March 02, 2015
By Tad Brown
After two days, Lohman Gold staffer Ronnie Robison and I had come to only one realization: we had been duped. Blinded by the promise of endless bobcats and gray fox, Ronnie and I had converged on a west Texas ranch to take advantage of promised bounty — The Big Easy. But we had called night and day with only a strafing from a single gray fox; no bobcats or sign.
An outdoor writer in our group, on his first bobcat hunt (his state only allowed a few to be harvested by lottery draw each year), was starting to doubt us. Desperate, I called a good friend and occasional calling partner Mark Drury and explained the situation. Mark said, "let me make a call and I will get back with you€¦"
The elusive bobcat is quite coveted across the U.S. and Canada as well as Mexico, and just about every predator hunter I run across wants one mounted above the mantle. Plus, fur has become increasingly popular, especially internationally, and hunters can get decent prices for a good pelt. The unique coat of the bobcat has always been a desired fur, as well as a sign of wealth in some countries.
The usable part of the bobcat is rather small, contained to the belly region where those beautiful spots grow on a snow-white background, which cannot be artificially re-created. Bobcat hides have been fetching record prices from specific regions upwards of $1,200 each. Now, not every pelt is in that price range, but some can fetch several hundred dollars.
Through wildlife reintroduction and habitat development, we are able to enjoy harvestable populations of bobcats in many states. Not all states offer a bobcat season, but the number is on the rise. States such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have recently allowed a limited harvest of bobcats through an application and drawing process.
Missouri, where I live, has a regulated season, but there are no harvest limits. Of course, other states have different rules and regulations. For example: Oklahoma allows the legal harvest of 20 bobcats a year per hunter, but its season is longer than Missouri's. States such as Texas, have no season or limit, yet require a modestly priced license.
All legally harvested bobcats are required to be tagged with a Convention of International Trade In Endangered Species (Cites) tag to be legally possessed, transported or sold. The reason being, most of these hides are sold to other countries that may or may not have populations of endangered spotted cat. This process helps to keep the illegal harvest of endangered spotted cats to a minimum.
Researching the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agency website for bobcat harvest numbers, I targeted the top 10 states by going to the National Fur Harvest Database.
The top 10 states for total kills from the 2011-12 season were: Kansas (5,918), Missouri (4,199), Nevada (3,992), Oklahoma (3,569), Oregon (3,496), New Mexico (2,635), Georgia (2,454), Kentucky (2,417), Montana (1,974) and West Virginia (1,857).
But Montana and Nevada do not allow non-residents to kill bobcats. So that kind of narrows the top 10 to eight, and Texas harvest numbers were not available. I have hunted Texas quite a bit and would consider it a top destination. I have called bonus cats in Texas in the south and in the panhandle as well as deliberately in west Texas. My highest bobcat response to sets would have to be Kansas and Missouri, but I live here, and it's where I hunt most.
I hunt annually with good friend Tim Ott. Tim has a killer cat location — his deer lease — half in Missouri and half in Kansas. Eastern Kansas has a great cat population and some of Missouri's top harvest counties are along the western side along the Kansas border. Tim was a Missouri resident but now lives in Kansas, so depending on his residency status and our current tag holdings we sometimes have to let a cat walk.
Our calling attempts are typically for bobs but there are a good bunch of coyotes on his property. I would say that two out of three trips have resulted in cats called and or harvested. One hell bent to harvest a cat might consider trying to hunt these two top states, jumping from one side to the other depending on huntable real estate and access.
Missouri and Kansas have ample public ground opportunities along state lines and cats are plentiful north to south.
Then there is Texas, which I found no bobcat data on. So I contacted Megan Russell with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Megan reported that during the 2012-13 season there were 3,775 bobcats tagged in Texas. That is down from 4,118 tagged during 2011-12 and down from 5,088 tagged in 2010-2011. But we have to consider that in Texas, bobcats are a non-game species. They only require tagging when leaving the state or to be sold.
With an open season and seen as only a pest to farmers and hunters, there is no telling how many bobcats are left laying, mounted or sold for mounting within the state. Megan also reports that bobcats, as far as Texas Parks and Wildlife are concerned, are at healthy levels not requiring any restrictions. Texas is big, but if the bobcats there do not require restrictions then populations must be in good order.
According to good friend, Texan and predator man Gary Robertson, who owns Burnham Brothers Game Calls, south Texas is the No. 1 destination for bobcats. Gary commented on several variables like a feline distemper epidemic and that his cat population is just now recovering in the Trans Pecos area and Texas hill country north of San Antonio.
The hill country was traditional sheep country where predators were exterminated and kept at a low population. Sheep are no longer as popular, and the need for excessive predator control is on the decline. Cat numbers are coming back. Gary agreed with Megan that cats are widespread across Texas and even the east Texas population is on the rise.
Gary also commented that even within the Dallas/Fort Worth area cats are still encountered, even walking down the streets in the suburbs.
Gary says Texas has the habitat to hold cats and maintain good populations. He and another buddy called 21 cats in two nights of hunting, unbelievable!
But it gets better.
Friend Joe Braman annually harvests 250 to 300 bobcats with his hounds. It's not uncommon for Robertson and some of his friends to harvest 100 or more cats a year with dogs. He often wonders if those numbers will ever decline, but they have not. If south Texas holds a population where an individual can tree and harvest that many cats, then it sure sounds like the odds of calling in a few felines are pretty high.
Do some homework before you go, but have no doubt, Texas is an incredible destination to chase after an unlimited number of bobs.
Another huge consideration is where you can go to harvest that bobcat based on tag availability or the cost of a license. Some states may require a fairly stiff fur harvester license. Kansas allows the taking of as many bobcats as you can possibly kill, but the license is $252.50, plus you need a general hunting license that runs $72.50. That is quite the investment.
Also, a few years ago, recognizing that some nonresidents would not pay the extra $250 to pursue a few bobs, Kansas now offers a one cat only tag that sells for $100. That makes it nice for the non-resident there hunting deer or calling coyotes.
Before, if they saw a bobcat, they had to let him walk (been there done that), but with a $100 tag they can now take advantage of the favorable chance that they might encounter one of Kansas' many bobcats. So you may be more likely to encounter a Kansas cat versus a Missouri one, but a license to harvest unlimited cats in Missouri is only $130 as opposed to $325 in Kansas if you're expecting to kill more than one.
Then consider West Virginia, where for a six-day license for $27, you can fill three of a five cat limit by calling/hunting. The other two have to be trapped. Be sure to research and estimate their square miles divided by the number of cats harvested and the population to see if the cost versus the opportunity warrants a trip. Texas cats can be pursued with a $35 five-day hunt permit year-round, no limit!
Return To Texas
Back at that west Texas ranch, Mark returned my call after he had contacted Bobby Bunton of the Rocker "B" Ranch west of San Angelo. Bobby had agreed to pick us up at the Wal-Mart parking lot in San Angelo if we could get there. We politely excused ourselves and asked our host for a ride to town. Our flight was around noon the next day, so the hunt was almost over.
Bobby picked us up at our designated meeting point and wasted no time, heading straight to the ranch as we shared our story of woe and explained to him our objective was to get our writer a cat, hopefully on film. Bobby filled us in on the ranch's history and we decided on a game plan. We would drop our bags off at the lodge, gather our gear and head out as soon as we could get ready.
The sun was quickly setting as we tore across the west Texas landscape. Running out of good filming light, we drove under a hill with the setting sun to our backs. We scurried up the hill to overlook a big basin and dry creek bed. I had not called long when the camera man indicated he had spotted something. There sat a medium-sized cat looking in our direction.
After pointing him out to our gunner and getting him ready with camera rolling, we gave the kill signal. The cat went down instantly. After the high-fiving and back-slapping, we headed to the cat. When we got to the spot, the cat was gone and our hearts sank, but we followed a blood trail, finding the cat holed up in a mesquite bush. We dispatched him with my shotgun and finished the cutaways as the sun went down.
We accomplished our mission, jazzed at how quickly our luck changed simply by getting where the cats were. I was up to bat, and about two sets later a big tom came in to the halo of lights and crossed in front of us. A single shot from my 6mm, and what had been a disaster hours before turned into a great hunt. We headed to camp for a great home-cooked meal then off to bed.
Bobby offered to take us again in the morning if we were game (due to our flight schedule we could only hunt a few hours). We did not register a kill the next morning, but did manage to call a cat that came in and sat down behind the camera man, though we couldn't get off a safe shot. While on the trail back to the lodge, another cat crossed in front of us but onto the neighboring property. Despite our best efforts, we couldn't bring him back.
Thanks to Mark and Bobby at the Rocker "B" our trip was a success after all. Calling and seeing four cats in for to five hours of hunting is definitely the best cat calling trip I have experienced. Get on the Internet and research these top cat harvest states and calculate for yourself which one makes the most sense to you geographically and financially.
That coveted bobcat mount is a possibility with a little research and some hard work.
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