Raining Cats and Dogs

Mississippi’s woods are full of bobcats and coyotes, and these animals can wreak havoc on game populations. Here’s how to thin them out — and have a great time in the process.

Rob Heflin

January 23, 2008 at 10:31 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Setting traps is probably the most-effective way of removing predators from your hunting land, but hunting is arguably more fun.
Photo by JOHN E. PHILLIPS
Setting traps is probably the most-effective way of removing predators from your hunting land, but hunting is arguably more fun.
The month of February is a wind-down time for most hunters. Small-game seasons, like squirrel, rabbit and quail are open through the end of the month, but there isn’t much else to do for the big-game hunter.

Two activities you might consider are predator trapping and hunting. By removing a few predators, you will also be benefiting your small game, deer and turkey populations.

Very few people in this area take advantage of the liberal limits on predators. In Mississippi, the coyote is considered a nuisance animal. By being classed in the nuisance category, coyotes can be taken year-round on private lands.

Bobcats are classed as furbearers, and may only be taken from Oct. 1-Feb. 28. There are no limits on coyotes, but there is a five-per-day/eight-per-party limit on bobcats during the Oct. 1-31 period before trapping season begins.

Trapping

According to MDWFP regulations, a trapping license is required of anyone 16 years of age or older who traps furbearers or nuisance animals in Mississippi, except landowners trapping on their own land. Trappers are required to have an ID number, registered with the MDWFP, attached to all traps with a metal tag or permanently inscribed, etched or stamped onto their traps.

Trappers must have permission to trap on any land other than their own, and traps must be attended at least once every 36-hour period. Traps may not be placed within 100 feet of any public road, and it is unlawful for anyone to disturb traps or to take animals from traps of another person.

It is illegal to trap with the aid of bait, recordings of animals or bird calls or electrically amplified imitations of calls of any kind. Lures may be used to trap coyote and bobcat provided that no more than 2.5 cubic inches may be placed within 20 feet of any trap. Any lure within 20 feet of a trap must be covered and not visible from above. Liquid scents may be used. Coyotes may be trapped year-round on private lands, but bobcats may only be trapped during the open trapping season from Nov. 1-Feb. 28. Bobcats are also protected under international law, and must have a CITES tag attached to their pelts within 14 days of harvest.

Blaine Brownlee and Lee Taylor from South Mississippi and Mike Jerrel from East Mississippi are all avid trappers. Each agreed that old logging roads, ATV trails, treelines, fencerows, transition areas (places where forest meets grassland or cropland, where pines meet hardwoods, or where two different crop types meet) and intersections of logging roads and field roads are great places to trap both animals. Anywhere a rodent or rabbit can spring from cover for a quick snack while being just a few feet from protection is a good place to look for coyotes and cats.

“Say you have a field that is surrounded by trees; I have pretty good luck in the corners of the field, and if the trees come to a point, I like to set there also,” Brownlee said. “If the land is not flat, I’ll look for places where two or three hills come together. The same with farm roads — anytime you have an intersection of roads or hills, it’s usually a good place to set.”

After you’ve located good set locations, noting that setting near places where you’ve found fresh tracks is the best place to start, how do you go about making the set?

Coyotes

Coyotes will usually take the path of least resistance. They can be caught in old vehicle tracks, water furrows in crop fields and in cattle and deer trails. Brownlee’s favorite set for coyotes is the dirt hole.

“The dirt-hole set is pretty simple,” he said. “I find the location where I want to place the trap, and find something for a backing (a clump of grass or a burnt log; its purpose it to prevent the animal from working the set from the back side, and also gives the set eye appeal). I then clear a spot off in front of my backing about 1-foot-by-1-foot.

“I then take my digging tool, and dig a trap bed about 4 inches deep, and take my trowel and dig a hole right in front of my backing (the hole is about 2 inches in diameter and usually about 10 inches deep). Then I drive my stakes in the ground, and then place the trap back from the hole about 7 to 9 inches, and slightly offset of the hole with the dog of the trap in the 3 o’clock position to prevent the animal from stepping on the dog and having his foot thrown upward when the trap fires.

“I take dirt and pack up against the jaws of the trap to stabilize the trap (you do not want any wobble to the trap; if an animal steps on a trap and it moves, it will usually avoid the trap). I will then place a piece of wax paper over the pan to prevent dirt from getting under the pan and preventing the pan from firing.

“When bedding the trap I will take my sifter and sift a light covering of dirt over the trap. I always make the pan of the trap the lowest place in the set; most predators will always step in the lowest spot. Finally, I will apply red fox pee on the backing, and then will put a gland lure in the hole and take a wad of dead grass and plug the hole with it.”

Particular care should be taken to minimize human scent at the coyote set.

“Coyotes are very cautious to human scent, and great care should be used to keep the traps clean and the set area as human scent-free as possible,” Taylor said. “I use gloves on all of my traps, and keep my bare hands from touching any part of what’s left at the set.”

Another type set is the scent-post set, which is a twist on the flat set. The scent-post set is different from the dirt-hole set in that an object, rather than a hole, is used as a visual and olfactory attractant.

“This set is usually made along logging roads or any other place that coyotes tend to travel,” Taylor said. “The trap is set the same as with a dirt-hole set, but instead of digging a hole for the lure, I use whatever is lying around as my backing. A dead tree, lighter knot, grass clump, rock or existing coyote droppings all work well.

“For this type set I only use coyote or fox urine as the attractant. Just squirt or spray some on the backing, and make the set look as natural as possible. Coyotes work a scent-post just like a dog will. They’ll approach it, sniff around and eventually mark it with their own urine. Female coyotes will also investigate the scent post, but will oftentimes just scratch the ground instead of urinating on the spot.”

Bobcats

Bobcats like the thick stuff, places that will hold good amounts of small game, particularly rabbits. The thicker the better when it comes to bobcats.

A bobcat is more of a sight-hunter than a coyote, and it doesn’t pay as much attention to smells as does the song-dog. A bobcat is a stealthy, methodical hunter. It usually hunts alone, and is cautious in its approach.

“Mississippi has an abundance of bobcat habitat,” Jerrell said. “Pine plantations, cutover, beaver swamps and briar thickets are all prime locations for cat trapping.

“When looking for cat sign, scat and tracks, I check log roads and beaver swamps, especially the muddy parts of beaver dams where tracks may be visible. High, steep ditch, creek or riverbanks are also traveled by bobcats; most of the aforementioned banks have trails running along the tops.”

One thing you can depend on when it comes to taking cats is their ability to see visual attractors from great distances. Brownlee and Jerrell agree that bobcats hunt by sight more than anything.

“If there is a tree limb hanging over the stump, a foot long strip of flagging or plastic bag tied on the limb and hanging 2 or 3 feet above the set helps get the cat’s attention,” Jerrell said. “You can use a large feather, strip of tinfoil or the tape torn out of and old cassette — anything that will flutter and move in the wind.”

This will always get a bobcat’s attention, Brownlee said.

“Bobcats are like house cats, and are very curious. I believe big, flashy looking sets grab their attention, and once they come to investigate, if you have a good quality lure, you can get them to work the set and hopefully get caught,” he said.

A trapper will use the big cats’ natural curiosity against them.

“Bobcats are much less cautious than coyotes, and can be caught at most any kind of set,” Taylor said. “I either set for them with the same dirt-hole set as used for coyotes or a walk-thru set. I put small sticks or dirt clods around my trap, and leave the area over the trap pan free for them to step on. This is called ‘guiding,’ and a bobcat is one of the easiest animals to guide into putting their foot in the trap.

“I normally make my bobcat sets around clear cuts and logging roads. They have a large home range, and may take a few days for them to come back through the area. Find a place where there are bobcat tracks, and they’ll be back.”

Brownlee says he also will use a dirt hole set for cats, but beds the trap closer to the hole than when setting for coyotes. Bobcats have to get closer to the hole than coyotes, so you need to move the trap in when setting for cats.

“I also like to make a cubby set,” says Brownlee. “The trap is bedded the same as a dirt-hole or flat set, but I take pieces of wood and grass, and make a type of tunnel. I take pieces of dead wood and make a backwards ‘V.’ I gather up dead limbs off the ground and start making the ‘V.’ I build it up to about 12 to 18 inches high, and criss-cross some limbs over the top, and then place pieces of grass and debris over the whole thing.”

Cats can’t resist it; their curiosity gets them every time.

Jerrell also uses what he calls a trash pile set for cats. Cats will usually cover their kill and come back to feast on it later. Using this behavior trait against them, a trash-pile set can be very effective.

“Find a travel way cats are using, such as an old logging road that doesn’t get much vehicle traffic,” he suggested. “Find or drag up an old log 6 inches in diameter or larger, and rake leaves, pine straw or weeds from the base of the butt end of a log that is next to travel way.

“Dig a small hole or trench about 3 inches in diameter under the end of the log, and place a legal-sized piece of bait there, such as a chunk of rabbit or beaver, or a tablespoon-sized gob of prepared commercial bait. Rake up and pile leaves, pine needles or twigs on top of the end of the log. Have the covering only a couple inches thick over the bait.

“I usually make this pile of debris about the size a five-gallon bucket would be if cut in half length-wise.”

Jerrell says to dig out a trap bed 4 to 6 inches in front of the baited area. Then stake the trap or wire it to a drag or nearby tree so the cat doesn’t tear up the pile.

“Place stepping sticks as described in the dirt-hole set, and as always set the trap so the area over the pan is slightly lower than surrounding area,” he recommended. “Throw leftover dirt from the trap bed on top of the pile. I add a handful of feathers, rabbit fur or shredded cotton to the front and top of the pile of debris. Use a small stick to smear a small amount of gland-based lure on the front of the pile. Slightly to one side of the lure, use a squirt of cat urine.

“I don’t know if it helps, but I use a small garden trowel and scratch up the area in front of the pile to make it look like a cat covered up a kill. Also use some vines, briars or a few green pine limbs on the back side of the pile to discourage the animal from working the wrong side of the set.”

Hunting

Another way to effectively take predators is by calling and hunting them. My first coyote calling experience was on a deer hunt several years ago. I heard a coyote howling around sunset in the 40-acre thicket I was hunting.

After leaving the stand, I quietly walked around the edge of the thicket, and used my mouth to imitate a rodent squeak. Within seconds, I could hear footsteps coming quickly through the brush. I squatted down with bow in hand, and waited. I then saw the pointed ears and black nose of the coyote as it emerged from the brush, no more than 10 yards from me. Almost instantly, it saw me, and was gone like a bolt of lightning. It was an exciting experience that I will never forget.

Hunting coyotes and bobcats is a little different than trapping them. Both predators have keen eyesight, so you must be sure to use caution when approaching your calling stand; total camouflage is a necessity. Be sure to pay attention to wind direction when you set up, and it’s always good to have the sun at your back when you can help it.

As mentioned earlier, the coyote pays more attention to scent than does the bobcat. The coyote will circle downwind the majority of the time to get a whiff of whatever is making those noises. If he ever catches your scent before you can get a shot, you can hang it up.

The same areas that are good trapping areas are good calling areas, although it is a great advantage to be able to see the predator before he sees or winds you.

Coyotes can be hunted in Mississippi with electronic calls, but bobcats cannot. Coyotes can also be hunted at night, with a light, but caliber restrictions apply at night during certain times of the year.

Bobcats can be hunted at night with a light, but only using .22 rimfire (not magnums) or No. 6 shot or smaller.

Don’t let the caliber restrictions at night stop you from hunting predators. Instead, try hunting them during daylight hours. Bobcats and coyotes can be successfully called in and hunted at all times of the day.

Randy Anderson, who is known for the “Calling All Coyotes” series of hunting videos and who has developed a line of coyote and predator calls through Primoss, says that coyotes have an extensive language. Just as your pet dog will have a different set of howls and barks for differing situations, so do coyotes.

Anderson has videoed and taken hundreds of coyotes during daylight hours. He normally starts with locator or interrogation howls that peak the coyote’s natural curiosity and territorial defenses. Coyotes will typically answer your calls with their own.

Once the canines have shown interest and are on their way toward the hunter, various prey sounds can bring them in for the final deal. Be ready! Coyotes will sometimes come rapidly and with backup. It is not uncommon for an entire family group of song-dogs to answer and come running when you call to them.

Bobcats are typically solitary hunters, and will approach with caution, stop at the edge of cover and scan for the source of the sound. Distressed rabbit and bird sounds seem to be the most effective.

They won’t answer your calls like coyotes will, so you have to keep a careful watch for incoming cats.

One thing is certain when calling, have your gun ready before you start calling. You can get an immediate response most of the time. If not, stay on a stand for 30 minutes to an hour, then move on to another location.

Take a shot at predator trapping and hunting this February. It is a great way to pass the time when you’re trying to get over the end-of-deer-season blues. It is also an effective way to help manage the predator population.

To make a dirt-hole cover, sift a light layer of dirt over the set. The set should be level, with the exception of the pan area being slightly lower than the surrounding area. Sprinkle dead grass to blend the set then place in the hole.
To make a dirt-hole bed, clear an area 1-foot square in front of the backing (log, bone, post). Dig a trap bed about 4 inches deep and a couple of inches wider than your trap. Make a hole near the backing with a trowel.
Checking a trap is quite exciting. Needless to say, the coyotes won't be very happy when you arrive.
To make a dirt-hole trap, stake the trap about 7 inches from the hole and offset to the left or right a few inches. Pack dirt against the trap jaws to prevent wobble. Place wax paper over pan area to keep loose dirt from falling under pan.



View other articles written Rob Heflin