By Ryan Reed

If you’re an avid outdoors person, chances are that you have heard the sound before. Let’s just say the sound can be very unsettling. This hair-raising, goosebumps-inducing noise will certainly get one’s attention, and can be heard during this period of the late winter season when everything else can seem dead silent.

The sound often starts by a series of low growls, followed by screams of increased pitch and intensity. It will stop you in your tracks, and if you’re holding something, you will clutch it tightly. The first time I heard it, I was late-season squirrel hunting at my camp. The ghoulish screams seemed to emanate from mere yards away on the other side of some brush, gripping me with instantaneous fear. Genuinely fearing for my safety, I swung my .22 rifle in its direction and backed slowly down the mountain. It was too dark to see what produced the screams, which seemed to continue for an eternity, and I admittedly entertained the thought that something macabre existed in my woods. Needless to say, I was quite relieved to reach the safety of the cabin.

Had I known the sound’s source, it probably wouldn’t have startled me so badly. Weighing probably only around 20 pounds, I’m sure the mammal meant me no harm. It is a bit embarrassing to admit how scared I was of what is basically an oversized kitty.

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) ranges widely across the commonwealth, and breeds this time of year (February through March). Males and females vocalize these harrowing sounds to find a mate (while incidentally securing their privacy by scaring off every other living thing in earshot).

Bobcats have made an impressive comeback in Pennsylvania after major persecution about a century ago, when lucrative bounties incentivized trapping and shooting them. Fortunately for us and them, opinions have changed, and they are rightly recognized as a valuable component of our forest ecosystem. Protected by state game regulations for decades, their presence adds wild character to our forests, contributing to the “spirit” of Penn’s Woods.

To hear the mating calls of the bobcat, please click here.

For more on bobcats, courtesy of the PA Game Commission, visit here.

Forest Fridays is a feature of the DCNR Bureau of Forestry.