A Missed Cat
A buddy of mine from northwest Wyoming called me this past winter. He’d missed a bobcat in two snares the day before, and was looking for some advice.

He had several years of snaring experience, dating back to the late 1980s. He had trapped at the end of the first fur boom, and had enjoyed selling coyotes and cats, along with impressive catches of coon, for high prices, until it all came to an abrupt end. He had gotten away from trapping for a while, but I know it was always on his mind.

He called me not too many years ago, and announced that he now had time to trap and snare semi-seriously again. I told him that I was happy for him. I also offered any help and refreshing that he might need, including information on some of the new things that had come along.

One of these was snaring methods, and when he said saying he needed some help, I had go over in my mind what he had probably encountered the previous day, when a cat had somehow narrowly missed getting caught in a snare. I had a list of questions in my mind already. The first was, “Were you after cats there, or were you setting for coyotes, and the cat just showed up?”

He said he’d seen cats tracks go through that spot earlier, so he’d put snares in strategic spots, and had been waiting for one to return.

I proceeded with a bunch of additional questions, all of which I’ve found to be factors when snaring for coyotes and cats, in brush or trail-type snaring.

“Was it open cover, or fairly heavy?” His response to that question would set the stage in my mind, as I’m very familiar with the country he was snaring in, and the different types of locations he’d be setting.

He replied, “In a fairly wide draw with some junipers.”

We both knew from experience that snaring for predators in cedar or juniper draws can be very productive here in the West. Rabbits, packrats, gamebirds, and other prey live in cedar draws at times, and they’re also a corridor of cover for coyotes to move through a piece of terrain. They’ll take advantage of the slightly lower terrain where the cedars or junipers are usually in a draw for added concealment.

I then asked him if he’d been able to find a tight gap between two junipers. Was it simply a trail through the grass, or one of a dozen other choices you’d have as potential spots to place a snare?

He said it was a spot where two junipers grew close together, making an ideal narrow gap.

That puzzled me a bit, as those are usually fairly high percentage places, but I’ve personally been through this at least a thousand times in my life. I wanted to go through all the possible reasons that had led to him missing a valuable Wyoming bobcat.

The next thing that came to mind was the size of his snare cable. He told me it was 5/64-inch, which we’ve both agreed over the years to be a great all around cable size for brush and trail snaring.

We talked a little about how using a lighter cable, such as 1/16, usually produced fewer refusals, especially for cats. It’s a no-brainer that lighter cable is easier to conceal and less visible overall. Coyotes refuse plenty of snares, especially in light cover, but the refusal rate is magnified when targeting cats at times.

It’s general knowledge that, by their nature, cats simply hunt and navigate in their travels differently than coyotes do. You rarely see a cat running, unless spooked, or maybe chasing a possible supper. They seem to travel and hunt methodically and intentionally, and often don’t seem to vary from their intended path. Their track spacing shows this, and sometimes they will pause to survey the situation, or cover. I’ve found many times where a bobcat has sat and looked at a snare that wasn’t concealed properly.

Cats aren’t overly smart by nature, but at times they seem to shy away from certain things that don’t look right; and at times they’re just plain lucky. They seem to follow the same basic trails and patterns through cover, and since my buddy mentioned that he’d spotted a set of tracks going through that exact spot earlier, I knew that he was on location.

I mentioned, in that scenario, that where both ideal gaps and sign come in to play, multiple snares aren’t a bad idea. He told me he’d placed several snares in likely spots in the general vicinity, but the cat had only walked through where two were placed. He was second-guessing his choice of locations. I told him, in my opinion, that didn’t mean he was off location, and to not move those snares!

Bobcats can be like that at times; I’ve seen their tracks veer off course, apparently distracted or intrigued by something else, only feet away from snares. The misses that result can make you scratch your head at times, but it’s also an opportunity to learn.

So many times when hanging snares for predators, I’ve gotten in the habit of only setting good, natural type gaps that also have sign in them, even if the sign is old. Setting up a snare location is easy if there’s snow on the ground, and the animals have been on the move. This type of setting is productive, as you’re essentially setting the high percentage places, which typically produce the bulk of the predators. But it’s easy to be fooled, and to get a little lazy or complacent, and find yourself not setting the area up as heavy as you should. You have to take into account if the snow has been on very long, or if the area is muddy enough to show tracks, or maybe dusty in the early season.

Sign is sign, and sign doesn’t lie, but when you’re setting up a good location with snares, it’s smart to set at least a few extra spots that don’t show fresh sign at first glance. My reasoning for this is simple, and I learned it the hard way.
I’m sure the bulk of coyotes and cats travel the same basic routes, and will readily follow each other’s tracks. Many times I’ve seen where cats were stepping exactly in another cat’s tracks, or even in a coyote track, especially if there are a few inches or more of snow on the ground. And coyotes will follow cat tracks readily. They might travel a fair distance this way, and it’s a sure-fire spot if you can find where multiple tracks goes through a tight enough spot to place snares.

Some trails show a multitude of tracks, from both directions, and those are a snare man’s dream. Unless something drastic happens, or the location gets blown full of snow, it’s a good bet that they will be back.

Along with sign, there are other ways to pick suitable spots. Some are obvious and jump out at you, like a recognizable trail through some brush or tall grass, as I mentioned before. Other spots might be an edge of thick cover, or the edge of a piece of rim rock. These spots should get set up also, sign or no sign, if you know there are cats or coyotes working through the area. Some spots have a hard edge that makes a wall-type effect where critters, especially cats, will hug and follow. Sometimes tracking is fairly easy in these spots, and even one track, or a partial track, is all it takes to prompt you to set a snare.

I’m not big on making barricade for outside blocking, unless it’s something already at the spot naturally. I target coyotes, and consider cats an incidental catch. I know coyotes will shy away from things that are too obviously placed there, unless given some time to get used to it.

If you’re primarily setting for cats, a top from a downed tree, or limb placed so the smaller branches form a workable gap, can be used. I’ve had the best luck placing the limb at a slight angle, to kind of funnel the animal into the snare. I’ve always been a big advocate of preseason scouting and location preparation, and if you can get some of these spots made early, so much the better.

My reasoning for using some of these secondary places is that many animals work a snare location or piece of cover differently at times. Some will stay on the trails, while a fairly high percentage simply meander or weave through a piece of cover, almost randomly, while hunting.

I asked my buddy, “How high off the ground was the bottom of the loop?”

“About 8 inches,” he said, which by all rights is about perfect for cats in most cases, although a little low for coyotes. In tight cover, I’ve caught a pile of coyotes in snares set lower than my preferred height of 10 inches off the ground. The reason is, I think, that they’re naturally crouching, or hunting through the cover, as opposed to travelling faster in light brush or grassy trail situations. My buddy had set for cats, and had compensated for it. Even big toms will get snared at that height, along with the bulk of the smaller cats.
We talked a bit about whether his snares were spray painted or not. I mentioned that I’d gone to spray painting all my snares the last several years. After a short few minutes in baking soda and water, followed by a good rinse and then left to dry, they’re ready for paint.

I buy a few different colors of flat “camo” paint, and apply a few coats. I even use two colors on some, to help break up the outline. I prefer a dark tan and sage, as those suit my area the best.

After we talked about having snares blend in as best as possible, we talked about how the snares had been supported. I was taking into account that he’d started snaring back when it was common to use a piece of 14-gauge wire, doubled, to wrap or weave around vegetation like a low juniper limb, with a short pigtail of wire the last several inches to secure the snare in the intended spot. Granted, a pile of coyotes, bobcats, and other animals have been caught that way, but snaring has evolved a lot in the last 20 years. I wanted to make darn sure my friend was aware of an important component of modern snaring.

I asked him if he was using snare supports. Supports ensure that loops are hanging free and are not easily affected by wind or snow on the limbs, which can naturally lower the height of the snare.

He said he was using the same set up I’d shown him: a 30-inch piece of ¼-inch, cold rolled steel, with 20 inches of 11- gauge wire welded to the top. He really loved these, and he expounded on how their use had greatly increased his options of places to hang snares, as it didn’t require substantial brush or vegetation.

I also pointed out that with the loops being held solidly in place, he would notice, over time, far fewer cases of animals pushing or shouldering snares out of the way. This was what we determined probably happened, causing the cat to miss getting caught in two snares in the matter of a few yards.

I made my buddy feel a little better when I mentioned that I’d also had a cat go through a patch of cover the day before, successfully avoiding being caught in several coyote snares. It had simply maneuvered through the 100-yard stretch of heavy sagebrush differently than most coyotes would. When it finally got to a snare that the bottom of the loop was almost 11 inches from the ground, the tracks in the snow showed it had simply ducked under it.

I wanted to boost my friend’s confidence and tell him sometimes things just happen, and he was on the right track.

“Just keep setting,” were my final words.

He did exactly that. A week or so later I got a picture of a beautiful tom on my phone. He’d scored on what he believed was the same cat.

I texted him a thumbs up.