Trapping animals is a skill that is as old as time itself. From a simple stick-triggered rock deadfall to modern day legholds and automatic snares, these devices increase the efficiency of gathering that all-important meal. There are many myths surrounding trapping and most notably the modern leghold style traps. It’s best to dispel some of these myths in the beginning, so as to not bog down the discussion of their use in the field for both survival and non-survival situations. It is best to refer you to the National Trappers Association for more detailed information on the myths and misunderstandings of modern trapping equipment. Also, a quick YouTube search will pull up several videos of people showing examples of traps purposely set off on their own hands to show that these traps are not only humane but are very high quality pieces of equipment. (Search “Hand in the trap challenge” for multiple video results.) One of the most notable is of a 13-year-old girl setting off a variety of traps on her own hand with no problems at all. Now, onto the information of why trapping is important for the prepper. It all comes down to time. In any SHTF scenario, time will be one of your most valuable commodities. Gathering, processing, and preserving food will make it to the very top of the list of daily chores, and if you want to maximize your time then trapping is the most efficient “hunting” method available. Traps work 24/7 and are there when you can’t be. They are simple and easy to use and with a little skill can be highly productive. Every survival book out there seems to always have the same hand drawn sketches of those really neat snares that are made with just the materials at hand. The problem with these sketches is those traps are difficult to manufacture and will only have limited success. There are many instances where full grown animals, like raccoons, beavers, and coyotes, have damaged metal traps and snare cables. These traps are of professional quality, and they still get damaged and sometimes fail. The rope and stick trap that took you several hours to construct is going to fail. The 550 cord you have in your pack or the lightweight wire stuck back in the BOB will fail, and the nifty little wire snares you bought online will fail too. Why will they fail? It’s mainly because animals are strong. They’re stronger than most people realize. Raccoons, for instance, will tear right through metal hardware cloth to get at chickens. Imagine how much of a fight they will put up when they have a snare around their leg. This strength cannot be underestimated, and your traps need to be set accordingly. Another way they will fail is the anchor system. Traps need to be anchored securely. Most professional trappers use heavy chain or steel cables. The twine, rope, or zip ties you think will hold the snare simply won’t do the job, except for the very smallest animals.
The Basics of Setting Up Traps:
- Determine Target Animals in the Area and Select Appropriate Sized Traps
All traps come in different sizes and can be matched for the size of the animals you are targeting. A good rule of thumb is you can go larger but don’t go smaller. A squirrel might easily be caught in a cage trap designed for a raccoon; however, a raccoon probably won’t be able to fit in a small cage trap designed for a squirrel. Size recommendations: All are available for purchase from quality manufacturers.
Legholds: #1 – #2 sizes for small to medium animals, and #3 and larger for bigger predators
Conibears: 110’s and 220’s sizes for small and medium animals and 330’s for larger animals
Live Cage Traps: 10”x10” opening for small- to medium-sized animals is a good all-around trap size.
Snares: 1/16” inch cable wire is a good medium strength size for many applications. 1/32” for small animals and 1/8” for larger animals. Properly built snares with slidelocks will increase the success rate.
- Location, Location, Location
Knowing where to set your traps is important. Wind direction, travel routes, food sources, and water access are key factors. Places where multiple types of terrain intersect are great locations to set up traps. Fence lines and other man-made features can help funnel animals into specific travel routes. Natural cover and protective terrain, such as rock outcroppings and brush piles, are magnets for both predators and prey. Avoid just setting up in the middle of the woods or fields and hoping for the best. Traps have been known to sit for weeks even with bait and never catch a single animal. Experienced trappers will tell you that location is the most important decision that determines success. Setting a trap on the wrong side of a culvert or not using the wind to push the scent from a lure onto the travel routes can be the difference between catching dinner and wasting time. Sometimes even just a few feet can make a difference. Learn the animal, and learn the terrain.
Baits: These can be almost anything that would represent a food source– meats, fruits, shellfish, fish, cookies, candy, oils, left over or spoiled foods, and other animal parts. The list is almost endless. Many commercially-available baits are excellent and are stable for longer-term storage. However, be aware that any bait that is rotting will reach a point where it is not palatable and may cause the animal to shy away. Something else to consider is the time of year you are trapping. Spring, summer, and fall will have you fighting off insects from many of your baits. Ants, flies, and other insects will immediately come after food/meat baits and make them useless for trapping. This is one aspect that most winter fur trappers do not have to contend with and can be difficult to overcome. When using baits, it is important to not overdo the amount used. A small amount will go a long way, and sets can be productive with only a tablespoon or less of bait added at a time. Refresh the bait as needed, but waiting days and even weeks to add new bait is acceptable if the weather doesn’t interfere with them.
Lures: These are different from baits as they are more about the scent that will draw a curious animal to investigate. Lures may have a very strong odor for an attractant and will often work with just a few drops in the right place. Some lures are made with using glands from specific animals. Canines, beavers, and scavengers are some that respond well to lures. Skunk musk is another ingredient used for lures as the odor is a strong curiosity scent for many animals. Still others may have fruit scent extracts added for scavenging animals. Animal urine can be put into this category; however, urine can be over-used easily and is hard to gather in the wild. Curiosity and territorial behaviors help these attractants become very effective when used correctly.
Physical items: Feathers, fur, bones, skulls, turtle shells, tinfoil, and even paper bags are items that are used to attract an animal from a distance. Many nuisance wildlife trappers know that human trash is a major source of food for wildlife. Roadsides littered with fast food wrappers will draw animals for miles. Using those local items around your set can increase the activity and the catch rates. Animals will investigate anything and everything in their range for a chance at a free meal. Even a freshly dug hole is enough to bring some animals in for a quick check. Learn to use them to your advantage. Once you have picked your trap, location, and attractant, it is time to set up and go to work. A very basic trapping preparation kit can be made from the average garage and kitchen. Here is what would be considered a minimum set up:
- Shovel – small hand trowels will work, but larger garden shovels will make life easier. This one piece of equipment will allow you to start almost any style set.
- Gloves – to protect your hands but also to keep your scent to a minimum when putting in the trap.
- Screen sifter – for leghold traps you will need a way to put clean, loose material over the traps. A colander from the kitchen will do a suitable job or anything with ¼” or less holes.
- Cable or chain with attachment hardware. D-rings or split rings work well, but avoid lightweight materials as discussed earlier. Closed link chain is best as types like swingset chain can be twisted open if the animal is determined enough and left alone for any length of time.
- Axe or hatchet – for removing and adding limbs and cutting roots out of the set area. For snares you will often have to move a large limb into a specific location, and this is where an axe will come in handy.
- Kneeling pad– Save your knees and reduce the human scent by having something like a foam square to kneel on while working on the area.
- A way to dispatch the animal when caught. A .22 caliber firearm is a good choice for this task.
Other items that are useful: screwdriver, pliers, hammer, hand pick axe, and a small rake to clean up debris. Five-gallon buckets are excellent to carry the supplies and baggies or jars are perfect for storing baits and lures.