Some of us hunt and photograph bobcats for the sheer thrill of “getting close” to an animal that is extremely secretive by nature and is seldom seen in the wild by the untrained eye.
Other folks, like my friends Kerry Joy and Sam Henderson, who own large sheep and goat ranches out on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country in Schleicher County, have become experts at controlling bobcats for an entirely different reason — their livelihood. Bobcats prey on newborn lamb and kid goats as well as the large flocks of wild turkey that entice spring turkey hunters from all over the country.
I have hunted the Joy and Henderson Ranches for many years and actually learned the rudiments of predator calling from Kerry years ago when we went out calling predators at night after spending the day pursuing the big whitetail bucks that roam this beautiful part of Texas.
Through the years, both ranchers have honed their predator calling and trapping skills to a fine edge. Henderson and his hunters take most of their cats with a rifle while calling in the remote draws and canyons. Joy keeps his cat numbers in check by a combination of hunting and setting snares.
Both ranchers have observed an increase in bobcat numbers in the past decade, an increase that has been observed in many areas of the Lone Star state. I interviewed several professional trappers and without exception, all agreed that they had seen a dramatic increase in bobcat numbers in recent years. They also reported more complaints from sheep and goat raisers concerning bobcat predation on newborn lambs and kid goats.
Last December, my younger son Drew and I were hunting deer and turkey on the Joy Ranch and Sam Henderson came over and invited Drew to join him on an afternoon bobcat hunt. Drew wanted a bobcat mount for his room and jumped at the opportunity to join this veteran for a chance at getting one of those big west Texas cats in close.
Sam sparked Drew’s interest when he began telling of a recent hunt.
“Drew, I was guiding a deer hunter in a remote pasture way back in the ranch that has a big draw running through it,” Henderson said. “We were watching several doe and a couple of bucks working their way to a corn feeder. Suddenly, every deer in the herd stopped abruptly and stared back into the brush in our direction.
“At first, I thought they had smelled us or spotted movement. Then I heard a commotion behind our stand that I first thought was two bucks fighting. The deer we were watching quickly vanished and I suspected that a bobcat had attempted to take down a young deer.
“Just after dark, I took my flashlight and 30/30 back behind the stand for a look-see. About o100 yards down the draw, I saw a recently killed little button buck with deep claw marks on it’s neck.
“The ground was rocky in the draw and I didn’t see any tracks. It’s possible the little buck was killed by a roving mountain lion, we do occasionally have one come through the area, but it’s also possible a big tom bobcat did the damage.”
I could see Drew’s eyes getting wide as he listened intently as Sam told his story. Their hunt was planned for the next day and Drew had a tough time getting to sleep in the camp house that night!
After visiting with several professional predator control agents, I was surprised to learn that mature bobcats are large and strong enough to kill young deer and frequently do.
Sam picked up Drew around three in the afternoon as I was heading to my bowstand. Drew was to do the calling under the expert eye of Henderson.
Later that evening, Drew and Henderson recapped their story around the campfire.
“Dad, the hunt was awesome!” Drew began. “Mr. Henderson parked the truck and we walked about 200 yards down a draw, hid ourselves in some brush and I tuned in the yellowhammer woodpecker call on my Johnny Stewart Prey Master caller.
“We called for about 15 minutes and were about to move to a new location when Mr. Henderson whispered “there he is” and I saw a big tom bobcat setting quietly on the edge of some brush about 40 yards away. One shot and our hunt was over.”
Sam said that all his cat hunts are not that easy but the majority result in up-close and personal encounters with a cat or two.
I have hunted the wilds of Texas for more that four decades and seen more cats during the last decade than the previous three combined. We live within 30 miles of Dallas in an isolated community that is surrounded by a couple of large cattle ranches.
Within a half-mile of my house is 300 acres of bottomland that is thickly wooded and dotted with several gravel pits that hold water throughout the year — ideal bobcat country. We hunt hogs, deer and varmints on the place and my son and I have spotted a total of six bobcats while on stand and called up several more while predator hunting. Cat numbers are most definitely on the rise, possibly at an all time high here in Texas.
Here are some tips that Joy and Henderson use to control the bobcat numbers on their ranches. Chances are good you already employ some of their techniques, but you might just learn a new trick or two from these veteran hunters-trappers.
SETTING UP TO CALL
Henderson says cats like to hunt in low areas with heavy brush nearby. In west Texas, that equates to dry washes and draws.
“I like to find a blown-down tree or some heavy brush on the side of a draw or creek bed where I have good visibility,” he said. “I use camo from head to toe and sit as still as possible. Bobcats have a good nose but it’s movement that they usually pick up on first.
“I usually settle in for a few minutes before I begin calling. Cats are shy by nature — until they make their move to attack their prey — and I begin calling softly.
“Don’t expect the cat to always appear quickly. Sometimes they do, but more often than not it takes 20 or 30 minutes before the cat appears. I usually just look up and there the cat is, setting on the edge of a clearing, starring intently in the direction of the origin of the sound it is stalking. “Whether you are shooting the cat with a rifle or camera, it’s important to move very slowly and use brush or camo netting as much as possible to conceal your movement. A lightweight pop up blind can also be very effective when calling cats during daylight hours. Just make sure to close the windows you are not using so the cats will not spot your silhouette inside the blind.
“We hunt cats mostly during the first and last couple hours of daylight, but on a cold, crisp sunny day, I’ve found that cats like to move out of the brush and soak up the sun’s warming rays around the edge of clearings. We’ve called up a good number of bobcats during these conditions during mid-day.”
Joy enjoys calling cats but says during lambing season, he is often very busy and doesn’t have a lot of time to spend calling cats. He relies heavily on snares and traps, and targets holes under fences.
“Cats will almost always enter a pasture at the same place, usually through a hold under the fence that is also used by other predators,” he said. “When the nannys and ewes start giving birth, these nursery pastures attract all manners of predators.
“I first look for spots under the fence where cats are entering and set snares or traps. Bobcat urine is my number one lure and it only takes a drop or two on a blade of grass or leaf beside the hole under the fence to make the cat curious and cause it to spend more time at the set.
“The important thing is to locate holes under fences that are frequented by bobcats. I look for tracks as positive proof cats are working a particular trail, but if I don’t find any I will still set snares under these travel routes under the fences. “It’s not uncommon to find a couple of trails under fences within 100 yards. I make sure and walk the fence lines thoroughly and make a set at every hole large enough to accommodate bobcats. That way, I have the bases covered regardless where the cat decides to enter the pasture.”
Bobcat numbers are definitely up in the Lone Star state, as they are in many parts of the country. The Joy and Henderson Ranches near Eldorado, Texas offer hunts for deer and turkey, and they are also hotspots of taking a big west Texas bobcat.
For more information, call Kerry Joy at 325-853-2346 or Sam Henderson at 325-853-1543.