By Trapline Editor Hal Sullivan
Bodygrips are the trap of choice for most beaver and muskrat trappers, in large part because the traps almost always quickly dispatch what they catch. These animals do not always fare well when being restrained alive in a foothold trap; their frail bone structure gives out. Yet some sets and locations just cry out for a foothold trap, like a castor mound for beavers or the landing on a muskrat hut, and since these sets and locations are almost always in the water or at the water’s edge, a foothold trap can almost always be rigged to drown what it catches.
The same thing applies to raccoons on the water line. I still use a couple of old No. 3 longsprings that would be totally unsuitable on dry land, because once the foot in the trap grows numb, the wide jaw spread would let a raccoon push its snout under the jaws and chew on the foot. But if I put that same trap on a one-way slide into deep enough water, the coon will be at the deep end, drowned, before it has time to think about biting anything.
After that, well, dead raccoons do not injure themselves. They also do not attract much attention, and they don’t get away. Otter and mink are also better served if foothold traps can be rigged on a lethal drowning system.
Sometimes it’s simple. If you are trapping small critters within arm’s reach of the water, you may just wire the trap to a long stake and drive that stake out in deep enough water. It works dependably with muskrats and mink, sometimes even raccoons. But at some point, often depending on how far the animal must go before it reaches deep enough water, it works better to put the trap on a one-way lock, on a cable or wire that is anchored out in deep water. The cable or wire is also staked or otherwise secured by the set.
The lock only slides one way on the wire, which is toward the deep end. If the animal heads towards the bank instead, the lock cinches up, and when the animal realizes it cannot go any farther, it typically turns and heads back the other way, into the deep water. Some locks are L-shaped. A box swivel with an open end also makes a good slide lock. Traps sold for water trapping often come equipped with this or another type of one-way lock at the end of a short chain.
You can use 14-gauge wire to make sliders for animals up to the size of a raccoon. But for coons and above, 12 gauge is minimal, 11 gauge is better, and cable is best. I still use some wire for the smaller animals, but most of the time, I use cable, and for bigger animals, I typically use 1/8-inch cable.
When a trapped animal tugs on a slide wire, it may kink and weaken that wire. If you don’t replace it, the next critter caught in the set may break it and run off with the trap. And when things go really wrong, the wire may fail on a first catch. I lost a prototype CDR trap years ago when a beaver tangled itself up in shallow water and broke the slide wire.
Cable is way more durable than wire. You might have to replace a wire several times over the life of a set. Cable lasts from set to set, even season to season. So when you think about replacement cost, and the time you spend replacing wire, cable becomes a much more inviting option. And in case of catastrophic failure at the set, cable will likely hold the trap and the critter until you get there. Wire often won’t.
The advantage to wire is that it is relatively cheap, and you can cut off whatever length you need right at the set. Cable costs more, and it is impractical to cut and rig in the field.
It is easiest to make up cable slides ahead of time. I make two kinds, fixed-length and adjustable. Fixed length is the easiest to make. All you need is a loop in each end to attach the stake or anchor, with a slide lock that runs between the two loops. I also put a snare swivel on each end of my slides because it makes them easier to use and less prone to tangle.
For the lock, I use a universal box-type swivel. The slide cable goes thorough the open hole in one end of the swivel body. I crimp a J-hook in the other hole for fastening on the trap.
The lock system for my adjustable-length slides includes a 1/8-inch cam lock to hold the cable tight. I make most of these about 12 feet long, though I make some “special occasion” slider cables in excess of 20 feet long.
Regardless of the length of the slider, I almost always stake the trap in the bank by the set. Where the bank is firm, I typically use a rebar stake. If the bank is soft, I may switch to a wider wooden stake. Such stakes hold better in the mud.
When the trap is in place, I run the slide out in the water as far as possible and anchor it there.
The bank stake has to be just strong enough to hold the wire or cable taut, because the trapped animal doesn’t really tug against it. When the critter lunges away from the bank stake, there is no resistance. The critter just slides deeper into trouble. The bottom-end anchor is what holds the animal, and it is what you need to be most concerned about.
You can stake the bottom end of the slide, but it is difficult to drive a stake into the bottom under deep water. You may fasten the slide to the bottom of a long stake and drive it in by pounding on the end that is above water. But I’ve seen coon climb a long stake and stay above water, and to drown beavers, you need even deeper water, water so deep you can hardly work in it, even wearing chest waders.
The most practical anchor is a weight you can toss out in the deep water, an anchor like you might use for a boat. But the weight has to be enough that the animal can’t pull it back in, and there are a couple of other considerations.
If the bank falls straight away, even a small weight may hold the animal down. But if the bank is sloped, the animal may take longer to succumb and may even drag the weight back up the bank.
A whole concrete block weighs about 35 pounds, and in most locations, it will hold down a beaver. Half a concrete block will usually take care of a raccoon, but if the water is borderline shallow, I use a whole block for them, too. The old three-hole blocks are easy to work with, and you may still find them at demolition sites. Other trappers use everything from railroad tie plates to automobile brake rotors as anchors for coon sets.
A friend made cast concrete anchors for beaver sets by cutting the tops off of 2-gallon jugs, filling them with concrete, and inserting rebar handles for fastening the wires. They were heavy enough, but there were places where the plastic slid too easily across the bottom, and the beavers pulled them around.
If you’re interested in casting coon weights, any gallon jug with the top cut out should make a good mold. Leave the handle on the jug for easier transport, but don’t use it to tie off the wire or cable. For a fastening point, stuff a few lengths of chain down into the concrete, and let one link stick out. You can also make these weights using gallon paint cans. That’s what I did.
If I intend to set the location again, when I pull the trap, I take the weight up on the bank and hide it somewhere. A lot of weighted paint cans and concrete blocks are stashed around my regular trapline. Most of the time, I just lay it against a tree and cover it with sticks and leaves. This keeps the causal observer from messing around with it. If you leave it in plain sight, kids (of all ages) will throw a concrete block over the bank, just to watch the splash.
Making the anchor on site at the set saves the trouble of lugging around the weight. Best option is to pack in some of those sturdy woven-plastic mesh bags, typically used for sand bags or for animal feed. Sometimes, I get them free by simply asking at a livestock feed store. If not, they only cost about 50 cents apiece. The bags fold nicely, take up very little space, and weigh virtually nothing.
At the set, you can fill it with rocks, gravel or sand. Dirt shoveled up on the bank will do where there is nothing better. Just put in a little extra, because a small portion of the dirt may leech out.
Even if I am using just one big rock, I still put it in a sack. There are ways to wire up a large rock anchor without the sack, but it’s a whole lot easier to just drop the rock in the sack and wire the end of the slide to the bag. I use 14-gauge wire for this, first twisting the neck of the sack shut and then spearing the wire through the sack near the weight. This keeps the wire from slipping up the neck of the sack. Then I thread the ends of the wire through the end loop on the slide cable, until there is a double wrap of wire holding it. Then I twist the wire against the neck of the sack.
For most of the critters I trap in water, it’s the end of the line—both literally and figuratively.