We raise chickens, my wife and I. Sometimes I think what we do mostly is feed the bobcats, but it only seems that way recently. Time was not two months ago we had 14 birds, 8 of which were laying, the others still maturing into their prime. One of our birds in her prime generally laid 2 eggs in 3 days – so 8 layers yielded a lot of eggs, certainly more than we could use ourselves. It worked out to be almost 3 dozen eggs a week. So, we gave a lot away, and that was its own pleasure. People kind of knew us that way, those who came bearing gifts of eggs.
We are down to 3 chickens now. I can’t chronicle the decline chicken by chicken – it is just too horrible – and anyway each chicken met its fate in roughly the same way.
We have a coop that I built – it is secure and my son diligently puts the chickens in every night. And the run is fenced to 6 feet with 2×4 wire. We have not hung netting over the run – I have resisted that because it seems too much to me and I like the open sky effect.
A couple of weeks ago, I was working at the table when I heard the commotion of panicked chickens from the chicken run. I grabbed the pellet gun and scooted down the hill. Through some coyote bush I saw a form leap the fence, scramble, and jump over. I didn’t have a clear line of sight, but I saw color and size. It was a bobcat and it had no trouble at all with my fence. On the inside was a dead chicken – the one my kids called Beardo because of its feathery jowls.
I hadn’t seen where the cat had gone, it was way too fast, but I knew that having killed the chicken it wouldn’t go far. It wouldn’t expend the energy and then abandon the kill. I poked around the tree line a bit, looking for what I don’t know and feeling watched the whole time, but I didn’t see anything. I don’t know what I thought I would find. I kind of expected to see the bobcat having retreated a distance and waiting and watching, but I kind of expected not to see that, too. I looked high in the trees; I thought that would be a clever place to hide and spy for a bobcat. But I saw nothing.
I took the dead chicken just outside the run and laid it down on a bench that was in clear sight of the house and the deck where I would perch and watch. And then I retreated to the deck with my pellet gun. I really felt that I would sting this bobcat, that that was the best thing I could do. I felt like in taking this chicken this bobcat should feel it and not get used to such easy pickings. Like it ought to cost the cat something to kill a chicken. So I was going to lay in wait for it and hit it with the pellet gun when it came back to take the chicken.
For 20 minutes I waited on the deck, poised most of the time and ready to ambush the bobcat. Nothing. 20 minutes of waiting when you are aware of every minute passing can seem like a long time, but I was fairly well resolved not to give in. This was how I was going to redeem my dominant position as human protector of the chickens. And I wanted a story to tell. Not just a bobcat took another one of my chickens, but this time I got that son of a bitch.
Thinking about it now, I think inside I knew I had already met my match with nature, that I was not much of a challenge for a bobcat who lives or dies by its wits. Still I was asking the question. How do I compare to a bobcat?
After 15 minutes I began to think that the bobcat was not coming back. You know how it goes. First the doubt. Maybe the bobcat isn’t coming back. Maybe there is plenty of food in the valley and being chased off by me was too much trouble. Maybe it is already across the valley stalking some quail. Then the rationale. If I were a bobcat, I wouldn’t risk messing with a human. The bobcats that pushed their luck with humans didn’t live to pass on their risky genetic material. Then I got lax. I will wait as long as it takes but I need a cup of coffee while I wait.
I stepped inside to pour myself a cup of coffee, little sugar, little half and half. I was gone a total of two minutes and when I came out the chicken was gone. I scanned across the hillside and 75 yards off the bobcat was leisurely disappearing into the woods with the chicken in its mouth. Leisurely. Walking. Not running. Very relaxed. Although I could have hit it without much effort I didn’t even think to raise my pellet gun. I was in too much awe.
Indeed no match for the bobcat that lives or dies by its wits, I couldn’t go 20 minutes without thinking of coffee, and that cat knew the moment I let down my guard.