of the typical backlash of a "viral" internet image. A few commenters across the ‘net claim the animal in the image is not a bobcat, but rather a mountain lion or lynx. Some people have claimed that they were the owners of the image, while others claim it to be a hoax - nothing more than a taxidermy piece strapped to a tree.
“Because that’s what I do in my spare time, I strap Bobcat mounts to trees to take pictures!” Tony sarcastically replied with a laugh.
Whether positive or negative, the overwhelming “buzz” about the images nationwide and across the globe only shows the true importance of the images. Within the raw action of the images, there’s no doubt that Tony captured something truly amazing and rarely documented outside of the confines of our region’s wilderness. I would like to personally thank Tony for sharing these images with the rest of the nation’s outdoor enthusiast.