Cat & Mouse

Following a photogenic bobcat.

It was a rather balmy January day by Montana standards: temperature in the mid 20s, a hazy sky, and a fresh four-inch layer of snow covering the landscape. I was at my desk in my apartment in Big Sky when a slight movement caught my eye.

I peered through the window and was stunned to find an adult bobcat walking through my back yard. I grabbed my camera and took a few photos directly through the window. Lesson one of wildlife photography: always have your camera nearby and ready to shoot.

The cat moved out of sight around the corner of the house. I scrambled through my apartment, throwing on boots, jacket, and a hat before opening the door as quietly as possible and stepping outside. I saw nothing but fresh tracks leading under my deck, out across the driveway, up and over a snowbank, and into the woods.

I was close behind—this opportunity wasn’t to be missed. Wearing blue jeans, untied boots, and no gloves, I raced across the driveway, over the snowbank and into three feet of snow, hoping somehow I would be able to catch up to him. I post-holed along for about five minutes when, lo and behold, there he was: staring back at me from 40 yards. I stopped, slowly raised my camera, and rattled off a few shots. He didn’t seem spooked in the least, and after a few moments turned his head and moved gracefully away over the snowy terrain.

I followed his tracks easily through the fresh snow and after another 10 minutes was back within sight of him—this time at 20 yards. I maneuvered around for a clear vantage point and fired off a few more shots. He once again got bored with me and disappeared into the trees.

After an hour of this cat-and-giant-clumsy-mouse game, I found myself on the edge of a small, sparsely treed meadow. I reacquired his paw prints and tracked them to a patch of small bushes on the far side of the clearing, where the bobcat sat motionless, his back toward me. At this point I was probably 40 yards away. Thinking this might be my last photo opportunity, I decided to get as close as he would let me. I slowly worked my way closer until I was no more than 30 yards from his turned back. I sat down in the snow and steadied myself for the shots. His head was still turned the other way and after a barrage of chirps, squeaks, squawks, meows, and a couple of “look over heres” I still couldn’t get him to look my way. I would need to get closer to capture his attention. I stood up, took one more step, and as my boot plunged into the snow he turned and looked. Snap! Snap! Snap! I probably took a dozen shots in just a few seconds. I slowed down, refocusing and recomposing after every shot to ensure I was getting the best images possible.

He lost interest in me after a minute or so and walked off. I decided that this would be a good time for me to leave this amazing animal in peace and head back toward civilization—if I could find it. I suddenly became aware of how cold and wet I was, but after a few minutes of post-holing I was back to my neighborhood.

All said and done, my cold, wet, two-hour adventure through the forest was well worth the unbelievable one-on-one experience I had with one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful creatures.