An example of the food chain in action — or perhaps academic espionage — occurred on Tuesday when a bobcat fed on a mule deer just east of the University of Montana’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
West Broadway resident John Rincker spotted the suspected Montana State University mascot on Tuesday, after first seeing its meal dead on the side of Mount Jumbo on Sunday.
“There was a bald eagle working on the carcass first,” Rincker said. “Three or four other mule deer were standing around too, but they’re not there today.”
Instead, the bobcat had the mule deer doe to itself about 100 yards above Interstate 90 around noon Tuesday. It was so focused on picking the carcass clean, Rincker couldn’t see its head clearly to identify its species. At that distance from the rear, it almost looked like a small bear, he said.
Both black bears and UM’s mascot grizzly bears are hibernating at this time of year, although they very occasionally get up for a mid-winter walk-about.
“It was probably a lion- or coyote-kill that bobcat was feeding on,” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Bear Manager Jamie Jonkel said of the report. “I doubt he killed it on his own. He was probably scavenging.”
Mount Jumbo has a resident herd of mule deer in addition to the much larger elk that congregate on its upper grassy slopes in winter. Mature mountain lions weigh between 100 and 150 pounds with long tails. Bobcats rarely reach 26 pounds, have stubby tails and distinct tufts of hair pointing off the tops of their ears.
FWP Wildlife Biologist Liz Bradley added bobcats typically subsist on snowshoe hares, cottontail rabbits and other small mammals. Although rarely seen, bobcats thrive in the foothills around the Missoula Valley. But last weekend’s arctic outbreak, when the Hellgate winds left thermometers struggling to stay above zero, may have changed the playing field.
“That cold snap drifted a lot of snow and packed it pretty hard in a lot of places,” Bradley said. “That might make it more willing to come out in the open to feed, especially in these conditions.”