In the early sixties, dad was working for Virginia’s Department
of Health, trapping foxes for rabies control. He was one of seven trappers
hired to try and manage the fox population in an effort to stem the spread
of rabies in the state.
This job required them to work the first 23 days of each month,
with the exception of December, which they were off the entire month.
They might be in Tazewell County one month, then in Orange the next.
The schedule kept them moving all over the state. Once in awhile they
would be close and I would be able to ride with dad on weekends and holidays
when school was out.
Those times when dad was working nearby and I was able to go
with him, he’d let me choose locations and set traps for the foxes.
It was a learning time for me. Looking back, I understand that now.
Back then, I was just enjoying the experience and cherishing my time with
When I would pick a location that was or wasn’t where dad thought
it should be, he’d ask me why I chose that location. I would give my
reasoning, then he would give me more insight about why a fox would or wouldn’t
travel close to the spot I chose. Teaching me was his goal. Although
I didn’t realize learning was my goal at the time, it became crystal clear
I was around 13 years old back then and trapped with dad every
chance I got. I never even thought about trapping seasons, since dad
trapped all the time. The subject of a trapping season for foxes never
came up. At the time, I never figured there was a season for fox trapping.
After all, dad was doing it all the time.
Back then we were living in scenic southwestern Virginia
near the small town of Nebo. The house dad was renting sat at the foot
of Big Walker Mountain, which is a long mountain ridge that runs for miles.
Big Walker Mountain at this spot was tree covered for the top three fourths
of the ridge and the bottom part was pasture for the dairy farm where we
lived. The terrain was hilly with lots of limestone outcroppings in
Dad happened to be in a far-off county trapping foxes and wasn’t
going to be home until the end of the month. I decided I’d take a couple
of his traps and try to catch a fox on my own. After all, it was summer
and there was no school, so a young fella had to keep himself occupied.
I got my packbasket that was a hand-me-down that dad gave me
and placed the two #2 Victor coils with angle iron stakes attached.
I got a bit of fox urine from one of the jugs labeled “Red Fox” stored in
the shed. I put this fox urine in a glass coke bottle I found laying
in the shed. I also picked up a bottle of lure. This was Sheldon
Colvin’s Good Luck Lure Grey Fox #3. That was the only bottle of lure
I could see on the shelf where I was looking. I learned later that
there was a large box full of lure under another box, but I found the one,
so that was enough.
I had a trowel, sifter and a hatchet with a hammer head on one
end. I loaded my tools into the old packbasket and started for the
base of that mountain.
It was over half a mile from the house to the base of the mountain.
Near the base of the mountain were two large dome shaped mounds that made
a perfect “funnel” between the two mounds. I figured all the foxes
would travel through that funnel when coming down off that mountain ridged
to check out the chickens at the dairy farm.
I found two promising spots for the two sets I wanted to put
in. The first was a single dirt hole against the backing of a large
piece of limestone. Once the set was in place, I wadded up some dead
grass and put it in the hole, just like dad taught me. I poured some
fox urine on the backing behind the hole and some Grey Fox #3 onto the wadded
grass in the hole.
The second set was a double dirt hole made against the backing
of a dried out cow pie. I wadded up more dead grass and put this in
both holes. I poured some urine in one hole and put some Grey Fox #3
in the second hole.
I looked at the two sets and was proud of my accomplishment.
After all, I did it on my own, and did a good job.
Sleep came slowly that night. I was thinking of those
two sets all night. I imagined how I would bring the tails off those
two foxes and give them to dad when he got back home. They had to save
the tails from the foxes they caught each month and present them to the supervisor
as evidence of catch with their paperwork. I figured he could use a
couple more fox tails.
Morning finally came and I took off to check those two
traps. From a distance, something didn’t look right at the double dirt
hole, but I couldn’t see a fox at the set. It wasn’t until I got to
within about 20 feet of the set that a small bobcat jumped up, layed back
its ears and snarled at me.
I was mentally prepared for the foxes I thought I’d catch, but
was caught completely off guard by the bobcat. I thought it over and
figured since dad didn’t turn in bobcat tails, there was no sense to kill
it. So, I figured I’d take it home…. Alive.
I recalled dad had a cage he’d put foxes in occasionally to
collect urine for his use. I made a plan to go get the cage and take
it back up the mountain and put the cat in this cage. I had not thought
about how I was going to get the cat in the cage at that time.
I thought that a bit of help could be beneficial, so I talked
one of my sisters into going with me. She was around 11 at that time.
I don’t recall if I told mom about it at that time, or if she found out later.
I’m thinking I didn’t tell her at that time though.
Finding the cage, my sister and I started off for the bobcat.
I’m sure it was a bit of a walk with that heavy cage, but the excitement
of seeing that bobcat again made the walk easy.
When we arrived at the set, the bobcat snarl and hissed at both
of us. I opened the cage door and placed the cage near the bobcat.
The bobcat had one of its hind feet in the trap and was held by two toes.
This hind foot catch gave the cat a large area where it could move around,
even with a short eight to ten inch chain on the trap. Still not knowing
how we were going to get that bobcat into that cage, the cat decided to jump
into the cage. I guess it thought it would be safer in that hole, than
outside of it. I immediately pulled the door down, leaving only the
cat’s foot and trap outside the cage. I had my sister hold down the
door while I removed the trap from the bobcat’s foot.
I was pleased that the cat went into the cage on its own.
I still don’t know how we would have gotten it into that cage if it didn’t.
I reset the trap that held the bobcat. The other trap
was undisturbed. Those two traps stayed there a week with no more action,
then I pulled them.
Careful to keep my hands away from the wire mesh of the cage while
carrying the cage, we made our way back home.
Dad was due back in about ten days, so I figured I’d leave the bobcat
in the small cage and we could build a larger cage when dad got home.
There were plenty of starlings, sparrows and groundhogs around for me to
get as cat food. That cat ate pretty good that summer.
I was in bed when dad got home and mom told him about the cat.
The next morning at the breakfast table dad asked about the cat. I
told him I’d trapped it and I’m sure there was a bit of pride in my voice.
He then began to give me an informative talk about trapping seasons
and how it was illegal for me to set traps for foxes at that time of the
year. He wasn’t angry, but I could tell it was an important lesson
he was teaching me. After the talk, I asked what I should do about
Dad told me that we could keep it, but to be quiet about it.
He said he had been wanting to keep one for urine collection, but hadn’t
caught any in the areas he’d been lately. So, right after breakfast,
we began making a pen for the bobcat.
The pen was made so the cat had a sleeping den all boxed in and a
piece of metal under the pen to catch the urine. The pen was on legs
and a piece of metal was positioned under the pen so that the water container,
wired to the side of the cage, was not over the metal urine collector.
The piece of metal had been bent to a shallow “V” shape so the urine would
run to one spot. We also made a roof for the pen to keep the rain out.
When transferring the cat from the small cage to its pen, I recall
calling the cat Sylvester, and that became the cat’s name.
Once the cat was in its new pen, dad and I went to some nearby trees
and cut some branches. We kept the straightest of these and took off
the smaller limbs. These were then cut to lengths that could be inserted
through the wire mesh of the pen both horizontally and vertically.
This way, I could effectively “wall” off the cat so that when I placed food
in the pen, the cat would not be able to try to escape through the open door.
We kept that cat about three years and collected a lot of urine off
of it. Later dad had caught some more cats and made more pens to collect
more urine. One of the cats he’d caught had distemper and all the cats
died, including Sylvester.
It was a great experience for a youngster to catch and keep his own
bobcat, but it was more important the lesson was learned about trapping seasons
and why they’re necessary. I would never allow my youngsters to keep
a bobcat caught out of season today. Back then it was a different era
with different concerns than we face today.