Monday, January 25, 2010

PostHeaderIcon Trapping Basics

by Naomi K. Shapiro

Discussing trapping is a very complex subject. We'll deal with a few basics, and then move on to other articles with more detail in the future.

Trapping can be a lot of fun, and also profitable. However, it is not for your every day outdoor sports enthusiast. "It's hard work, beyond belief, and the hours are long," says Phil Schweik of Hooksetters Guide Services. "Don't quit your day job," because even if you make money -- and you can -- it's not going to readily put you into that dually' with the big diesel you've been longing for." But even if you don't want to trap, it's the experience of a lifetime to walk a trap line with a licensed trapper on some cold, winter's day. You feel totally at one with nature and what it provides. And trappers do a great public service by maintaining viable wildlife populations.

Trapping fur-bearing animals requires multiple approaches. There are the water-based animals such as muskrat, mink, otter, and beaver, and the land-based animals such as raccoons, foxes, and coyotes.

There are a multitude of different types of traps: 

  • The leg-hold traps come in single and double sets, where the jaws clamp onto the animal when it steps on a pan in the center of the trap. 
  • The coil-springs trap has a set of coil springs which operate the same general way as a leg-hold trap, and slams the trap shut onto the animal. 
  • The conibear or "killer trap" is very difficult to describe. It consists of two intersecting squares of one-eighth inch steel rod. The two parts of the trap intersect at their outside edges, with springs on both edges which trigger a mechanism that opens the trap. The trap looks like an "X" from the side. The animal walks through the trap, which clamps down on its neck. This is a trap that MUST BE AVOIDED by an even moderately capable trapper. Only the most experienced trappers use these traps, which, for instance, can be set up on the bottom of a beaver pond. The conibear comes in three sizes, the smallest of which will break your finger, and the largest, your arm, or even being capable of killing you. Hence the nickname "killer trap." Once anyone is "caught" in this trap, it is near impossible to extricate yourself. Conibear traps, for instance, are used for beavers which can weigh over 70 pounds, so the traps must be strong. One can ask any "old timer trapper," and you can be sure they'll have a couple of horror stories about the "killer trap." No joking matter. We're discussing it just to give you some idea of the types of traps used -- not that you should ever use one. 
Trappers have any different number of places and "sets" that they'll use, geared to the specific target animal. It's never "one size fits all" when it comes to trapping. Trappers will set up "runway sets" which are natural "paths" that the animal takes on its daily meanderings; or "dirthole sets", and "pocket sets." Then there's what's called a "box set" or "cubby set" with baits.

Trapping truly does require patience and a willingness to learn how to use each specific trap, where and how to set them up, all depending on the particular critter.

There are usually two things that every trapper uses -- and these are "musts." Without them, there'll never be any success. Water trappers need a very good set of hip boots or waders. All trappers must use long rubber gloves – not only to keep their hands warm, but to keep the traps scent free which is critical. If a fur-bearing animal picks up human scent on the trap, no matter how well it is set, they'll stay far away from the trap.

(Thanks to licensed trapper, Phil Schweik, of Hooksetters Guide Services who contributed to this article).

Naomi K. Shapiro, OWAA, SPJ, can be reached at


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