By Larry Sills
Catching a bobcat in a foot hold trap in Iowa involves unique methods. It allows the trapper to use his/her imagination more than any other land type set. Also if you want big dollars for your one cat Iowa limit, hold off on setting your traps until after December 20th by then the fur will be as thick and mature as possible. This means a short season but with proper scouting and a keen sense of cat behavior your catch will come fast. Below I will outline a few of my favorite sets. Do not limit anything when it comes to Iowa bobcats. If you can make a mound out of anything and hang a flag for an attractant it’s almost as easy as catching a muskrat in a slide.
It’s all about the Eyes
After calling in more than 100 bobcats across the nation you start seeing what bobcats are all about; their eyes. If you’ll take my word for it, here in Iowa if you want to learn about bobcats just take the time to watch farm cats hunting in a ditch. One apparent factor is bobcats don’t use their nose when hunting. Instead Mother Nature has fitted this great predator with huge eyes and great ears. Anyone that has called a bobcat at night where legal, knows how great those eyes are. When struck by an artificial light beam the eyes seem to be the size of a paper plate. Not to mention those ears are as good as any coyote and can hear distress sounds in the proper weather conditions more than one mile away. A bobcat’s nose however isn’t totally worthless, when it comes time to take a whiff at point blank range if the smell isn’t right the cat will exit quickly.
Flagging isn’t just for Goose Hunters
Because of those eyes no other creature, except a curious mink checking out some tin foil placed in a stream, is more susceptible to an artificial visual attractant placed by man. A flag to a bobcat is like a good gland lure to a beaver trapper. All the lure/flag does is bring the animal to the set location where bait and urine takeover. False flagging works well in Iowa, which involves the use of colored Christmas Tree Tinsel to old CD’s. For natural flags use a feather or wing from poultry to avoid any question about the season the feather/wing was taken. But remember, in Iowa if you flag with a natural feather it must not be visible to soaring birds of prey.
To Pole or not to Pole
There are many ways to hang your flag. Some use a long string hanging from an overhead branch. Others use a spring pole made out of wire and a short string with a fishing swivel. To me the latter offers the best movement compared to a string hanging from a branch, because as the wind blows the long string can create a mess. Making a spring pole for a flag is easy. It takes a ½ inch diameter piece of conduit about eighteen inches long. You then make a sheep herders hook out of a coat hanger or #9 wire placed into a piece of conduit driven into the ground. Depending on the flag material the hook should be three feet off the ground or higher. The flags string and swivel is then attached to the end of the sheep herders hook.
Flat Sets Near the Pantry
Flat sets work where timber meets a pasture or hayfield. Make your flat set directly under the flag pole. Remember cats have big feet and traps with big jaws are a must. As I am old school I would say a #3 is adequate but for a flat set to avoid catching the edge of the pan I would opt for a #4. Bed your trap about one inch higher than the surrounding ground, and place two sets 180 degrees opposite each other. Remember cats use their nose at point blank range so predicting an approach isn’t hard. Do not go light on the urine in this set. Cats will often spray the entire area and you want to do the same.
Cubby Sets are not just for the Woods
Cubby sets direct the cat to the steel trap or hanging wire snare. Bobcats cannot help but stick their head in a hole if the smells are correct and their curiosity is aroused by a good flag. To make this set, start by establishing a flag location then about two feet away start to make your cubby. My standard for a cubby is one that is at least two feet tall and three feet across at the base. The cubby hole should be at least one foot deep. After you make the cubby place the bait deep inside. Since the depth of the hole is one foot deep you can now make your set. Since you are directing the cat a smaller jaw trap is acceptable. If you snare at your cubby, place the wire about six inches out from the cubby hole entrance. Most people fail to do this and they end up with no cat.
Hot spots for bobcat’s cubbies in Iowa are where cornfields meet timber; two rows in from most cornfields or where a deer trail leaves the field is an obvious spot for a cubby. The nice thing about cornfields is cubbies are simple to make. After hanging your flag, scratch up some corn stubble with your boot and make a pile two feet high by three feet around. Again hollow out a hole for the bait. It’s just that simple and if you are in a rush for time its fast.
Log Sets Baricade: The Cat
This version of a set is a deep wood set just off a deer trail and the closer the better. What you look for is a log that is big enough that the approach has to be made from one side only. The log should be laying on the ground its full length. If it’s hollow at one end it’s a bonus log. What you want to do at this set is make a funnel to the log. This can be made by using a number of smaller branches used to make a “v” to the log. Under the log will be your bait.
This set is one of the few bobcat sets where no flag is required. The reason being is you want to use a good gland lure, such as beaver castor. This set to me simulates a cache. Its close proximity to the trail is key and you will need to spray the trail with a little urine to catch the cat’s nose and cause it to stop and investigate. Then make a urine trail to the set. Setting the trap at this site requires the trap to be bedded low, and often two traps work the best. This type of set is not a good set for snaring.
Pastures Mean Food
Pastures especially those with nut trees and ash trees around the edges are great bobcat set locations. The reason is they provide food to squirrels and turkeys. Bobcats will lay on the edges and just wait for an opportunity to attack. Therefore a trapper should not hesitate to trap the middle of the pasture where a flag is in clear view, especially in late season. In 2007 I learned about this set by accident calling coyotes near Rathbun Reservoir. About four minutes into the stand I thought a red fox was heading to the call, but instead it was a bobcat. It ran straight across a twenty acre pasture to get to the call. Unfortunately no bobcats could be taken then as the quota was filled. Five years later I told a friend about this and he caught a nice Tom the first night not far away. The whole key to his success was that the flag was visible for several hundred yards. Once the bobcat’s eyes focused on it, it was all about curiosity and curiosity caught the cat.
To Hang Wire or Not Hang Wire
In the southwestern United States trappers can use wire snares quite well. There are many small trails made by smaller animals such as jackrabbits. This allows for good locations without the chance of damage to the snare set. However, in Iowa almost every trail is a deer trail or cow path, in most woods these come at a premium and make snare setting difficult. Thus it takes a lot of scouting and keen trailing practices to determine the worth of setting wire snares for bobcats. For these reasons steel traps seem to be key for catching. Not to mention the neatness of bobcat fur makes it hard to comb over wire marks after the catch. Some may argue it never really hurts the price, but why take a chance. Save your snares for coyotes where wire marks can be hidden. Also once you start making all sorts of variations of flat sets with flags, mound sets, log sets, or the always successful cubby…snares just won’t come into the picture.
At the trap, unless it’s a kitten for release, dispatch is critical. I find a 17hmr does the trick and works much better than even a .22 short. Always consult with Iowa DNR Regulations prior to skinning. If you have approval to skin, keep in mind your pelt may sell better to a taxidermist then a fur buyer. Thus skin using taxidermy methods. This means toes and nails will be with the hide. Because you dispatched the bobcat with a small caliber rifle, there will be no need for sewing the hole but as a common courtesy it’s preferable.
If you want to make as much as twenty dollars more, don’t forget to save the skull. To clean the skull I merely put it in an onion sack with a few rocks for weight and lower it into a pond. Pond creatures do a great job of cleaning and there is little smell. Time required varies dependent on water temperature. I have left them for up to two months without any damage to the bone or teeth. Afterwards soak the skull in a solution of borax soap followed by a soak in bleach water until the bones turn white.
Fleas are not a burden to bobcats like coyotes but with the recent concerns across the country regarding numerous Plague deaths why take a chance. Spray the hide in with a good flea spray while on the ground. Or quickly move it to a plastic bag and fog the bag. After the carcass cools the fleas will vacate.