Andy's Tracks & Trails
Bucket List Bobcat
I used to think about what it would be like when I made it to retirement. It was very hard to project that far ahead, but one thing for certain, I was going to get out and spend more time on the trapline! I had always tried to make time for trapping while raising a family and working long hours. Some seasons, trapping meant hanging out with a friend on a weekend who had time to run some traps, or having a friend stop by with a “first of” trapline catch, and helping with skinning or fur put up. I wanted to do more trapping, but just didn’t have the time. So, in my mind a bucket list was created for some of those “must see or must do” activities, goals if you will, for the day that retirement arrived.
Photo 1 - Adult male bobcat. (right)
Well, retirement came faster than I ever thought it would. More time to spend with family and friends, fishing, hunting, and on the trapline. Remember the bucket list I mentioned? One of those bucket list items was to finally trap a Minnesota Bobcat. A large percentage of my trapping had always taken place right in the Metro area. Very few bobcats around. For me to get into decent bobcat country, I needed to travel a minimum of an hour or more north. I had never seen a bobcat in the wild, only crossed bobcat tracks on a few occasions, and had never set a trap for one before. I was definitely starting from scratch! So, here’s hoping that some of my experiences, successes and failures, help you to catch that first bobcat and take it off your bucket list!
To prepare for trapping a new species of furbearer, learn as much as possible about the furbearer prior to heading out in pursuit of it. Sounds pretty simple, right? Common sense approach, but often trappers don’t put in the time in preparation for targeting a new species. They come across a set of tracks or another sign of that new furbearer, and then decide to try and catch it.
Photos 2-3 Bobcat Tracks, sand and snow. (left & right)
Read all you can on the subject. Today’s numerous sources of information – books, videos, web sites, blogs, all give a wealth of information to the trapper that was not available just two or three decades ago. Don’t forget to check out the Minnesota Trapper’s Association web site for the Trappers Education Manual, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources web site for general descriptions, species range maps, and harvest data. These will give you an idea of where the bobcats are being taken in Minnesota, examples of tracks, recommended trap types and sizes, and common sets to use. I will also mention that I found the book, “Extreme Northern Bobcat Trapping and Snaring” by Rick Olson, to be especially relevant and helpful with learning about Minnesota Bobcats!
Another tip, just because an area has a high number of bobcats harvested there, it does not mean it is, “the place to go” for cats. Large expanses of territory not populated by bobcats may exist there, access or private property issues may abound, heavy hunting pressure with hounds or grouse hunters with dogs may make an area one to avoid, not to mention competition from the other trappers. Bobcats are where you find them!
One thing learned many years ago is that you can’t catch a targeted furbearer if they aren’t around, no matter how good your set is! Once you’ve set your sights on an area, confirm the presence of bobcats, in good numbers. A single-track crossing through an area over a month’s time doesn’t qualify as good bobcat country. I know some will say they have seen a bobcat in the Metro area. That may be true, but an occasional wandering bobcat does not make the area a good location to set a trapline for them. Multiple tracks in an area help to confirm a strong population.
Photo 4 – Multiple sets of Bobcat tracks, on frozen stream. (left)
Every year I get bobcat photos from friends captured on trail cameras. A single photo during the course of fall deer hunting preparation does not indicate a large population. If I’m told of many photos obtained, and multiple bobcats recognized from the photos, then I’m starting to get interested. Trail cameras can be a fantastic aid in confirming a population of bobcats in the target area though.
Once a target area has been established for trapping bobcats, many parts of that area will not be used to a great extent, by cats. Learn what type of “micro habitats” bobcats prefer to spend most of their time in. Concentrate your trapping efforts there. These can include hunting areas, cover and resting areas where cats go to ride out storms or get away from hounds, and travel ways.
On one of my early attempts at bobcat trapping, spotty snow cover showed a fair amount of bobcat sign in the area, crossing roads and trails. A few days later 4 inches of snow covered the ground, and hunters with hounds were patrolling the roads for cat crossings. I’d see multiple groups of hound hunters in the area every day, as well as hearing hounds actively working cats. Bobcat tracks, especially near the roads, virtually disappeared overnight. When disturbed, bobcats will move into some of the most inaccessible places in the area, and minimize their travel. Be prepared to go a long way from the roads and ATV trails to locate them!
Photos 5 & 6 – Trail camera scout photos. (below right & left)
One of the best ways to locate bobcats is to know their prey, and where to go to find it. In northern parts of Minnesota, bobcats are searching out good snowshoe hare habitat, grouse habitat, and certain times of the year, deer populations. I’ve always had good luck locating cat sign around beaver ponds, cedar swamps, young aspen growth areas, old bear bait areas, and frozen waterways, especially streams and rivers.
Photo 7 – Grouse tracks and droppings on drumming log. Good Bobcat hunting area. (left)
Photo 8 – District 6 Trapper Greg Leaf with large male Bobcat, from a Northern Cedar swamp. (right)
In central Minnesota, bobcats are hunting cottontail rabbits, pheasants and grouse, and now with their abundance, turkeys. I have followed bobcat tracks following turkey and grouse tracks for some distance in winter. While certainly capable of catching many other types of prey, these will be some of the most common. A large turkey will provide multiple meals for a bobcat.
Have an understanding how bobcats hunt! In some of my early failures, I’d find areas with bobcat tracks, and thick cover. I’d make my sets without considering the main way bobcats hunt – by sight! Some trap locations were in such thick cover, a cat would have to, by luck, wander within 3 feet of my set to find it. Many good opportunities were missed because the cats weren’t seeing my sets. When making a set in thick cover, try to have a visual lane or two that will let your set and flagging be visible for some distance. This will increase your odds of a visit, and hopefully, a catch.
Speaking of flagging, many types will be effective: feathers, small bits of fur, cd’s, tinsel/garland, ornaments. Make sure what you use to attach your flagging to the overhanging branch or limb is strong enough to stand up to wet snowfall, strong winds, and stiff enough to avoid entanglement. A piece of flagging all wrapped up around a branch or sitting on the ground covered in snow is not much of a visual attractor. Experiment with different types and see what types work best for you!
Photo 9 – Flagging near set. (left)
Methods of trapping. Try and use all of them, and work on the ones you haven’t had success with. It will make you a better trapper. My first venture at bobcat trapping was on weekends when I could stay at a friend’s hunting shack. Foot traps along trails, foot traps guarding cubbies with bait, and foot traps with a nearby visual attractor were used. I had a low population of bobcat to work with, and sub-par equipment; slightly beefed-up fox traps. Several near misses occurred and one catch, a large bobcat, was lost because I allowed it to reach a nearby tree for leverage to power out of the smaller trap.
The limited time and long distance I had to travel to trap bobcats led me to use body grip methods. I tried natural cubby locations, and many different types of homemade cubbies, with bait. I relied heavily on long distance call lures, beaver castor and bobcat lures at the cubby. I experimented with a variety of flagging, near the set, at the set, and behind the set. For what it’s worth, I now prefer a flagging that easily moves in the wind, within 6 feet of my cubby, and a non-moving visual attractor directly at the cubby. Get the bobcat close to my set, then switch its focus to my cubby and bait.
Photo 10 – Bobcat before snow arrives. (right)
Using body grippers for bobcats always brings up talk about the type of trigger system used. My first catch came from a bottom centered wire trigger in a wishbone shape. No modified pan. Worked just fine and gave the cubby a very “open” look to it. Other times I have had success with a straight bottom trigger wire, pushed all the way to one side, or a “T” shaped trigger system, again placed center bottom. I placed hollow weed stems on the trigger wire to hide the metal trigger. That also worked. I have also caught bobcat with the popular modified, wooden trigger pan. It works, but I do think at times it reduces the open area of the cubby, possibly causing some cats to shy away from entering. A wire trigger makes the cubby look more open. See what works best for you.
Photo 11 – Bobcat catch with body grip and wood pan. (left)
A few years ago, at one set, I noticed how an approaching bobcat would be likely to move between some upturned tree roots, and another tree, if approaching my cubby. After two empty trap checks, plans were made to stay at a friend’s trailer and maintain the sets over the weekend. I placed a snare in this spot, a 3/32, 7 X7 coyote snare. Just before I left the set location, I looked back at the snare and decided to raise the level, and narrow the loop. The following day showed that the snare was the way to go, and that by slightly raising the snare and narrowing the loop, I caught my largest bobcat to date, a mature 44# male. I do now prefer a smaller lighter snare for bobcats. Don’t forget to have a breakaway device on all snares set on land.
Photo 12 – District 6 Trapper Fran Satnik with a large male Bobcat. (right)
I’ve also purchased and set a number of live traps for bobcat. I am still experimenting with a variety of methods, baits, and attractors, but to date, have not been successful. I’ll keep working with this until I am able to figure things out and catch cats. Why would I use a live trap for bobcats? They would allow me to set some places closer to roads and trails, and not worry about hunting dogs. I also like the idea of being able to release a fisher if caught after the season has closed.
Bobcat like fresh bait. When baiting cubbies, I have tried many different things. Whole muskrat (heavily damaged by mink so not salvageable) skinned muskrat, rabbit, squirrel, partial chickens, a taxidermy Hungarian Partridge, venison scraps, and beaver. No question, fresh beaver, or beaver with beaver fleshings, always seem to work best. In very cold weather, beaver meat can also “dry out” and not give off much odor. I will toss fresh beaver fleshings onto my bait, and it will give it a stronger odor. I’ve often filled containers with beaver fleshing when putting up pelts, and place into a freezer until the season opens. It consistently gets the most visits and catches for me! Give it a try, and keep using fresh bait at your sets.
When making a set, take the time to anchor the set properly. If using body grip traps, tying off to limbs or trees is easy to do with cable extensions. I will still add a swivel where the trap chain meets the cable. Always inspect your cable prior to the season starting, and after a catch is made. Any damaged or rusty cable gets replaced. Same for cable extensions on snares.
I have not used drag set ups for bobcat yet, but plan to this season. Drags can help preserve a set location by allowing the bobcat to move some distance away from the set before tangling.
The first bobcat I ever “caught” was lost because I used too much anchor wire which allowed the bobcat to reach a nearby tree and power out. Consider all objects in the area when staking solid with a foothold. Try to keep the bobcat from reaching other objects to gain leverage from.
Photo 13 – Greg Leaf with his 3 Bobcat Day! (left)
Some additional thoughts. I still use the 220-body grip while trapping bobcats with cubbies. I’ll make it clear that I am extremely careful and selective about where I place these traps. Many of my sets are on private, remote property. When trapping public land, I often set fewer traps because I choose locations that are so remote, or difficult to get into. They take a great deal of time and effort to set, check and maintain, and these remote locations help to keep those walking with dogs or hunting from coming close to my sets. As always, when in doubt, don’t set the trap.
Photo 14 – Fresh Bobcat tracks heading towards my traps! (right)
All trappers must be aware of the various regulations regarding the setting of traps and snares before heading out to trap. Cubbies with 7-inch overhangs, exposed baits, snares with breakaway devices, special lynx zone regulations on cubby size, anchoring – use of drags, etc. Make every effort to be informed.
Any chance you can take to ride with an experienced bobcat trapper is worth the time to do so! A trapping friend, District 6 Trapper, Greg Leaf, brought me with on his bobcat/marten trapline and took the time to explain his methods and set locations. I was lucky to see Greg catch a beautiful large male bobcat, and a marten, and greatly improved my knowledge by riding with. A couple years ago, Greg had a three-cat day! All caught with body grip traps.
Every chance you have, follow a bobcat track in the snow. You will learn so much more about the animal. How they move, where they step, what they hunt, which type of habitat they spend time in. After all, the bobcat will always be your best teacher! Stay safe and good luck.