Lynx and Bobcat General
Lynx and bobcats, sometimes collectively referred to as wildcats, are closely related furbearers that are valued for both their fur and their tender meat.
Lynx is reported to have been hunted primarily for its fur, but was also a supplemental food source for many cultures, including the Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Tahltan of the Skitine Plateau, Omushkego Cree, Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Newfoundland, Makkovik Inuit of Labrador [43-47]. The Tutchone, Tagish and Tlingit enjoyed lynx meat immensely and prepared grease from its fat . Lynx is reported to have been eaten by the Nuxalk, but only infrequently .
Lynx hunting usually began in autumn, as was done by the Lillooet [17, 32]. When the weather turned cold, Okanagan men set traps for lynx . Kaska women set traps for lynx in summer and winter, while Koyukon women and children snared lynx in fall . Ahtna men hunted lynx in fall along the rivers . The Peel River Kutchin (Gwich’in) of the Yukon and Alaska started the hunt in November and ended late spring. They broke up into small groups of families and hunted in specific areas. The Cross River Kutchin also hunted lynx in the latter part of fall into winter . The Cree, Chipewyan and Métis of Wood Buffalo National Park began the lynx trapping season when rivers and lakes froze; the trappers left the community and returned in late December . The Mistissini Cree hunted lynx in autumn and winter . Omushkego Cree men and female heads of homes without adult men usually trapped lynx from October to March . During winter, the lynx confined itself to a particular area of the land, but wandered during the spring mating season. In order to get the lynx to stay closer to camp in March and April, a hunter usually wrapped a scented rag on his snowshoes so that the lynx followed his footsteps near camp .
Lynx were usually trapped with baited snares. Kaska used a babiche (semi-tanned hide) snare placed in the middle of a semicircle of poles that were driven into the ground . The Tahltan used two forms of snares. One was a tossing pole with rabbit skin rubbed with castoreum attached to the tip. This snare was put in front of a corral of small sticks. The other type of snare was tied to a very long sapling trunk placed on a rabbit trail where lynx are often found . The Ingalik used tether snares . The Eyak used snares attached to bushes .
The Plains Cree of Saskatchewan used a snare consisting of a noose made of twisted deer hide, which was hung from a tree. The bait was strategically located near a fencing of little sticks so that the only way that lynx could get to the bait was through the noose . The Mistissini Cree used two types of baited snares with nooses. One was a stationary snare, which consisted of two poles driven into the ground. A crossbar with a noose in the centre was attached to the poles near the top of each pole. In order for the lynx to get the bait, it had to pass its head through the noose. The other type was the spring-pole snare.
The Tahltan used hide snares connected to tossing poles; the snares were positioned along paths or locales where rabbits hunted . In earlier times, Yukon peoples including the Tutchone, Tagish and Tlingit trapped lynx using deadfalls or babiche snares, however traps or wire snares replaced these later. One of the snares was the toss pole snare, which consisted of a noose 12 inches from the ground, held in place at each end by a twig. An older type of snare was the drag pole snare, which was placed at the opening of a brush enclosure or a tree trunk. The bait used for these older snares was a piece of rabbit or squirrel skin to which beaver castor was applied .
Other cultures that used snares included the Interior Salish of British Columbia, Gitksan (Gitxsan), Ahtna and Cree, Chipewyan and Métis of Wood Buffalo National Park [21, 25, 38, 39].
For the more modern wire snares, the bait consisted of fish tails, grouse feathers and coloured bits of wax paper. More recently, hunters used a commercial scent to treat their bait, but the majority still favored beaver castor . In more recent times, steel traps have been used [6, 36].Younger hunters often used commercial number 3 steel traps; even though the number 2 trap is strong enough to catch a lynx, the stronger and bigger number 3 trap was usually used in case a wolverine was captured instead. Before use, the snares and traps were soaked in lake water in fall to “cure” them. They were usually placed along the corners of willow patches. The Mistissini Cree also used lynx traps: flesh from a hare or sometimes the hare’s head was used as bait .
Lynx were also captured with pitfalls and deadfalls. The Spokane used pitfalls and deadfalls to catch lynx; the Kalispel, Kotzebue Sound Inupiat and Lillooet reportedly used only deadfalls to hunt lynx [17, 32, 40-42]. Ahtna also used a deadfall to capture lynx . The Okanagan used a snare of a heavy four-foot long pole with a heavy load at one end and bait on the other; the pole would hit the lynx on its head when it took the bait .
The Kaska cooked lynx for immediate use and also preserved it. The main method of preparation was boiling. It was boiled twice and the water from the first boiling was thrown away. After the meat had been boiled a second time, the water from the second boiling was used as a stock to make soup. Onion greens or the blood of animals was mixed with the stock, which was used as an after-meal tea. Hot stones, retrieved from ashes and the dirt blown, off were used to boil water. Water was put into a basket made from tightly woven split spruce roots, which was then put on the ground above the hot stones. Another method used to boil water was to dig a pit, and then line it with hide, or at times, grass. Hot stones, which served as the source of heat, were put on top. Spruce bark was used to cover the top of the pit in order to maintain the steam. The meat would be sliced into tiny pieces and dropped into the boiling water. Women served the meat directly on fresh poplar, the bark of birch and in dishes made of birch and solid wood. They used cutlery such as bone knives and spoons made of wood or sheep horn. Women preserved the meat by drying it in the sun in late September and October . The Gitksan would skin and smoke lynx meat .
Lynx meat was described as light in color and similar to rabbit meat in taste . Lynx flesh was regarded as “good meat” by the Fort Nelson Slave (Dene) ; the Mistissini Cree considered lynx “excellent eating” . The Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Conne River, Newfoundland reported that baked lynx tasted similar to rabbit . The Upper Tanana of Alaska greatly valued lynx fat for cooking .
It is reported that a typical live weight of a lynx is 17 pounds, of which 6.8 pounds is edible .
Uses other than food
Many cultures used lynx pelt for clothing and other essentials. In fact, many of these cultures primarily hunted lynx for the pelt and only consumed lynx when other food sources were unavailable. These cultures include the Kootenai, Lillooet, Koyukon, Tahltan, Inupiat, Chipewyan, Red Earth Cree of Saskatchewan, The James Bay Cree and the Waswanipi Cree of Quebec and Micmac of Conne River, Newfoundland [7-12, 15-17, 19]. Tahltan of the Skitine Plateau, Bella Coola, and Micmac of Richibucto also trapped lynx for its fur [46, 47, 49]. The Tahltan used the hide to make clothing such as robes and headgear .
In addition to consuming lynx, the Nicola of interior British Columbia used the animal as bait when hunting other animals such as deer and mountain sheep .
Prior to the 1900s, lynx fur was preferred for making fine clothes because it is warm and light. In the early 1900s, the principal purpose for trapping lynx was the commercial fur trade .
Lynx played a very important part of the Vanta Kutchin economy: the fur trade in the early 1900s was vibrant, but slowed down later as lynx became scarce [13, 14].
Beliefs and taboos
A Tahltan legend describes the lynx having sexual relations with a woman. As a result, there were certain rules to follow in treating the lynx and in eating different parts of its carcass . The Ahtna had several rituals connected with all furbearers, including the lynx. It was taboo to bring the meat and hide of the lynx through a door; rather, it was carried though a smoke hole (or, in later times, through a window). Before the lynx pelt had been dried, it was to be kept isolated. Also, any bones and flesh of the lynx that had not been consumed by humans were to be burned .
The Tutchone, Tagish and Tlingit all associate the lynx with the more malevolent animal spirits. It is thought that this is the reason they do not use the lynx on their crests. The Tagish believe that the lynx brings the north wind. During mating season, Tagish hunters occasionally call the lynx in order to bring them closer to camp. However, they believe that by doing so, they might run the risk of bringing the north wind. The Tagish and Inland Tlingit consider the lynx a very powerful animal spirit with the potential for harming humans. Its spirit is believed to be an animal spirit, which “sneaks around inside you”. They believe that it can possess a human and force him/her to perform evil or dangerous acts. Because of these associations, they follow certain precautions when skinning it. For instance, it is considered best practice to skin it at the location where it is captured. However, if it is frozen and has to be thawed out at camp, it must be skinned before the trapper goes to bed. If tradition is broken, any misfortune incurred to the hunter will be ascribed to this. A story is told of a Tagish man who did not skin a lynx before going to bed. He let it thaw overnight with its eyes frozen open. In the course of the night, his wife had a dream in which she saw the animal’s eyes gaze at her. She suffered a miscarriage two days later. It was thought that if tradition had been followed, the miscarriage would not have occurred. When killing a lynx, it is recommended that one apologize to the lynx and refer to him as “grandfather” .
Bobcat is reported to have been used by the Spokane, Coast Salish and Kalispel. The Spokane especially cherished its pelt, but also used the flesh to supplement food stores . Bobcats were scarce in the Kalispel region, however it is documented that they consumed it and used the pelt to make clothes . The Spokane hunted bobcats in winter using pitfalls and deadfalls . The Coast Salish used traps to hunt bobcat .
Indigenous Peoples of Puget Sound were reported to have eaten ‘wildcat’ meat and used ‘wildcat’ fur to make clothing, which likely refers to bobcats. Wildcats were considered one of the tamahnous (black magic) animals . The Stalo, Middle Columbia River Salish and Gulf of George Salish also were reported to consume wildcat on occasion [39, 53, 54]. Some Coast Salish found wildcat flesh inedible, while others consumed them when available: they did not purposefully hunt wildcat, but caught them should they be encountered . The Spokane actively hunted wildcat . The Salish used snares; the Spokane used deadfalls and pitfalls stationed along game trails [39, 42].
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