Trapping: Every Set a Work In Progress


By Trapline editor Hal Sullivan

plastic Kitty Got-Cha Mouse Traps

The first thing on the agenda when establishing a trapline is finding good locations and making sets. Some folks never take it much further than that. I know I used to be that way. I’d work like crazy to get a line up and running. Then I’d race from set to set to set to set, anticipating what might await me in the next trap. After a while, I’d pull the traps and go on to someplace new.

I operate a little differently today …

I could see that the side of the dirthole had been completely scratched away, and little round tracks told the story. A gray fox had approached the set from the side and, finding the loose soil easy to dig, pawed its way to the bottom of the hole and then helped itself to the bait.

I’ve put enough fur on the boards that things like this don’t get to me anymore. I had a chuckle over the lucky little son-of-a-gun, repaired the damage and put more bait in the bottom of the hole.

I had another set only 10 feet away, a urine post made with a section of limb placed across a hump of dirt so the butt stuck up about 8 inches off the ground. The trap was bedded about 8 inches off the end of the limb, which I had doused with a shot of coyote urine. Both sets were, in fact, made for coyotes. I chose the spot—in the open end where the field abutted a woods—because the sets would be readily visible to any passing coyote.

The gray fox came back the next night and again dug out the bait from the side of the hole. Now, this was becoming a bit of a challenge.

While I suspected that the fox would remain in the neighborhood, I wasn’t sure it would work the set again. Sometimes after an animal visits a set a couple of times, it loses interest.

Adding a different attractor could help to entice the fox back. I hadn’t used any urine at the dirthole, and a shot of urine might make it think another animal had worked the set. This could be enough to bring it in for another look. I also could add a different lure. Really, any change that gives the set a different complexion may draw the fox back for another visit.

But I instead opted to make a third set at the location.

Yes, it would have been quicker and easier to just add a squirt of urine and bed a second trap where the fox had stood while it dug out the bait. But I rarely do that. If I put two traps at the same set, I figure the best I can hope for is to catch one critter in two traps.

There are any number of good reasons for setting more than one trap at a good location, but the ultimate goal is to catch more than one of the target animals. In fact, I had doubled on coyotes at this very location the year before.

As noted in the beginning, there was a time when I might have felt duty bound to live or die by the two sets I had originally made at the location. But now I don’t hesitate to add a fresh set, or two, or three if I think the situation warrants. I own plenty of traps, and I’ve seen these new sets produce critters plenty of times when the original sets didn’t.

A few yards away, in the edge of the woods, I found a small rotten stump about the size of a gallon jug. A natural “V” formed where two roots branched off the stump, and I bedded a trap right there. The fox had shown no interest in the urine set that was only 10 feet away. However, it was obviously interested in the bait in the dirthole, so I poured a shot of food lure on the side of the stump.

A little creek flowed nearby along the edge of the field, and I had made a blind set for raccoons right in the middle of it. The easiest way to get up and down the creek bank was to follow the same trail the deer used. A tree had fallen parallel to the creek, and the deer were walking around the end of it. They had worn the bank slick where they climbed up and down.

I thought coyotes might be using this trail, but try as I might, I could not find a track, which I suppose was just as well because it would have been all but impossible to maintain a set on that active of a deer trail, anyway.

The fallen tree at the top of the bank was just about eye level as I walked up the creek to check the coon set, and this time, I noticed a hole through the limbs and brush underneath. When I took a closer look, I saw faint scratching on the bank, heading straight for that hole. When I put my nose to the ground, I saw coyote tracks.

So, this was why I hadn’t seen coyote tracks on the deer trail. The deer couldn’t get under the tree, but the coyotes could, and they had found a shortcut.

I climbed the bank, went back around the tree, and located the perfect place to hang a snare. A loose limb already leaning against the trunk actually defined the passageway under the tree. I looped one of my long extension cables around the trunk and used that to fasten the snare to the tree. Then I twisted some 14-gauge wire around the limb to make a support for the snare.

All of my snares are rigged with a rubber collar, which I put on the cable as I assemble the snare. It is an easy matter to slide a support wire under this collar, though I have to double the end of 14-gauge wire to get a tight fit. I adjust the loop to the size I want—for coyotes, 10 to 12 inches—then move the support collar right up to the lock and insert the wire underneath. Now, I can adjust the position of the loop by simply bending the wire.

For coyotes, I typically keep the bottom of the loop 10 to 12 inches off the ground. In this case, though, the loop was a little lower because the coyotes were ducking under the tree trunk, and I positioned the snare accordingly. That made four canine sets at one location.

The sets were empty the next two days, and I wondered if maybe I had scared off the critters with too much disturbance in a small area. But I didn’t think so.

The third day, my fears were allayed. There stood two coyote. One was caught in the urine post set by a back foot. I didn’t intend to catch it that way, but it was securely caught, nonetheless. The other was in the stump set I’d put in hoping to catch the gray fox.

Here’s the odd part. When I checked the dirthole set, it was dug all to pieces. It seemed that one or both of the caught coyotes had first scratched around at the dirthole before getting caught at a different set. I wondered if the gray fox had been giving them lessons.

I got the camera out and started taking pictures. The coyote at the stump set started barking, which is not unusual. But then, off in the distance, another coyote answered! I’d never had that happen before. Was the coyote part of this family group? Maybe it was the one that had worked the dirthole without getting caught.

Of course, there was no way to tell.

A rain shower the night before had left the ground a muddy mess and I had to pull the urine set as it was impossible to rebuild. I did manage to squeeze the trap back between the roots at the stump set, and I covered it with some dry dirt I had brought in with me. I jury-rigged the dug-out dirthole by covering it with small pieces of brush, leaving one clear path right over top of the trap.

As much as I would have liked to put in a new, fresh set in case that extra coyote came back for a visit, I just couldn’t find a good place to do it in the muddy ground.

When I got to the end of the field the following day, I was a little disappointed to see the sets empty. But then I glanced over to the snare under the fallen tree, and there lay a coyote watching me. I dispatched it and hung the snare back in place.

Tracks would have been obvious in the still-damp ground, yet I could find no evidence that this coyote had gone anywhere near the other sets. It looked like it had just skirted them then tried to leave the area by following the path under the tree. There also was no way to tell definitively that this was the coyote I’d heard the day before, but I guessed it was.

That made three coyotes from the location. And two of them had been taken in sets I’d put in after the original setup. I considered putting in another fresh set, but having picked up a third coyote, and a fourth a quarter-mile away, I figured I had them pretty well thinned out. The next day, I pulled all of the traps and moved on.

I don’t know what became of the gray fox that started all of the additional set making. I hope it prospered.

At the very least, I know it faced a lot less coyote competition.