Trapping: Wily Coyotes

By Hal Sullivan

cold muskrat trapping

It always pays to scout a trapline before you set traps, and I admit that I am a bit lax in this, especially when it comes to my old home trapline. After all of these years I pretty much know where the critters are going to be and rarely scout before the season opens. But I do spend half of the first day checking out the locations I know should be good. Sometimes things change over the summer.

There’s a good stretch on my ’line where a creek empties into a river. For the last 15 years or so, the fields along the riverbank have been left fallow in head-high weeds. Pretty good habitat, if you ask me. About 50 yards from the river, the little creek goes under a tractor lane. Pretty good location, if you ask me. I can’t tell you how many coyotes I’ve caught at that culvert. I’m too lazy to review the notes. Somewhere between 40 and 50 is a good guess.

When I topped the rise last fall, I noticed a drastic change in the bottomland. The fields had been cleared and were dotted with soybean stubble. For certain, the culvert would still be a good place for a set, but I thought I had better poke around a little before I set any traps.

A narrow neck of land parallel to the creek stretching away from the river had been skinned off for planting. A bulldozer pile sat at the edge of the creek at the head of the draw. I went looking for evidence coyotes might be coming down the bank and skirting that dozer pile. What I found instead was a dead goat. Or at least what was left of it. I don’t know from which farm it came, but someone had dumped the carcass by the dozer pile.

There are legal restrictions as to how close you can set around exposed bait, and I’ve been trapping long enough to know it’s not a good idea to set traps right on a carcass. I backed off 100 yards and made a flat set with a chunk of wood and a T-bone set using a spinal bone from a cow for the attractor. I set a single trap at the culvert, just for nostalgia, and that’s where I found a coyote the next day.

Unfortunately, it was a lousy coyote—figuratively and literally. The lice were so thick it wasn’t fit to skin.

The wood backing was gone from the set by the goat and the spinal bone had been pulled half out of the ground. I had been so clever camouflaging the flat set I had quite a time locating the trap without a wood block beside it. Could not find the wood and assumed a coyote had run off with it. I replaced it and pounded the T-bone back into the ground.

Some coyotes seem to know what a trapper is up to right out of the gate. This looked like one of those coyotes. My suspicions were confirmed the next day when the new wood backing and the spine bone were both gone. I found some pawing and scratching at the sets, but the coyote knew gol-darn well where I was trying to get it to step with those attractors.

I planted a new bone, this one anchored with a 16-inch rebar stake. I replaced the wood block once again. To make the sets, I had dug out a “plug” of dirt for each trap bed. I usually toss this stuff away from the trap bed, and I found a dirt plug where I expected to find it. I picked it up and placed it across the trap from the wood chunk. My flat set was now a walk-through set. I doused the dirt with urine. A coyote might make off with another piece of wood, but it would not cart off a chunk of urine-soaked dirt.

After two misses in a row, I thought I should also check out the goat carcass. It was gone. I located it down on the shore of the creek, almost eaten up. I wasn’t keen on handling a rotting goat, but I was getting desperate. I found a place where I could stash the stinky carcass in weeds on the creek bank near a natural gap that offered an approach I could easily cover with a snare, which I did.

The coyote came back the next night. It ignored the sets but followed the trail where I had dragged the goat down the bank. It dragged the goat back up the trail, avoiding the snare. I moved the goat carcass back to where I had put it and fastened it more permanently by wedging the horns in the crotch of a tree.

In a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse got out, I set a second snare in the back trail.

I was willing to give it one more shot with a foothold where a big dead limb had fallen at the edge of the field. A branch projected out into the field about 12 inches off the ground, and that’s the makings for what I call a projection set. A dab of lure goes on the end of the limb and the trap is buried right underneath. I figured this might be subtle enough to fool this smart coyote.

I worked quickly and carefully to leave as little scent as possible, sifted the dirt very carefully back over the trap, and fully camouflaged the trap bed.

When I was confirming permission to trap that fall, the landowner told me his farmer had run five coyotes out of the field. It was obvious there were a bunch around, and I had made more sets about a mile above the goat carcass. I caught two coyotes with those sets. All of the sets went dead after that, and I began to think maybe I had caught the goat-eater.

Then we got a torrent of rain, an inch and a half total. It was pouring when I pulled out of the shop, and I was actually hoping I hadn’t caught anything so I wouldn’t have to deal with the muddy mess. Sets would be impossible to remake. I powered through the rainstorm without seeing any critters. I did not approach any set closer than I needed to see that it did not hold a catch. There would be no repairing sets until the next day, anyhow.

Here in the Ohio River Valley, early winter rainstorms are often pushed through by a cold front, and by dawn the next day, the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees. I don’t worry about sets freezing until the nighttime low dips below 30 degrees. Dirt usually doesn’t freeze overnight until it gets colder than that. I had been lucky so far with nighttime lows mostly remaining at 30 degrees and above.

When the freezing cold does come, I spray propylene glycol antifreeze on the sets. It is not cheap, but it doesn’t rust traps like salt and calcium chloride. I dilute it with water to a 10- or 20-percent solution that will pump through my sprayer.

I hadn’t applied any glycol, and now I had to deal with a bunch of traps frozen in mud. Most were undisturbed, and I knew a little dose of glycol would thaw the dirt and keep it thawed for a while.

I had to remake the projection set. The trap had been dug out. Despite how carefully I had placed that trap and how much rain had fallen on it, the accursed coyote had found it under the frozen covering. I found the pawed-out trap in a frozen mat of dirt out in the soybean stubble. I had gone to a lot of trouble to make a “secret” set only to have the coyote kick it back in my face, literally.

Honestly, my balloon was a little deflated by that.

Something was also out of place at the first snare set. There was a mud circle at the edge of the field, and as I approached, a coyote jumped out from behind the maple tree to which I had anchored the snare.

“Ah ha!” I exclaimed, figuring I had finally outwitted the critter. “Gotcha!” I added as I drew my pistol.

The rain may have provided a little help. The direct route to the goat carcass had been right though the original snare. The creek coming up and flooding that lower trail made where the second snare was waiting the most direct approach.

It still baffles me how some of the wariest diggers walk right into a snare. This coyote had been too smart for foot traps. All I had to do was disturb the ground, and it was game over. Yet it had walked right into a loop.

To fasten the snare, I had wrapped a 10-foot cable extension around one trunk of a forked water maple. I figured a coyote might tangle up in that fork, and this one had. But it was behaving oddly, like it had somehow tangled up backwards.

The coyote kept dancing around, and I waited. When it finally got turned sideways, I lined up the sights behind a front leg slightly below center on the chest cavity and squeezed the trigger. With a heart shot like that, coyotes die in 60 seconds or less. There is minimal blood loss to contaminate the set location.

After the coyote expired, I dragged it up the bank and tried to untangle the snare from around its tail. I couldn’t because it was actually caught by the tail. I’d snared a few coyotes by the foot. But I had never snared one by the tail before, and I can’t tell you how that might have happened. I doubt it went all the way through the snare loop first. I think maybe it backed into the snare while trying to tug the goat carcass away from the creek.

Ohio law requires either a 350-pound break-away device on a snare or a deer stop that holds the loop open at least 2.5 inches. I employ the break away on my snares, and that had allowed this loop to close down enough to cinch tightly around the base of the coyote’s tail. That might have been the end of the tale, so to speak, but it wasn’t.
I rebuilt all of the sets and nothing happened for a week. I decided it was time to pull out. In a last-night effort, I spruced up the projection set with a couple of drops of a loud, skunky call lure. I ended up wishing I hadn’t done that. While pulling the sets the next day, I found a gol-darn bobcat in that one. We aren’t allowed to keep bobcats in Ohio, and it took more than a minute to turn that one loose.