Homesteading: A Trapper’s Perspective – Part 4, by Lodge Pole

(Continued from Part 3. This concludes the article.)

There are a million ways to bait and/or lure for a foothold set. I have not found one way that works better than another. Try all the methods and use what works for the environment being trapped.

Coon Cuff, or the dog-proof trap. I love this trap simply for the fact that I can use it if I am only targeting raccoons. They are simple to use; set the trap, secure the trap, bait the trap. There is no need to hide it or dress it up to blend in.

Conibear traps. I love conibear traps. Where I am located, they are not legal, so I do not use them.
Tube traps. Tube traps are great for small areas. I use them for ground squirrels in our orchard. I have seen skunks get caught in them, but like conibear traps, if something goes in, it doesn’t come out. Real caution should be applied with any type of instant kill trap.

Snares. Snares have their place, but I never use them.
Primitive traps. Like snares, they have their place. I have never tried primitive trapping. I enjoy watching people who do, but I have never attempted it.

Rat traps. Yes, you got it, the standard Victor rat trap is a very versatile trap. I keep them in all sorts of places around my property. I have even kept them in my truck at times to use when I am camping. I have caught lots of squirrels, rats, the occasional large mouse, and even an opossum in rat traps. I caught the opossum by the front left hand as he was trying to steal my bait. I am a firm believer that any farm or ranch should have loads of Victor rat traps on hand.

Next, I will discuss different attractants and lures.

Cat food. I have had the most trapping success with plain old-fashioned hard cat food. Typically, the cheaper the better. The cheap cat food has more oils in it and typically has more of an odor. Also, cat food is extremely easy to procure. Go to an estate sale, the dollar store, or even a big box store. Cat food is readily available, inexpensive and it works. The only issues that I have ever run into while using cat food is it gets soggy and worthless in the rain. Also, small critters that are too small to spring the trap will steal every piece.

When I was a federal trapper, I would use a lot of wet cat food during the hot summer months. I am not positive there is any rhyme or reason why it worked better than in the winter, but a theory is the moist food on the hot days appealed more to the target animals.

Sardines. What can I say? They are extremely cheap, and they work. Not many people eat them anymore, so they are readily available at grocery stores. Buy some sardines, put them in your pantry, and forget about them.

Peanut butter. Believe it or not, peanut butter is a great attractant. It can get messy, but it works extremely well. If you ever came across a trap shy raccoon, a good trick was to mix hard cat food, marshmallows and peanut butter together into a thick concoction, similar to making bird suet. Put it in a tin can and wire that can to the back of your cage trap. The cage-shy raccoon typically gets so engrossed in the sweet and sticky blend, it drops its guard and steps onto the pan. You might be surprised to find out how often raccoons devour the entire tin can that was being used to hold any attractant.

Peanut butter also works well for squirrels and rats.

Commercial Lures and Attractants. I have used commercial lures and attractants and have never noticed one that works better then another. I do keep skunk gland extract, aka skunk spray, on hand (placed carefully in the upright position, in a location that has no valuables nearby). The extract is as smelly and caustic as when a ripe skunk sprays. Skunk spray is one of the best lures around. While a federal trapper, when I was targeting skunks, if I shot one, I would ALWAYS set a trap where it sprayed. 99.9 percent of the time when a skunk is shot, it sprays. The trap that was set directly on the main spot of skunk spray was almost guaranteed to have a raccoon or another skunk in it the following day. Raccoons are obsessed with skunk spray. I am not sure why, nor do I intend to research the reasoning.

A quick side note if sprayed by a skunk. I have been sprayed more times than I would like to admit. For a while, my wife and I became accustomed to the smell, but that doesn’t make getting sprayed any easier. The best thing to use if the spray (often called mustard because of its color) hits your skin is to immediately put hand sanitizer on it and blot the area with a cloth. As soon as possible, combine Blue Dawn dish soap, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda in a container. I use the roughest sponge I can find and scrub away with the cleaning concoction until the smell is gone. DO NOT use hot water to wash your skin. The warm water will open your skin pores and the smell will get worse in your house. The colder the water, the better. I found that tomato sauce is extremely messy, and it didn’t cut the smell completely. As for any clothes hit by skunk spray, throw them out. I saved a pair of new pants that were directly hit. It took months of air drying and the occasional washing to make the smell totally disappear. I quickly learned to never wear any nicer, newer clothes on a trap line.

Shiny objects. I previously mentioned the use of shiny objects as a lure. I have used pop can openers, spent shotgun shells, cat food can lids and many other things. With a piece of bailing wire from the top of the trap, hang a shiny object towards the back of the trap, either right above the pan, or slightly behind it. The idea is, especially in a lit area or on a full moon or bright night, the shiny item will act like a fishing lure and catch the eye of a wandering critter. Out of curiosity, the animal will enter the trap to play with the shiny object and step on the pan in the process. I knew an old trapper from the 1950s who regularly used this technique to trap mountain bobcats during a full moon. He would set a foothold trap directly under tree branch then tie some twine to the same branch. On the other end, opposite the tree branch, he would attach a piece of aluminum foil. The foil was folded into a triangular shape to catch any breeze more easily. He said it would only work on full moons, but he was successful in trapping wildcats.

Trap-Shy Critters

Lastly, I want to discuss trap-shy or trap-savvy critters. A lot of urban and suburban critters that have never been trapped before are typically easier to catch. They are used to the smells of human activities and the scents associated with being near towns and cities. Occasionally, I would come across an un-trappable animal; it was almost always a raccoon. Homeowners would leave their dog or cat food outside and would typically find raccoons eating the food. They would then set a trap, using dog or cat food, catch the raccoon(s), then drive the critter a few miles away and release it.

Trap-shy and/or trap-savvy animals will either pace around a trap, but not go in, or take all the attractant/bait out of the trap, including the tin can, and not set the trap off. If either of these occurred, I would set the cage trap a little differently. To increase your chances of catching a trap-savvy animal, I would first wire a tin can to the back of the cage, like I mentioned previously. If the attractant is taken from the trap, I put a “step over” of some sort inside the trap, in front of the pan. The step over in the cage trap was usually a branch, a small piece of 2×4, or a decent-sized rock placed directly in front of the pan. What the step over does, is create a small obstacle that makes reaching the attractant close to impossible, because the valuable space the critter would otherwise use to get closer to the attractant without touching the pan is taken away. The step over would usually resolve the trap-savvy critter issue, but occasionally, I would meet my match and not be able to catch the animal. I have not tried it, but a foothold trap in front of a cage trap seems like it would work to catch an animal that goes into the trap but can somehow contortion itself and avoid capture.

Do your best not to feed wild animals. They do not need the help of humans to stay fed, even in the bitter cold winter months. Feeding wild animals only makes them dependent on people and can cause them to become aggressive and dangerous. The family of foxes that got my rooster and several other neighborhood chickens are a perfect example. They were not afraid of me at all. On several occasions when I was outside, they would start walking towards me as if I were bringing them food. Bring animal food in at night and do your best to minimize the chances of animals getting into your garbage. It is sometimes impossible, especially with bears. Bears are another topic for a different day!

With a full-time job, a young family, and a developing farm, my spare time is extremely limited. Though, when possible, my hunting season is not limited to filling the freezer with meat. I try to use hunting season to target fur-bearing animals and predators. Not only is it a great way to keep my marksmanship skills honed, fall and winter hunting will also help reduce the predators that may prey on young livestock or gardens in the spring and summer. Keeping the predators in check also helps the native ground-nesting animals to have a healthier population.

Trapping is as much a part of my soul as it is a part of America’s. Trapping helped build this country. Our ancestors followed ancient game trails and waterways looking for animals. Those game trails became wagon trails which eventually became roads and highways. Trapping is a dying art that needs to remain for many reasons. Not everything about trapping, hunting, or life for that matter, is pleasant. Real facts and honest truth do not change because of how something makes us feel. I will trap as a means of lifestyle protection and for sport until I can no longer set a trap. I will pursue fur-bearing animals until I can no longer walk in the woods. Trapping is a practical skill to have in your back pocket when needed, be it livestock protection, survival, or to provide food and clothing for you and your family when the world goes to hell, which does not seem too far away. I thank you for taking the time to read this article and I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes. “Trappers do not die; they just go deeper into the woods.”