As bobcat populations increase, these predators are moving into agricultural areas for their next easy meal. Here’s how to catch them.
BY JOHN MURRAY
Across much of the United States, visual sightings of bobcat have dramatically increased. People are seeing, and documenting bobcats in areas where they were previously considered to be nonexistent. Perhaps some people are becoming more visually acute to sight a bobcat, but in fact, the bobcat population is growing, and spreading into other areas.
The population increase of bobcats has not gone unnoticed by fish and game departments across the country, and southern Canada as well. Wildlife biologists have confirmed that bobcat numbers are most definitely on the rise in approximately forty states, with the only exception of population decline occurring in Florida. At this time, the state of Delaware is not considered to have a resident population of bobcats. Recent North American estimates of bobcat populations are considered to be nearly three million bobcats throughout the United States, northern Mexico and southern Canada.
A recent article in the respected Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management confirmed the rise in bobcat populations. In depth research by Dr. Nathan Roberts of Cornell University and Dr. Shawn Crimmins of the University of Montana resulted in indisputable evidence of large-scale population increases of bobcat in North America.
This population increase is linked to being able to successfully adapt to environmental changes created by man, and by the ingrained biology of the bobcat. The changing weather patterns suspected to be caused by global warming might be a reason for the migration of bobcats further into southern Canada. Hunting bobcats are hampered by deep snow, but in years with less snow accumulations, the bobcat is now thriving in these areas that used to be inhospitable.
As the bobcat continues to spread into areas that previously did not have populations of bobcat, the bobcat rapidly fills the vacant void. Considered to be a density dependent breeder, the bobcat produces larger litters of young in areas that have ample food sources. Unlike the Lynx that preys primarily on snowshoe hare, the bobcat is an opportunist when it relates to feeding. Nearly every fur or feathered animal in the ecosystem of the bobcat is on the menu.
For a bobcat living in a rural farmland environment, domestic farm animals are added to the menu. Bobcats will not pass up an opportunity to harvest a sheep or a young calf, should either of these animals venture too close to brushy hedgerows or field edges where the bobcat lies in ambush. In some states, bobcats are suspected to perform more livestock predation than coyotes.
Once considered a rarely seen phantom that resided on the elevated tops of mountains and within thick cedar swamps, the bobcat is part of the mythology of Native Americans. It is creature that never made a sound when moving and it would mysteriously appear out of nowhere. Bobcats are still considered animals that are only viewed by a lucky few.
Most people would be surprised to find that bobcats have a robust resident population within their areas. In recent years within many states, the bobcat population has grown progressively larger. Along with rare sightings, bobcat sign is especially hard to find. On a snow-less landscape, it is nearly impossible to locate the track of a bobcat. The lack of tracks is attributed to the fact that the bobcat’s foot, even though it is large, is mostly fur covered and does not leave a very clear print, if any at all, in most instances.
The bobcat, scientifically referred to as lynx rufus, is composed of thirteen different subspecies across North America. It is living with us and is migrating to other areas that were once considered undesirable habitat. The bobcat is an opportunist and has determined that there is an ample food supply within farmlands. These crops attract rabbits, woodchucks, mice and various species of birds. Domesticated animals such as chickens, ducks, and geese are common and these are bonus prey for bobcats. Grazing animals such as goats and sheep are taken and recent estimates indicate that nearly eleven thousand sheep are killed each year by bobcats.
Land trappers targeting fox, coyotes and raccoons occasionally catch bobcats in farm country. Usually the set that captures most of the incidental bobcats is the common dirt-hole set. Without a doubt, there is a lot of luck involved in capturing a random bobcat in a dirt-hole set when trapping for other species. The dirt-hole set primarily works by drawing an animal to the set location by the scent of bait. Once the animal is in close proximity, there is a visual attraction with the hole that has been dug within the ground. This is why this is an effective set for animals with a very good sense of smell such as fox and coyote. For canines, the nose is a big part of hunting. Raccoons also have a decent sense of smell and are drawn to this dirt-hole set also.
Harness the Wind
A bobcat is a visually orientated predator who hunts by sight. The bobcat has acute vision. It makes visual contact with the prey, then stalks and ambushes for the kill. It has a poor sense of smell as compared to canines. This is a very important aspect for the trapper who desires to have more than incidental catches of bobcat with fox and raccoon sets. The bobcat trapper must take advantage of the bobcat’s strong sense of sight. This is the primary key to the puzzle of becoming an efficient bobcat trapper. A visual attractor is mandatory to draw a bobcat to the trap set, and it must be an attractor that has the illusion of life through movement. This movement can be achieved by taking advantage of nature’s most common element, the wind. Within five to ten feet of the trap set, there must be a hanging visual attractor that will get the attention of any bobcat within the area. Natural items such as fur and feathers are exceptional for luring a bobcat towards a set.
A piece of dried fur or a few feathers tied to a piece of clear monofilament fishing line, and hung three to four feet off the ground will catch the sight of a bobcat as the fur or feather sways in the breeze. In some states, it is not legal to hang or utilize any part of an animal or bird. The trapper should check the local regulations before doing so. In part, this is done to protect any birds of prey that may be attracted to the visual lure. Never hang fur or feathers directly over the top of a set.
This technique is simply a visual draw to the location. If utilizing animal parts is not permitted, an artificial attractor is quite effective also. A narrow strip of cloth, approximately an inch wide by five to six inches in length works very well. The best colors are brown or white. A piece of aluminum foil about the same size as the cloth is another good attractor for the bobcat. Christmas tree tinsel tied in a sparse clump works just as well.
The bobcat trapper should get inventive and experiment to see what works best for a visual attractor. A cotton puffball attached to a narrow brown strip of cloth works well in areas that have dense rabbit populations. Once the bobcat is lured to the set location by the visual attractor, the bobcat trapper has accomplished the most important aspect.
Scout for Set Locations
Location is the next key to the bobcat-trapping puzzle. On farmland, the bobcat still possesses the stalk-and-ambush hunting tactic and for this tactic to be successful, it must conceal itself with available cover. The bobcat will stick to the edges of fields and up against the edges of wood lots and hedgerows that are in between the fields.
Fields that are separated by rows of old stonewalls that are surrounded on the sides by thick vegetation are especially good places for bobcats to hunt. Mice and rabbits will tuck themselves under these old piles of rocks.
Farmland ponds that have grown in edges of thick brush are another prime spot for a hunting bobcat. Deer will often have well worn trails between fields and bobcats utilize these deer trails for their routes of travel.
The Cubby Set
There are proven trap sets that readily attract and capture bobcats. The cubby set is probably the oldest trap set in the world. It works well for bobcat, as they have no problem going inside an enclosed space. When constructed up against a typical farmland stonewall, it is a perfect set. Rocks are readily available to construct it. Make a cubby set by piling rocks in the shape of box approximately 24 to 30 inches deep, 15 inches wide and 18 inches high. A roof is recommended and this can be made with either a couple of large flat rocks or with brush and branches laid over the top. A shallow trap bed is dug and a foothold trap is concealed just within the entrance. Fresh meat bait is placed at the back of the chubby. Bobcat attractor lure is placed on the top of the outside entrance. In areas that do not have an ample supply of rocks, the cubby set can also be constructed out of tree branches. These branches are pushed or pounded into the soil to build a cubby with the same dimensions of the rock version.
The Flat Set
A flat set will bring a bobcat in to investigate. The bones of farm animals are a great visual attraction at the flat set. This works best with the larger bones such as a leg bone, cow jaw or skull. About ten feet out from the edge of a field, the trapper should lay one of these bones on the ground. Approximately six inches from the bone, a trap bed is dug and the foothold trap is concealed with the soil from this hole, so that the concealed trap is level with the surrounding ground. Bobcat urine is poured or sprayed on the bone near the trap. Bobcats are normally solitary animals, so the smell of another bobcat’s urine, combined with the eye appeal of the bone is something that most bobcats cannot resist.
The Leaning Tree Set
The leaning tree set is another producer especially if there is a suitable leaning tree within five to ten yards of the edge of the field. Bobcats are excellent climbers and many will climb a tree to seize an unsuspecting roosting turkey. The beam of the tree must at least be twelve inches in diameter and with a desired trap height of approximately four to five feet. The optimum type of trap for this leaning tree is a 220-size body-grip trap (check the regulations to be certain this is permissible). Two sturdy sticks are nailed on each side of the beam of the tree and the springs of the trap are lowered over and in between these springs, holding the trap in place. A chain or cable is attached to the existing trap chain and securely fastened to the lower portion of the tree. Cut branches are tied to the top of the two side sticks to conceal the outline of the trap.
Approximately 18 inches further up the leaning tree, a bait, preferably a piece of a bird with some feathers still intact, or a piece of squirrel is wired to the tree. Whatever bait is chosen, it is important to place small branches over the top of the bait to hide it from birds. The trigger on the trap should be adjusted to the side of the trap to insure the bobcat gets far enough into the trap to insure a humane kill. Bobcat lure can also be placed near the bait.
Crazy for Catnip
The rub set incorporates the use of catnip as an attraction for the bobcat. Catnip is a natural herb, which produces an intoxicating reaction for some felines. Not all bobcats are attracted to catnip, but it has been estimated that perhaps as many as nearly one third will show an intense response to catnip. For some reason, male bobcats respond more strongly. No one is actually sure what triggers the chemical response in the brain towards catnip, but some bobcats have a tendency to rub up against it.
On a small tree that has a two to three-inch diameter, a sharp knife will be used to cut and scrape a six-inch section of bark, so that the brighter pulp of the tree is visible. This scrape will be 12 to 18 inches from the ground. For the scent attraction, oil of catnip, essence of catnip lure or ground leaves can be used. After exposure to air, catnip loses a considerable portion of it’s effectiveness. Adding the liquid or ground leaves of catnip to a odorless small blob of petroleum jelly will extend the life of the catnip scent. The blob of catnip-enhanced petroleum jelly also has good adhesion properties that helps it stay on the tree. Smear this blob of scent on the scraped portion of the small tree. On the ground below the scrape, dig a bed for the foothold trap eight inches from the base of the tree. Cover and conceal the trap so that it is level with the ground. Bobcats have big feet, so the choice of foothold trap will be a size two or three coil-spring trap. Pan pressure should be set at about three pounds of pressure. If the foothold trap is staked, choose a strong metal stake at least eighteen inches long and make sure it is securely planted into the ground. Staked foothold traps can be used within a field. If the trap set is within brush, some have the tendency to grab onto any tree nearby to try to power pull out of the trap. To avoid this, a five-foot chain and metal grapple drag can also be used in areas where the grapple will surely tangle on vegetation, allowing some movement initially, but preventing the bobcat from going far. When covering foothold traps with soil, the trapper should always utilize a dirt sifter to prevent small rocks and pieces of sticks from getting in between the trap jaws.
Targeting a bobcat on the trapline allows the trapper a chance to match wits with a predator that is considered by some to be the most efficient stalking hunter within portions of the United States. Combining the use of a visual attractor to catch the attention of the keen eye of the bobcat along with using proven bobcat trap sets is sure to result in success for the farmland bobcat trapper.