Bobcats rarely work sets the way fox and coyotes do. They’re not known to sit on a dirt pattern and work a hole or a backing to get to the source of a particular scent. They’re aloof personality would lead you to believe that they really don’t care about the source of the scent at all and they’re just investigating your set because they have nothing better to do at the moment.
If you have the opportunity to follow bobcat tracks in snow, you’ll see what I mean. They rarely break stride for anything as they move from one area to another. These movements can appear random, although in reality they’re anything but that. They frequently alter their path to intersect things like rock edges or a single log that juts out a little further than the rest on a trail through dense cover. The bobcat’s gait will appear to stay constant, and it will seem as if it were just happenstance that he passed so close to these structures, but it’s no coincidence. These structures are territorial markers, places where he and other bobcats leave their scent, and although you won’t notice any change in the bobcat’s stride, even in snow, you can bet he paused long enough to rub his jowls or other parts of his head on the object before moving on.
Rub sets take advantage of a bobcat's territorial nature and can be manmade as well as natural locations that already exist on the trapline. These are literally places where the bobcat will rub up against a structure to place scent on it, and once you learn how to identify good rub locations, you can begin to unlock the secrets of bobcat travel.
Rub Locations on Logging Roads
I trap bobcats in the mountains of Pennsylvania where a significant amount of timbering has been done the last 10-15 years. The cuts left behind are ideal bobcat habitat. Combined with other natural features such as ridges, powerlines, and various habitat changes, and you have smoking hot locations to set traps. Many of these cuts have old logging roads through them that bobcats like to travel. I check these roads for objects that appear out of place. The first thing that catches my eye is usually the best place to set a trap.
If there are leftover scraps of cuttings piled up on each side of a logging road, I look for something that sticks out from the bunch. It could be a log jutting out, or even a root, but chances are bobcats will brush up against it as they move on by.
Rocks are ideal and usually the most obvious. If I see a rock sticking up in the middle of an old logging road that I think bobcats are walking, I know I’ve found my set location.
Of course, if you’ve found that major travel way, yet can’t find an object to use for a rub set, there’s nothing wrong with moving around a few rocks or a log to create the desired effect. Bobcats know their territories like we know our own living rooms, and if they see an object that wasn’t there last time they passed through, chances are they will check it out and want to “mark” it this time around.
It doesn’t always take a big structure. I’ve seen bobcats rub against the ends of moss-covered logs that were only a few inches high. I’ve had the best luck funneling them at the set, though, when I place the trap against a taller backing at least eight to ten inches high.
There’s really no limit as far as to how tall the backing should be. A perfectly fine rub set can be made against a sheer rock wall, too. I would just look for places where a distinct point or cluster jutted out from the flat surface and set my trap in front of that.
Follow Tracks to Learn Bobcat Behavior
Last year I spent a lot of time following bobcat tracks in the snow and setting up scouting cameras on trails. One thing I noticed is that a bobcat seems to know well in advance of reaching a structure where exactly it’s going to place its feet. Type of cover plays a role. In wide open country, bobcats rarely make a lot of sudden turns, or make a ninety-degree turn all of a sudden to check out something unless they find it super interesting. Rather, they’ll start making their move toward a structure as soon as it comes into view, and the change in course will be so subtle that you’ll hardly notice the bobcat is adjusting its line. The photo here of a bobcat walking up a frozen creek bed is a perfect example. That bobcat likely knew well in advance not only its line of travel, but also the exact spot where it was going to place its feet as it passed certain objects.
All of this can appear random when you see a set of tracks in the snow, but it's not really random at all. This is why trap placement at a rub set is critical.
When possible, I set two traps at every rub set. One of the traps is placed directly under the point that juts out, the spot the bobcat actually rubs his body against and the other is placed in front of or behind the first and slightly offset. Also, I don’t place the trap snug against the structure. I prefer a little space between a rock point, for instance, and the pan of the trap. If you place the trap too tight against the structure, the bobcat will likely step just to the right or left of the trap, depending on which direction it’s traveling, as it walks by.
The reason for this is because, as a bobcat approaches an object, it arches its back and extends its neck slightly in order to rub the structure. It doesn’t necessary walk closer to the structure. If you own a housecat, you’ll notice that they exhibit the same behavior as they rub up against your leg. They approach, arch their backs, and lean in to you.
The only time I might set the trap snug against a structure – such as a rock wall – is when there’s a defined corner. In other words, the sharper the angle, the tighter a bobcat will hug the structure. The flatter the object, the less it will hug the structure. This behavior can also be observed with housecats. As they round a sharp corner, they stay tight against the wall.
Much of this has to do with how cats hunt, I believe. They make tight turns around corners because they’re using the wall to essentially shield their movements, which gives them a strategic advantage to ambush prey.
Bobcats aren’t picky about how things look. They don’t shy away from a dirt pattern like a coyote might, and I’ve even known highly successful bobcat trappers who don’t bother even completely covering their traps. Much of what trappers do depends on how we were originally taught, and for me that means I cover the trap. Most of the time, I take it one step further and blend in the set with its surroundings.
The reason I blend in the traps at rub sets is because I don’t want to risk spooking the bobcat. If they’re coming to that spot naturally, I don’t want to do anything to create caution. I’m also careful with how I place blocking and guide sticks.
One season not long ago, I learned a painful lesson about guide sticks at rub sets. Avoid placing them too close together, otherwise a bobcat will just step over the whole thing. Guide sticks should be spaced about as far apart as the distance between two of the bobcat’s tracks. This will force the bobcat to step into the space between the sticks. Sometimes I use bigger sticks as my main guides, and then a few smaller, subtler sticks inside those to actually steer the paw onto the trap pan.
Although rub sets are natural sets that don’t require any lure, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little bit to spice it up. There are several lures on the market specifically for use at rub sets. A good bobcat gland lure or fresh bobcat urine will do the trick, too. Whatever I decide to use, I drizzle a little bit on the backing eight to ten inches above the trap. This can also cause them to hesitate a little longer as they pass by, increasing their chances of getting caught.
Bobcats are hard animals to predict. They’re aloof and you can’t make them do what they don’t want to do. So if you make your sets where they’re already going, your bobcat catch will quickly go up. One way to do that is by making more rub sets in areas where they’re already traveling.