My brother recently sent me a video showing him releasing a bobcat he had trapped. He used a piece of plywood with a notch cut in the bottom; by keeping the plywood between him and the trapped cat, he pushed the cat back as far as it could go so the plywood was set down with the notch over the cat’s leg, keeping the trap on my brother’s side of the plywood and the bobcat on the other. He then stepped on both trap springs, and when the bobcat felt the trap release it bolted away from the other side of the plywood into the woods. One friend described the cat’s blazing but nimble departure as looking like “lightning on a leash.” 

My brother Joe releases bobcats from coyote traps there in Ohio because a low bobcat population doesn’t yet allow for a legal season to harvest them. We Kansas trappers occasionally release trapped bobcats if they are young and small, especially if they are female or if they are caught early in the season and not yet well furred. Joe’s adventure reminded me of the few bobcats I have released over the years.

When releasing a bobcat from a foothold trap, I too have a piece of plywood I prefer to use, but another method is to use a catch-pole like dog-catchers carry. Something about a feline’s anatomy causes them to choke very easily, so employing a catch pole to temporarily subdue a bobcat you are trying to release from a trap is tricky. You have to cinch the catch pole tight around the cat’s throat to be able to control it and keep it a bay while you release their foot from the trap, but you can’t keep it cinched tight very long or it will choke to death. I remember the first time I released a trapped bobcat this way.

It was early in the season and I had caught a young bobcat along the river, a good distance off the road and a long way from home. I neglected to carry my piece of plywood that morning, but had my catch-pole, so the experiment began. Sometimes getting the loop of the catch-pole around a bob cat’s neck is a challenge as the cat will keep biting at it or jerking its head away, but other times if you approach the cat calmly, it will let you drop the loop right over its head. With the loop in place, you have to cinch it closed quickly, then the rodeo begins. That morning, after several tries, I got the loop dropped over the felines head and the cat began lunging and lurching like a bucking bull coming out of the chute. With the clock now running and time of the essence, I laid the handle of the catch-pole on the ground and put my foot on it while quickly opening the trap jaws to release the cat’s foot. It was about then that it dawned on me that while I had to hastily release tension on the catch pole, I also had to maintain a death grip on the handle or the cat might yank it from my hand and disappear with the catch pole dragging behind; not good. Releasing tension on the catch pole with a thrashing bobcat on the other end was like trying to remove the hook from a 60-pound catfish that was still trying to swim away. Finally, the loop hung limp around the cat’s neck and I lifted it over its head. The confused feline stood there 10 feet away trying to regain its bearings while I slowly backed toward the pickup and wondered what the kitties next move might be. After starring me down awhile it turned and exited stage right, back into the trees along the river.

I can’t understand why Ohio’s bobcat population does not yet warrant a legal harvest season for them while Kansas has a thriving bobcat population. According to surveys following the 2018-2019 hunting and trapping seasons, hunters and trappers together harvested just shy of 5,000 bobcats here in Kansas last year, and that number remains steady year-after-year. I guess we have just the right mix of habitat and prey for their liking, and releasing young females when possible doesn’t hurt either…Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!

 

Steve Gilliland can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com.

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