Bonus Bobcats - Part I
If you've been paying attention to fur prices at all, you've noticed the prices being paid for bobcat pelts the last few years. It seems that cats from all sections of the country are in demand, and price advances have made it possible for some trappers to operate in the black for the first time in recent memory. Being in a business that caters to many canine and cat trappers, we see and hear of the increased activity and focus on these valuable animals.

Some people focus mainly on the cats, and who can blame them? They're easier to catch than canines, at least when you factor in set construction, clean traps, etc. And they're a joy to handle, compared to coyotes. When a good western cat (or 'lynx cat' in some people's vocabulary) is worth 15 or 20 coyotes from the same section, it only makes sense that cats would be a main target animal for many people, providing they have access to them.

At one time in my life I was no exception, and I spent more than a few winters where my mind was so focused on cats that I actually dreamt about finding their tracks. Predator control budgets can be stretched to the breaking point at times, and as a predator trapper I opted to pursue cats for a few months during several winters, without pay, to ease my employers' financial strain. During those months my living was made completely from the sale of fur. Sure, coyotes were welcome, but a cat worth a couple hundred bucks paid a lot of bills for my young family.

I talk with some of today's most successful trappers on a regular basis, and I have noticed one trend that can't be overlooked when comparing season catches and overall success. And that is the plain and simple fact that some good canine (mostly coyote) trappers catch as many or more cats as many people who target cats specifically. Sure, there are lots of factors, like the amount of equipment run and the amount of country covered. But let's compare those factors.

Expenses are a huge factor for serious trappers. I've told many people who are excited about current cat prices, what I've spent per cat some seasons, and it blows their minds. Coyotes aren't a whole lot different, at least where I've trapped, and the miles driven per coyote stretch the profit margin to the limit. If you happen to live in an area that has a decent population of cats and/or coyotes, and relatively few miles between them, consider yourself lucky. Some good wages can be made in those areas, if things are planned out right, and if the pieces fall in place. I'm sure some of you will target cats once again this season, but let's take a look at why coyote trapping can produce cats in numbers, too.

Cats are predators, plain and simple. They need to eat meat to live. With the exception of breeding season and some migration movements, their life revolves around food, and the cover that holds it. We all know that rabbits are a main prey for them, but so are birds, deer, and antelope. Rodents are a factor, too, and depending on the area might even be a main source of protein at times. Cover that holds bobcats will also be an area of interest to canines, for the same reason.
Bobcats will hunt the edge of cover, or slightly in from the edge, sooner or later. At a lot of these edges there is also a prime spot for a canine set, especially if there is decent access to it. The spot doesn't really have to say "cat" to you when you set it up for canines, but there are times you just get that feeling that a cat would have to hit a certain spot if one is in the area.

I well remember my move to eastern Montana from the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming over 20 years ago. Northwest Wyoming is 'cat structure deluxe' (but with relatively few cats) - it has lots of rock structure, creek drainages, and cedar ridges. Good cat locations almost screamed at you to come and take a look, and there was almost always evidence of other trappers who thought the same thing I did. I got into a routine of what to look for when scouting and setting for cats, and was pretty successful at it.

When I moved to Montana, I was surprised at the lack of rocky ridges, cedar breaks, and locations that stood out like a sore thumb. I was focused on coyotes and fox for the most part, but the $100 cats at the time bought a lot of gas for more trapping, so I set up every track I came across. It didn't take long for me to notice that some of these cats, usually big toms, got caught in coyote locations before they ventured back through the spots that I considered "the" cat location in the area. I also took some huge bonus cats in trail snares that first winter, and I started to see a pattern develop.

For the most part, my coyote trail snaring was in deep draws and large drainages, mainly because that is where the cover (usually sagebrush/grass) was high and dense enough to show trails through it with any regularity. At times I walked a mile or more up these drainages, setting snares at every opportunity. Areas of dense cover that stretched across the entire width of the draw got a close look, and snares were placed in any and all trails that were narrowed down to a suitable 'gap'. At times 4-5 snares were within sight of each other, and that was fine with me, as I always tend to set heavy anyway. By picking these choice spots I not only took advantage of animals traveling up the draw, but also the ones that were hunting the cover across the draw.

Again, a pattern developed, and I started to notice where I caught cats in these 'coyote' snares. I saw time after time that I would catch coyotes in just about any type of gap in decent cover, and anywhere along the length of the draw. But more often than not, the cats showed up where there was another factor, like a ridge or two coming together at the edge of the drainage, or where a smaller draw or creek came into it. I back tracked numerous snared cats, and found that the traveling felines had hit the drainage while following some other edge or structure, and then simply changed directions on a different trail or vegetation change. At times they would follow their new route for several hundred yards or longer, and I would have a chance at them.

In the next issue I'll describe other cat locations I discovered while coyote trapping.