SPRINGFIELD – Hunters and trappers could soon legally bag a bobcat under a proposal pending in the Illinois House.

With the population of bobcats on the rise in the Land of Lincoln, state Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Morrisonville, said its time to give hunters the chance to start reducing the numbers.

“There are just more and more of them out there. We just want to control them,” Rosenthal said Friday.

Hunting bobcats in Illinois was made illegal in 1972. The secretive, nocturnal cat was put on the state threatened species list in 1977, but removed in 1999 when its numbers began to rebound.

Southern Illinois University scientists estimated that about 2,200 bobcats existed south of Interstate 64 in 2000. New estimates put the number in the state's 13 southernmost counties at more than 3,300.

The wild cat's numbers are growing elsewhere in Illinois, especially along major rivers.

Bobcats, which usually grow to about 20 pounds, prefer large forested areas, making rural, non-farm areas ideal for the population to grow.

The National Trappers Association says bobcats rely on rabbits for 75 to 90 percent of their diets, with other mammals and birds making up the remainder of what they eat.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, is co-sponsoring the proposal. He also believes the population of bobcats in Illinois needs to be reduced because of what they are doing to other animals.

“I feel this has hurt our quail population,” Phelps said Friday.

The legislation calls for rules similar to those governing the hunting of skunks, opossum, foxes and raccoons.

The season would occur sometime between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15.

And, the state would only allow a hunter to kill one bobcat per year.

That kind of limit is not the case in many other states. Minnesota and Oregon, for example, allow hunters to take up to five bobcats per season. The limit in Virginia is 12.

In nearby Wisconsin, however, there are strict limits on how many bobcats can be taken. In 2012, for example, Wisconsin set the bobcat hunt limit at 175 animals. In all,11,400 hunters applied for the chance to participate.

The legislation is House Bill 4226.

(Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-782-4043)

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