“It’s interesting how it has taken off,” Harrison said in an exclusive interview with The Texan, regarding how the event has grown since its founding. “It’s been a long road with 15 years of hunting, which blows my mind.”
Harrison, along with Todd Schwartz and Quinten Holik, founded the West Texas Bobcat Competition with the idea to answer several needs, including creating a competition where anyone “gets a shot” to enter and compete to win the grand prize.
All three men grew up with a firsthand understanding of the need for better predator control, coming from fourth and fifth-generation ranching and farming families Harrison explained. He detailed how the competition started with 28 hunting teams, and those original 28 still participate.
Today, Harrison is confident it has become the largest predator-hunting competition of its kind, by both participant and payout.
“In the January of 2020 competition, we had 717 teams, and the first-place cat paid out fifty thousand dollars,” Harrison said, noting it was their largest turnout ever. For the latest one in February, they had 602 teams, which paid out $44,000 for the first-place winner.
The two largest bobcats in the event’s history weighed in at 42 pounds each.
And if those numbers are not impressive enough, the event has paid out a staggering $3,428,170 in prize money over its lifetime.
Here are the rules.
The entry fee is $250 for teams of up to four hunters, the more teams that participate, the larger the payout.
The heaviest bobcat wins the grand prize in the “Main Big Bobcat Contest,” but to enter a bobcat to be considered, one must also kill five foxes or five coyotes as well. First through fifth place all take home a cash payout.
Other participants who are unable to qualify in the big main bobcat contest are eligible to enter other competition tiers, which payout cash or equipment provided by sponsors.
The contest is held three times a year in January, February, and March. It is a challenging 23-hour hunt that begins at noon on a Saturday. While teams can begin their hunt at any location within Texas by checking in online, they must present themselves and their catch to judges at the contest headquarters in San Angelo by 11 a.m. the next day.
A litany of other rules on the competition’s website govern the contest to ensure the hunters have confidence in its integrity and are guaranteed a fair and accountable experience, something Harrison takes very seriously.
The contest deploys many methods to prevent cheating, such as using a thermometer to test the warmth against the time an animal was killed, a metal detector to check for illegal weights, and even a polygraph test for the hunters.
In addition, an expert fur buyer is on hand to review the cats and skins, which is a double service to the hunters to not only ensure fairness in the competition but also allow the cats to be prepped for taxidermy or sold for fur.
The hunters who participate in the event make up a wide-ranging demographic according to Harrison, who noted they have seen participants from out of state and even other countries, including Japan, Belgium, and Canada.
“You see everyone included in the teams, including both women and children,” Harrison said, adding, “I hunt with my family during the competition.”
Along with these teams, Harrison has observed the contest is having a substantial economic benefit on a wide range of industries, from travel expenses to hunting equipment, and more.
In addition, he was proud to note that while the government regularly spends public money on varmint mitigation, this contest helps farmers and ranchers address that problem, and instead of using tax dollars, the event actually generates tax revenue.
The competition also carries a conservation component to it as well.
He explained that control of the predator population helps prevent diseases like rabies and that government trappers and wildlife management officials come to the competition and get many months of work done because they are able to test for diseases in animals from all over the state in one event.
Collegiate researchers have also come to the competition for the opportunity to aid their research on bobcats, coyotes, and foxes, and the data they gain helps aid in wildlife management efforts.
Briefly discussing why the competition is kept inside the state of Texas, Harrison said Texas hunting laws are much more amicable towards hunters, and taking the competition across state lines would quickly become problematic considering the patchwork of different laws in different states.
“Texas has realistic and what I like to call normal hunting laws and regulations, common sense,” he said.
The last competition of 2023 begins Saturday, March 18.
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Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.