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West Texas Pumas are Rare

http://www.mysanantonio.com/hunting_fishing/46983212.html

Mountain (Lion) Man

MARK GLOVER/SPECIAL TO THE EXPRESS-NEWS

By Mark Glover – Express-News

Bill Applegate, looking out over the mountainside, provides predation maintenance for West Texas ranchers and charges a monthly fee.

Bill Applegate, looking out over the mountainside, provides predation maintenance for West Texas ranchers and charges a monthly fee.

BREWSTER COUNTY — Bill Applegate steers the blue-green Ford up one of the many desolate roads in the Big Bend. The four-wheel drive is engaged, the V-8 lugs and the only thing that can be seen through the windshield is blue sky.

Applegate spits out the window and then nods to a saddle in the ridgeline.

“Lions will find the lowest place to get through,” he says. “I trapped one there.”

Texas is the only state to maintain an open season on mountain lions.

“There are fewer out there than they think,” Rocky McBride says from his ranch outside of Alpine.

McBride lives most of the year in Paraguay, where he has another ranch and provides guided jaguar hunts.

“We use tranquilizing dart guns,” McBride says. “Tree ’em with dogs, shoot ’em, take the photograph and then release them back into the wild.”

In Paraguay, McBride educates and leads an effort to protect the jaguars in the country from extinction.

“They are pretty much gone in east Paraguay,” McBride says.

The most recent field study of the West Texas mountain lion occurred at Big Bend State Park. Performed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 21 mountain lions were trapped and collared from 1993-97.

During the study, 17 of the 21 in the control group died, including 15 that were shot by predator-control practices in private lands adjacent to the park.

Applegate was trapping in the area during the experiment.

“I’m responsible for 14 of those kills,” Applegate says. “I called TPW every time, and returned the collars.”

Applegate provides predation maintenance for ranchers in the area and charges a monthly fee.

“I started out trapping just for the pelts, but as the animals thinned and the pelt market crashed, I had to start charging for my services,” he says.

Presently, Applegate has 200 mountain lion traps set. Once they are caught in the trap, their fate is in the hands of the trapper. Most of them are shot.

Applegate trapped 26 lions last year. His highest take was 38 in 2003.

“If it wasn’t for the new type of landowners in our area, they’d probably all be gone by now,” said McBride, referring to the recent acquisitions of large West Texas tracts by private and non-profit land conservators in the area.

The truck stops in a sea of sotol and gamma grass. Applegate steps out and pushes up his gray, sweat-stained Stetson. The Glass Mountains of Brewster County glow in the east.

“Little rocks can hang up the springs,” Applegate says as he sifts soil over the trap.

The early morning sunrays catch his teeth and they glitter white against his unshaven, sun-tanned face. He dips a stick in a crude batch of canned lure that contains “glandular drippings and a little urine.”

The Big Bend State Park study did not collect sufficient data to determine the population of the West Texas mountain lion, but TP&W is working on a computer-modeling program that may provide better estimates of mountain lion populations in the future.

According to the latest USDA statistics, predators killed 39,100 cows and calves in 2005 throughout Texas. Non-predator losses for the same year, including disease and weather, accounted for 531,000 losses or about 93 percent of the total losses.

Coyotes were responsible for 58 percent of predator kills, dogs for 12 percent and mountain lion and bobcats lumped together for about 3 percent.

The 42-year-old truck bounces down another road then pulls up to the next trap.

“Something messed with this one,” Applegate says as he dusts off the area with a coyote tail. “Probably a fox or a skunk.”

He carries a leather satchel strapped across his shoulder. In it are the tools of the trade: stake puller, three jars of lure, digging tool, coyote tail, knee pads, Bowie knife, pick, hammer, and sifter.

Along with his Model 96 Winchester lever-action rifle, a pistol holstered to his belt and a $40 hunting license, the only other thing needed besides a truck are miles and miles of Texas.

Mark Glover is a freelance outdoors writer.

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