Bobcat Thoughts
Each season trappers all over North America take advantage of the legal harvest of bobcats. They vary in size and appearance a lot, with each region having a different type of cat, and in some areas they are not a top dollar item. But in may places the prices paid for bobcat pelts are at the top of the list. Kansas cats bringing $100 makes them attractive to trappers in that part of the country, especially when compared to current prices for commercial type coyotes. Luckily, good combination coyote and cat trapping can be achieved given the right conditions, and the higher prices paid for cats will help offset the large expenditures associated with putting together a good coyote catch.

Being in the lure and supply business, I get the opportunity to talk to trappers from various regions across the continent throughout the year. Some are longliners from Nevada, Wyoming, or another western state, who are getting prepared for another long season of harvesting high dollar pelts. If you are following the fur market at all, you are aware that these western cats are currently very sought after. Top prices that allow $300-$400 averages have been common the last several years, and trappers all over the western states have been taking advantage of it. I see it in our mail order business, as well as at the conventions. The NTA Western Regional convention this past summer was an example. Trappers from all over the country attended this great gathering hosted by the Wyoming Trappers Association, and there's no doubt in my mind that bobcats were the driving force. Sure, there were demos, supplies, and conversations dealing with other furbearers. But when you talked to people about what they were planning for the season, I saw a real trend towards making the best use of their vacation time and gas money by chasing cats.

Every state seems to have its little quirks or differences in regulations, and it's almost mind boggling trying to keep up with them. (I still try) Some states have a per-trapper cat limit; some have regional quotas, with the region closed when a target number is reached; some have no limit, no quota, and a fairly long season. For some people, like in the eastern U.S., it might be one cat tag, and it may be only available every few years. Some states require turning in the jaw, or the skull, or in some cases the entire carcass, when tagging the fur with a CITIES tag. These biological specimens are studied and analyzed for a variety of reasons, but age, sex, and distribution are the common reasons I hear the most.

If all of the state's requirements are met, the CITIES tag provided make, it legal to transport or export, or in other words sell, the pelt. CITIES tags and records were designed as a way to document exporting cats, but every state seems to put its own twist on how the tags are given, so it's advisable to check with the state you live in, or trap in if you move around during the season.

Some states require that you call an 800 number to verify the capture, so the catch can be recorded and taken off a previously determined quota. Other states collect the data when tagging, and at least one state allows furbuyers to tag the cats as they buy them.

In any event, cats are closely monitored, and being within the law is very important. In recent years there have been a good many game and fish agency cases involving cats and their interstate transport. When a cat leaves a state it better be legal, as once it crosses a state line it then falls under the Lacey Act, which places it under federal jurisdiction. From what we've seen over the last few years, that level of the law is something none of us wants to deal with. So in other words, be legal.

For the most part, cats are fairly easy to catch. They don't shy away from human smell or sign much, but being a coyote trapper, I still try to be as careful as possible when making cat sets. Good cat locations will be visited by coyotes at times throughout the winter, and having your chains buried, and a lack of your tracks in the snow, will help pick up a few of them too.
Here again, I think a lot about what I hear from cat trappers from other locales. In some areas, baited bucket sets take a large percentage of the cats. On other peoples' traplines they're a welcome bonus to their marten and fisher sets. They seem to frequent the same type of terrain, and I hear lots of stories about cats caught in sets placed "under a large spruce tree at the end of a beaver dam." A chunk of beaver meat and a good shot of a skunky lure smeared on a branch above did the trick.
Lots of cats are taken in cage traps too, and even though cage trapping for cats with cages designed specifically for them has expanded greatly over the last several years, I would bet more are still caught on a yearly basis by accident in cages set for coon, just because of the volume of these sets made. Some states require cage traps only, and we see some truly great pictures of their use throughout the year in photos from friends and customers. Cats will readily enter cages set properly, and some western trappers are making good wages by learning the ins and outs and dos and don'ts of these traps.

Snaring bobcats has also been a common harvest method for years now. Back in the late 70s, we saw pictures of catches of 200-plus 'cats in the Gregerson Snare ads. It really fueled the fire for cat snaring─and coyote snaring. Keith Gregerson himself was going to as many as 24 conventions a year back in those days, and teaching people how to properly 'hang' a snare, pick locations, and harvest numbers of animals. He worked hard at putting to rest some of the inaccurate info being passed around in those days. He was the first person to come out with a cat snaring game plan─and it was free.

Fast forward 30 years, and about the only thing that has changed as far as the actual snaring is concerned, is faster dispatching with more efficient lock/spring combinations, and more evolved loop support systems. Still, the 1/16-inch, 7x7 cable that Gregerson so staunchly promoted as the best cat snaring cable in the late 70s still gets my vote today as No. 1.

Politics and cat management have changed a lot, too. Keith and his wife, Lois, trapped all over eastern Montana and Wyoming. Road trapping and culvert snaring were just one of the ways they caught such large numbers. They sold their 'cats at the end of the season, (whenever they decided to quit), and went on with other ventures. No tagging, no calling in, and no district quotas. Cat numbers were high, and they took advantage of it.

I remember well a conversation I had with a rancher friend, while we were going down a road that ran along a creek on his place. The area had the right combination of sage, cottonwoods, and junipers to look really catty. I had checked the spot out several years in a row, and had snared a few coyotes there, but I never caught a cat.

As we were driving by an exceptionally large cottonwood tree on a large bend in the creek, my friend said, "I took 24 cats one year under that tree." The look on my face must have amused him, as he said, "I wasn't even trying for them. I kept a trap or two set there for coyotes when I used to run some sheep." Our conversation turned to bobcats, and how their numbers had exploded in the wake of the old poison and 1080 days. Stories of how "Two or three of us would walk up a creek and shoot cats like they were rabbits" filled the rest of the trip that afternoon. The main question that came to my mind was, What did they all eat? This area of Montana isn't really blessed with much cat food most years. That tree stuck in my mind over the years, and it still would be a good location if a cat ventured there.

In any event, bobcats from all parts of the continent are sought after. The trim end of the garment industry takes in a large percentage, and I think we've all seen some of the complete garments made from the top end cats produced from some of the western regions. I'm amazed at the number of cats that are sold into the taxidermy trade each year, and if I had to I'd be the first in line to sell them into that niche. Cats are not a top dollar fur in some places, but they do make attractive, striking mounts, and a tanned bobcat pelt of even lesser quality still has that certain allure or exotic look about it, and many a pelt finds its way into peoples' living rooms and dens. They catch peoples' eyes, and I know I enjoy looking at the varieties from other places.

Whatever the attraction, trappers and snare men from all over will be actively pursuing cats this season. If you trap in an area where they exist, being able to harvest them is truly an opportunity you should take advantage of. I know I will.