There are three reasons that people trap animals: (1) to make money by the sale of pelts, (2) to eliminate vermin and destructive animals, and (3) for food. Trapping, especially with leg hold traps, is pretty torturous; so I've never been much interested in trapping for profit. I, like most people, confine my trapping to the elimination of vermin from home and garden; but I am prepared to trap for food if necessary, and I do know how to make improvised traps if my store bought traps are not available. In this post I will attempt to share with you what I have learned about traps and trapping.
When I talk about vermin I am talking about mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and other critters that I don't want in my house or in my garden. Let me say up front that I am no bleeding heart PETA type individual, but I do not like to see anything suffer needlessly. So, I don't use poison, and I don't use sticky traps. I use traps that either kill quickly or capture alive. To this end I have a good collection of lock-spring mouse traps and rat traps.
I also have a have-a-heart live trap that I can use to trap and re-locate medium sized animals.
In good times, having mice in the house, rats and squirrels in the barn, and rabbits in the garden is a nuisance. In hard times it can be a matter of life and death. Mice, rats, and squirrels can wreak havoc on stored food; and rabbits and coons can destroy the garden you are depending on to feed your family. One year I had a nice little patch of corn. I went to check on it one evening and I had about 200 ears that were just about perfect for roasting. I decided that I would go down and start picking the next day. The next morning I grabbed my basket and moseyed over to the corn patch. I had eight ears of corn left and coon tracks everywhere. Unless one of my neighbors was wearing some coon track tennis shoes, I lost my whole corn crop to these furry little bandits. I'm glad I wasn't counting on this corn crop as the only source of food for my family.
Trapping for Food with Steel Traps
I have about a half-dozen steel leg-hold traps. I don't use them, but I do know how to use them. A friend of mine who is a fur trapper taught me how to set out traps, and believe me when I tell you it not just a matter of putting the trap of the ground and setting it. There is a procedure that must be followed in preparing the traps, placing the traps, hiding the traps, and baiting the traps.Pictured Below: Three leaf spring traps and three coil spring traps. The coil spring traps are faster and more compact.
Before you set out traps they must be de-scented in order to remove the human smell from them. One method of doing this is to hold the traps in the smoke coming from a campfire. Wear gloves when you do this and do not touch the traps with your bare hands after they have been smoked. Another way of de-scenting traps is to rub them with a scent that will mask the human smell. Many trappers use catnip for this purpose. Just take some catnip and grind it up in a blender with just enough water to make a thick paste. Rub the paste first on your hands, and then on the traps.
There are two basic ways to set up a trap. One is the baited trap in which a bait is used to lure the animal to the trap. The other is the blind set in which the trap is set without bait in a location that the animal will travel through. This might be on an animal trail or at the mouth of an animal den. If you use a blind set you must select a location that the animal will have to step into the trap. Look for some natural feature that will funnel the animal into the trap. For example, you might use a blind set where an animal trail passes between two rocks. If no natural feature is available you may construct a funnel using rocks or sticks, but the funnel must look natural.
You have more latitude in where you place a baited trap, but it is still better to place it near a trail, feeding area, watering area, or den. Bait should be placed where it will cause the animal to step into the trap. Place bait on the end of a twig that arches out over the pan of the trap, or bait the end of a string hanging down over the trap. A mixture of peanut butter and sardines will attract most any animal with a good sense of smell. Cats do not hunt by smell. They are sight hunters. A good bait for cats is to hang a bird wing from a string over the trap. The sight of the wing twisting in the wind will catch the cat's eye.
When you have found a good location for your trap it is time to build the set. You need to dig a shallow depression for the trap to sit in. The reason for this is so that the ground will still look level and natural after the trap has been set and camouflaged. If it looks like there is a mound on the ground after your trap is set, the animal will probably go around it. To dig the set you will need a small shovel and a coffee can in which to carry the dirt away. You can't leave the dirt out on the ground as this will make the animal suspicious, and it may avoid the trap. The depression you dig should be just deep enough so that when the set trap is placed in the depression, the top of the trap jaws will be at ground level.
Before you actually set the trap you will have to decide how to secure it. If you set out an unsecured trap, the animal will likely drag it off into the woods or its den where it will then die a slow and needless death. If you secure the trap to a fixed object the animal will not be able to drag it off, but the animal may chew off its own leg in order to escape the trap. Not good. The best method is to secure the trap to a drag. The drag is a rock or log that the animal can pull, but not pull very far. If the animal can move the trap it will think that it is getting away and will not chew its leg off. The size drag to use depends on the size of the animal that you are trapping and is really a matter of experience. I will say that most drags are smaller than what you would first think they should be. Your traps should come with a trap chain and ring attached to them. Most trappers carry a roll of wire and a pair of wire cutters so that they can wire the ring to a drag or a fixed object. You should run your trap-line at least once a day to check for any catches, and if you wire your trap to a fixed object you should check it more often than that.
Once you have the trap wired you can set the jaws and place the trap down into the depression that you have dug. Place the trap so that the jaws are parallel to the most likely path the animal will be walking. The idea is for the jaws to close on the sides of the leg. If the trap is set crosswise to the animal's path, the jaws will close on the front and back and they may catapult the animal's leg out of the trap.
Now that the trap is set you need to camouflage it so that it looks completely natural. You will do this by placing a thin layer of leaves and debris over the trap. The problem is that some of the debris may work its way underneath the trap pan and prevent the trap from triggering properly. One way to prevent this from happening is to cut a small circle of paper that will fit down inside the circle formed by the open jaws of the trap. Lay this paper down inside the jaws of the trap then lightly sprinkle leaves over the trap to cover it. Don't forget to cover the trap chain.
Now step back and look at the set. Does it look natural? Are there any tell-tale signs that it is there? Is the ground level over the top of the trap? Get down to animal level and have a look. If there is anything that is not right, you might as well fix it now. Otherwise you are guaranteed an empty trap the next day. If everything looks good you can put out your bait and head out to make another set.
For my next post I will tell you a little about how to make improvised traps.