By Hal Sullivan
I was about three-quarters of a mile up from the highway, maybe a mile and a half from where Smoky Hollow drains into the Ohio River. I knew it was a big hollow, but I really didn’t know how much farther it went. About 10 years ago, the hollow had been timbered, and I was in a thicket right behind the old log staging operation.
I had trapped there before, but hadn’t had much luck. Then I had lost touch with my contact person. Unable to renew permission, I just wrote it off. But then, toward the end of last season, I noticed a small pickup truck in my rearview mirror. It followed for miles, all the way to my house. Turned out to be another member of the family who owned Smoky Hollow, and he wanted me to come back. “It’s overrun with coyotes,” he said.
It was too late to set it up then, but I put it back on my list for this season.
Things certainly had changed. The forest was reestablishing itself, yet the canopy was not closed, and the ground under the young trees was choked with brush, brambles and the honeysuckle that pervades our neck of the woods. The old logging roads were being kept clear as four-wheeler trails, which made travel easy but also aroused other concerns.
The rocky ground offered little chance of cutting a track. However, if there were coyotes in there, they would be using the roads, and it would be easier to find scat than tracks. While riding along on my four-wheeler, I focused on the tire tracks. A coyote dropping may be squashed flat by another passing four-wheeler, and not every black blotch is a coyote dropping, but on closer inspection, some are.
I drove by a pile of butts cut from the ends of trees at the edge of what was once a logging yard and thought that might be a good location. But I didn’t see any scat, so I forged on another couple hundred yards to a fork in the road that should concentrate any coyote traffic. I parked the ATV and sure enough found some coyote scat.
I walked about 50 yards up one fork and came upon a dead yearling doe that something had been feeding on. The back half was covered with leaves, almost unquestionably the work of a bobcat. The population of cats in Ohio is increasing rapidly, but we don’t yet have a season to trap them, so I would not be making any sets close to that carcass. Even if bobcats had been legal, I wouldn’t have made a set right at the carcass, because a catch there would likely spook away other critters.
I hadn’t seen any more coyote sign, wasn’t sure how much farther the road went nor how much farther I wanted to follow it. So I decided to go back to the fork in the road and make a couple of sets there.
First, I made a little flat set right in the corner of the two roads, using a chunk of limb about the size of a pop bottle for an attractor. I laid it in the weeds on the side of the road and dabbed a little coyote gland lure under it. That little chunk of wood would not draw too much human attention, but a coyote wouldn’t miss it, especially with the smell of the lure. I really didn’t know what kind of ATV traffic to expect, and I’d already had enough critters and traps stolen to last a lifetime, so I put the trap on a grapple to let any catch hide back in the brush. I blended the 8 feet of chain into the ground cover.
Across the road in the other corner, I opted for a urine set. A small log already lay there, so I used that for a drag, looping a snare cable around and fastening the trap to that. I leaned a smaller stick across the little log, put a shot of urine on the end of it, and blended the trap in underneath.
When I came back to the old log yard, I decided to put in two sets there, as well. I picked out a short chunk of limb about as big around as a fence post for a backing. It wouldn’t attract too much attention on the ground next to an old log yard.
The ground was so bare there was no place to hide a grapple unless I buried it under the trap. But I figured I’d have enough trouble digging a trap bed in that rocky ground, let alone a hole deep enough to bury a grapple. Instead, I scrounged around the slash pit for a drag and found a cedar limb about 3 inches thick and 4 feet long. It had been laying there for years, but cedar doesn’t rot quickly, and it was still sound. I hooked a 5-foot length of snare cable around this limb and laid it next to the other. Two pieces of wood would not look anymore out of place than one. I set the trap off the end of the log and hid the snare cable with weeds and leaves.
Across the road, I made another urine set. I almost always include a urine set as part of every gang set. I found another stout length of cedar limb to use for a drag, squirted a shot of urine on the end, and set the trap there. Here, I had a drag and an attractor rolled into one.
I rode back out of the hollow to the abandoned farmhouse where I had parked the truck. The landowner still kept some horses on the farm, and a trail went through a gap in a fence in the back of the old farmyard. Since there were no horses in the field, I made a set on either side of the gap—one a good old-fashioned dirthole, the other a flat set.
I staked these traps because the ground was not so rocky here.
Below the highway, I found a good location on the east end of a 100-acre soybean field. I made a dirthole where a couple of brush rows came together and also a flat set with a big leg bone from a cow carcass.
The following day, I didn’t find anything in any of the traps. But when I checked the deer carcass, it was uncovered and about eaten up. I greatly suspected coyotes had found it and was a little disappointed I hadn’t caught any.
The next day, the carcass was gone. But so was the trap from the flat set at the intersection, and it didn’t take long to find the grapple tangled in nearby brush—with a coyote in the trap.
Three days passed without another catch, and I was beginning to think there weren’t many coyotes around. But the following morning, the cedar pole drag and trap were missing from the set at the slash pit. I glanced around, didn’t see anything, and decided to check the traps at the fork in the road before coming back and making a more thorough search.
I was still a long ways off from the fork when I saw a coyote bouncing in the trap fastened to the log at the urine set. Then, before my very eyes, it pulled out of the trap and scurried off down the road.
Needless to say, I was disgusted. But when I got to the set, I got a pleasant surprise—another coyote tangled in the brush with the grapple and chain from the flat set. The coyote had only been in the trap a few minutes. There wasn’t even a mark on its foot.
I speculated that this coyote and the other had been traveling together and had been caught at about the same time. If a coyote’s foot is only in a trap for a few minutes, the trap doesn’t have time to “set” across the pad and may come off.
When I checked the urine set from which the coyote had escaped, I found the trap chain caught on a small stub on the log. The set area was not torn up, further enforcing my belief that the escapee had not been long in the trap.
I remade both sets and went back to the slash pit. It only took me a couple of minutes to find the coyote that had run off with the cedar pole. It hadn’t gone far.
I had pinched three coyotes, and two were going home with me.
The next day, the dirthole in the soybean field gave up another coyote. The sets at the gap in the fence at the old farmyard also proved productive. Over the previous three days, I had taken two possums and two coons from those traps, and now a coyote was waiting.
I dispatched it and went to check the traps back up the hollow.
Again the pole was missing from the flat set at the log yard. This coyote hadn’t gotten far, either. And the set scored again the next day. This time, the coyote took out across the empty log yard dragging the pole behind. It made about 40 yards before heading into the brush and tangling up. That made three coyotes from one set.
I gave the location another day and then pulled up. Ohio’s week-long deer gun season was set to open, and I knew the woods would fill with hunters. I figured I had just about worn out the coyotes, anyway. I had put steel on eight, even if one had gotten away.
As I pulled the last two traps, the ones in the old farmyard, I saw a fresh coyote track in the muddy lane. I guess that one will have to wait until next year.