More on Trapping
A friend of mine said, “What I like about trapping is that out of the 100,000’s of square feet the animal travels in I get him to place his foot in one 3″ circle area.” We use the animal’s greed, needs or miss fortune, his laziness or state of mind (mating, hunger, nursing young etc.), intellect or lack there of and habits are all used to his disadvantage. This is how fraud, scams and the con man works. This might also be how the police or even the military do their job at times. Its a matter of knowing your prey. As the great Chinese general said, “Know your enemy!”. “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer!” Learn as much as you can about the animals you intend to trap via actual tracking, in reading tracking guides, and conversation with trappers and hunters. Learn bedding, feeding, mating and migrating habits. Then you will know proper trap set placement.
Trap placement as you might imagine is very important. A common concept in trapping is in using scent or lure to bring the animal in from a distance, then the animal sees and or smells bait which brings his foot, head or body to the trap. Trap placement is based on the type of animal you intend to trap, its habits, its nature and such.
Two obvious locations might be on a game trail or path or at the entrance of a den. Some use logs as paths or as a bridge path. Many animals burrow which form holes as entrances to their dens. Many animals will steal another animals den or borrow as well. Some animals use trees as their den. Well known examples are raccoon and squirrel. Some use hollow logs as a den. For example, with a raccoon a log/pole might be laid at an angle against a den tree. The traps are place on this leaning log.
For dog type animals, traps can be placed on high points or mounds or logs and stumps where they might climb to look around. Dogs will also circle a bait for a few minutes prior to going for it. Traps placed some feet away from the bait all the way around will catch the dog. Dogs also mark their territory by urinating on trees. Dog urine sprayed on a tree or stump will do the trick. Place traps around this tree or stump. A jaw trap should always be place such that the animal steps between the jaws and not over a jaw. This is so that the trap will not knock the animals foot from the trap as it closes.
For cats and many types of animals an enclosure, called a cubby, can be made of rock, stone or wood and roofed with evergreen bows or brush. Bait is placed in the back and a trap or several traps at the front. These enclosures use materials on the sides called “fencing” to guide the animal over the trap. A “backstop” of wood or rock or something that may aid in getting the critters attention. Bait is placed next to the backstop. When the animal is standing to take or eat bate a trap is placed not directly under where the animal will be but is “offset” so many inches from center. This is so that it will be where the animal’s foot will step on the pan (trigger). Sometimes this corral arrangement is covered, such as when deep snow is expected. In this way, the animal can dig in the snow and enter and still be trapped.
Water sets are almost always placed in a couple of inches under the water. Muskrat traps can be placed along the top of a log in the water. Bait can be placed in the water on a stick just beyond an artificial island, which contains a trap. For some animals, you can dig a hole in a bank (pocket or cache), set bait back in the hole and place a trap at the entrance just under water or covered with a bit of liquid mud or leaves. In one case, a trapper had an intelligent weasel turning his traps over. He placed his traps upside down and caught the rascal. When placing traps on trails and along shores, take advantage of natural brush or banks or rocks and even add barriers that funnel the animal into the trap. Sometimes these barriers can be made of rows of sticks pushed vertically into ground or mud creating a kind of vertical stick fence or wall. Larger pieces of logs can be laid horizontally. And you can make stream bridges with logs by placing logs across a stream. Hollow logs can be used with great success with traps on each end and bait in the middle. Culverts and stove pipes can be used to simulate hollow logs. Traps can be set in tunnels that lead from burrow to outside. Artificial tunnels can be made.
Live bait can be used such as birds, rabbits, and rodents. Give the bait bedding, food and water to last a week or so. The baits smell grows stronger by the day and the predator can’t get to the bait because its caged. Caged live bait can be placed in hollow log or in a small fake chicken coop like structure in the case of fox.
These trap setups can be made during off season so that they look more natural and have less human scent and sign before trapping season. And some trappers have good success setting traps around and nearby their camp as animals tend to be curious of human camps. One trapper told of how he would set a trap in his own trail in the snow and catch a critter that was following him. There are many hundreds of sets (ways to set traps). They all have names and over time you can learn them from books, web sites, articles, etc. I have simply given you a few to think about in these articles to show you that its a bit more complex than walking out in the woods and trowing a trap down in some random location. And to be honest I didn’t even give you a fair overview in this article. If you use google foo, you can fin many illustrations of different trap sets. Simply google for “‘type name’ trap set”, i.e. “trail trap set” or “log trap set”. Used google images for pictures and diagrams.
I should mention trapping honey bees. One of the trapping books talked about how to find and rob bee hives. But what I’m talking about is getting the bees to come to a box. I have not tried this, but basically you set up a hive box and then place drops of lemongrass oil in it. There are other bait oils as well such as clover oil. And honey comb with some honey can be placed in the box as bait. Also I read you can start a fire and boil or burn some honey which will send the scent a long way out. The bees move in and set up housekeeping. Then later you rob them of honey.
I’m sure this will get big brothers attention. But what I’m going to be talking about here is more along the lines of camp security. Some traps can be set around camp to alert a person to animal or human presence. One kind suggested is a string pull trap fireworks supplier sell that sounds like a firecracker. And they are cheap you can get a dozen for 15 cents. I wish there were a whistling trap like this. Tin cans tied to barbed wire are famous. A bunch of tin cans tied to a string and hung in a tree is a good idea. When the trap is spring the cans fall making all kinds of noise. A bow and arrow trap can be easily made to cover a bend in a trail. This might be triggered with trip line. A spring pole trap was made famous in Rambo I. Spikes or blades can be affixed to it so that it stabs victim. Pungi stick pits are famous from Vietnam where spike shaped sticks or bamboo was stuck in the mud pointing upward.
A dead fall was made famous in the movie “Predator” where Arnold tripped the trap to drop the log on the alien. Actually the log in that case was a force mechanism to cause the spike trap to function but it served as a dead fall in the end. Traps like nail boards are easy to make and can be placed around with nails up like landmines. Cover the nail boards with leaves and they are almost impossible to detect.
Be careful when setting traps for human or larger game or one might become victim to his own trap. There was a story a wilderness skeleton told. The skeleton had both hands caught in a bear trap, in the wilderness and far from any help. This poor trapper attempted to stand on the jaws of a 55 pound bear trap and with both hands and feet pushing the jaws open. He had already fastened the trap to a log. It’s likely this poor mountain man died of dehydration and exposure long before starvation.
Many of these intruder traps can be made non lethal or near non lethal though potentially still injurious. A pit could be made just large enough for a foot to drop into with nothing in the bottom. An arrow trap could have a padded arrow tip and set to light force (though it might still put an eye out). A spring pole trap could be made to simply slap the intruder. A dead fall could drop a bag of rags on the intruder or water or oil or anything non lethal that would intimidate and piss them off. At least they might get the idea that they are not welcome and, at least for the moment, are not in the lethal zone. Of course, if I were really going to do any of this I’d make sure the land was posted on its perimeter every 50′ or closer. I like the purple plastic no trespassing ribbon you can wrap around trees. Boundary Tape
Sniping is where hunting and trapping overlap. In sniping there is a concept called trapping. This is where you pick a location where the enemy will be traveling. Usually based on prior knowledge from intelligence reports (i.e. game cam on feeder). You set up your spider hole or nest blind or whatever. You figure ahead of time all the variables such as wind, lighting, temperature, barometric pressure, compass heading of shot, angle, visibility, rotation of the earth, etc. Then you adjust your sniper rifle’s scope accordingly.
You make charts so that if adjustments need to be made they can be made very quickly. Then the gun is setup and positioned so that it is stationary and solidly aimed at the target location. Now all that is needed is to wait for the enemy (game) to move into the sights. The trap is tripped by a squeeze of the trigger. This is actually an active shooting situation and not a passive trap, but in essence compared to simply taking pot shots at the target it is trapping. I simply point this out as a note of a variation of trapping using a manned vs unmanned trap. In this hunting scenario you could even practice shooting given locations in the off season.
“Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, in my face and blowing my mind!” as the song goes. Signs in tracking may not be so obvious. Tracking is at least as important in trapping as in hunting if not more so. Tracking is something I have not spent much time at and may never get to spend a lot of time at. And you need to spend time at it to be good at it. Tracking is called tracking because all animals leave trails of foot prints, right? So we begin our study of tracking there. I have an app for my phone called “Critter Trax”. This app is good but could use a lot of improvement in the number of animals it contains. It mostly contains common animals of every kind. It is a good start however.
I searched the web and found a pretty good web site that gives a decent introduction to tracking. Wikihow Tracking Animals It list 3 main methods. 1. Identify the animals. Interpret animal sign. Following the animals. The book below “Tom Brown’s Field Guide” was recommended by a TSP forum woman who has spent time on search and rescue teams out west. I have read it twice and recommend it myself. I will read it again and again in the future, too. Also, the field guide I show is good as well though I’m not sure if it is “the best” field guide, but it’s not bad.
Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Natural Observation and Tracking.
The first half of his book is dedicated to teaching you the Apache ways of getting in tune with nature and explaining the mental frames of mind needed to be a good tracker. His first chapter is about clearing the mind, quieting the mind and body and learning to listen, observe and ask questions like a child. It’s about being open minded and becoming one with nature. Listen to what plants as well as what animals are saying. Don’t be afraid to become uncomfortable, weather it is weather or getting down on your belly in the mud.
The second chapter is on fine tuning the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. He has exercises which is meant to increase awareness. One of which is tracking blind folded. If you disable one sense the others become stronger. When it comes to vision, change from distant view with binoculars to wide view to up close view to magnified views. He uses something he calls splatter vision which is an unfocused wide angle vision. Take on the mind of an artist and musician. With hearing use natural echo chambers such as tree, rocks, even brush.
He discusses ways to increase your sense of smell. Its mainly by smelling things. Smell bits of plants. Notice animal smells around dens and try to trace a smell to its origin. If you are a hunter you might try smelling the animals you hunt after a kill. I was sitting in the woods on my property a few weeks back totally camouflaged. Suddenly I smelled something different, somewhat dusty or dirty smell. I have no idea what it was, but it was different than a normal smell. One time walking in the woods in north Arkansas while looking for caves I smelled a pretty rank smell. Coyote? Bear? Big foot? I’ll never know.
With blindfolding you can increase your sense of touch. You can take your castings of prints, use them to make tracks then feel the tracks. There are times at low light levels or during the mid day sun or overcast days when feel might become more important that sight. Its best to do tracking early morning or late evening because of the angle of the light and the shadows are longer. He talks about developing taste with blind taste test. Notice how taste is connected to touch and smell. Finally he covers increasing night awareness.
The next chapter takes you to a deeper level of awareness. It covers his Apache grandfathers 4 veils or levels of consciousness. To get to deeper levels of conciseness you use relaxation, mediation and concentration techniques. He talks about subconscious perception, imagination and intuition. He tells you how to make a Native American sweat lodge which is like a sauna. All of this coalesces into a more spiritual observation.
In the last chapter of the first half of the book he discusses how to move when stalking and observing. He talks about how to go from the city shuffle to coyote walk, fox walk, fox run, trail walk, weasel walk, weasel sneak, stalking high, low, on knees, crawling and on belly. He talks about how to use cover, clothing, concealment and camouflage. Also covered is de-scenting, other hiding techniques and disappearing.
The next half of the book is on tracking. Tracking and observation are one and the same thing. Everything is a track, not just foot prints. Believe you can see it. Be a detective and use the ground like a manuscript. Good tracking takes patience and practice. Identify the tracks using number of toes, claws and shapes. This narrows it to a family of types of animals. For example you can pretty much figure 3 toes are birds, while 4 to 5 toes are mammals. Some mammals have 4 toes up front and 5 on back feet. Some are single toed as in hoofed. And in some cases cats can have 6 toes. Dogs usually show claws but cats do not etc.
Next a gait is a speed of movement for grown humans might be walk, fast walk, run, sprint. For animals it can be diagonal walk, pace, trot, bound, lope, gallop. Some birds are hoppers and some walkers. But this all depends on the animal. Animals might use any of these as their normal mode of travel. You might think rabbits hop but what they are doing is galloping. Some weasels bound as normal mode of travel. Some animals use only one or two of these modes. With animals that have only one gait in order to determine speed you simply measure distance between prints. Faster means greater distance(stride) of course. There are also patters in how they place the feet in any of these moves. Cats and fox direct register meaning the back foot lands directly on top of the front foot print when they walk. Others indirect register where the back print is offset from the front print. And in some instances an animal that normally doesn’t direct register will.
To narrow down from the family of animals to the species you will often have to take measurements of the width and height of front and hind foot prints. You will also measure stride and trail width. Stride being the distance they move forward on each movement of the same gait. Measure straddle which is inside width between left and right foot prints. And measure pitch which is the angle of feet to line of travel. Then consult field guides to narrow down to species.
Next you can try to determine male or female, age, weight, and other signs. It is interesting to note that larger foot print doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a male. That depends on the species. If you can determine weight then that can also be used to determine sex based on species but again heavier is not necessarily the male. He talks about all the various animal families and their habits. An interesting note was that the wild dogs and wild cats have very regular patterns to their movement while the tame animals will meander around and not be so regular. While wild cats direct register the tame cats may not in their walk. I figure it’s because the wild animals are taking care of serious business when they move but tame animals are more relaxed almost playing.
Next he covers animal highways and signs. He has large, medium and small scale signs, His major highways are game trails and minor ones are runs. Trails might be like our interstates and runs like local highways or city streets. Both trails and runs can be broken down into general, seasonal, singular (one animal), size group (certain size of animal uses it), directional (one way travel). Runs are offshoots of trails from what he calls manifold junctions or cluster junctions. Runs additionally have primary and secondary feeders. Some runs are push downs from fleeing animals. Some are escape routes to hides. A hide can be heavy cover where the predator may still enter to search or occlusive such as dense briers or dens. Runs lead to beds and lays, wallows, dens, feeding and watering areas etc. Feeding areas he breaks into 4 types. General, single plant, eat through and trail nibbling. So far this has been large scale signs.
Medium scale signs are like rubs and nicks, scratches, gnawings and bitings. Bitings are insized, serrated and chewed vegetation. Predators being the ones that typically chew. There are breaks and abrasions of sticks twigs and logs. Look for upper vegetation disturbances such as bruised, bent or twisted leaves.
Next medium sized sign that we all would think of is scat. He talks about aging scat, scat analysis, scat contents. He also tells you how to dry and preserve scat with a clear coat spray. Why might you want to preserve scat? Everyone has their own personal scat collection right? Well it might be that at the time you find it you simply can’t identify it and want to keep it for later identification. It might also be that if you are teaching tracking a collection would be good to show students. Also you may want to take fresh scat back to study weathering effects which would help in aging scat.
He talks about small scale sign such as hair, leaf disturbances, stone disturbances, compressions and using a technique he calls sideheading. With sideheading get your head down to ground level and view the sign with light source on opposite side. There is also shinnings and dullings. A shinning is where an animal moved through grass or vegetation and left a trail that shines in the right light. A dulling is where dew was removed and therefore the path is dull while the vegetation shines.
The chapter on pressure releases is worth its weight in gold. He list 31 common pressure releases out of 85 he has documented. He has nice drawings of each and shows you how to diagram them.
I won’t explain these but will refer you to the book. But the jest of it is that when animals step they put pressure down then release the pressure when they move the foot. Depending on what they were doing, how fast they were moving and what they had on their mind they will leave characteristic shapes aside from the shape of the foot itself. And by properly reading these you will get very good clues on where to look for the next foot print. It may be that the next foot print is not at the expected distance or direction. He also talks about using chalk or flower to make a track stand out. Sprinkle chalk in front of track and blow it over the track.
He talks about preserving tracks with plaster which is easy. You see the forensic guys on TV doing this all the time with human prints or tire tracks. It’s simply plaster of Paris. You may need to clean debris from the track and spray clear coat on them before pouring plaster. If you want a good way to capture tracks so to speak make a track album. A track album is a smoothed circular piece of ground or a box with soil smoothed off on top. In the center is placed a stick with scent, bait and or something shiny or colorful that might get the animals attention. They will then come in to investigate or take the bait and leave you nice prints to examine. If the soil you are adding is too hard add sand, powdered dirt or wood ash.
You could then use this casting to make prints in a sand box for further study. You could try to replicate different pressure releases. He talks about making a track like this in damp sand or dirt then cutting away small slices at a time to examine cross sections. Also you can make a layer cake of sand/flower/clay or whatever make the print and do the same. The layers show how the pressure move the soil well below and to the sides of the track.
When aging tracks and signs there is a lot to consider. Having a record of the weather for the area is a must. Tracks will become beat down by rain and round out to flat. Debris will be blown or fall on track based on weather. Tracks will dry and then be blown apart by the wind. If tracks overlap then the one on top obviously is the most recent track. If you want to study weathering effects you can use your plaster cast to make tracks in soil or sand and then put in the weather and monitor it. Or you can created artificial weather with sprayers, and fans, ovens and freezers. You can practice on tracks of different depths by using more or less pressure when you make them. You can also use different hardness’s of soil in your test. Sand is softest, with typical loamy garden soil being medium and clay being hard.
Vegetation ages by turning brown because of loss of water. How it turns and how fast is based on local climate. Grass will lay down and over time stand back up. Scat tends to dry from the inside out. It also has a mucous membrane on the outside which drys and goes away after a few hours. If its fresh it will still be warm of course and a temp reading might give age.
In finding the next track a tracking stick comes in handy. I made one from a 36″ (3′) 1/2″ dia. dowel rod from Walmart, using water hose band washers that roll back and forth on the stick. They fit tight. I need to mark the stick with one inch and one half inch marks for measurement. Two of the band washers mark the width and length of the foot. And two mark the trail width and length of the stride. You can lay this stick on the ground and use it to find the next track. One technique if the animal crosses a stream or pavement is to cross over and follow the bank up and down or road edge up and down until you find the next track. This is called cross tracking. Also you can step out to expected distance of next track and circle the last track at that radius. If not found increase distance.
In the end of his book he talks about tracking humans. I won’t talk about any of that in this article. I will end this article by giving you a list of items I bought from Walmart that is similar to the one he suggest in the book. Also I would always be carrying compass, gps, paper maps, lights, gun, knife, any needed clothing, rain gear etc. I also have “The Tracker’s Field Guide” which shows foot prints and other size data and info for most common north american mammals. In this trackers field guide the author has a section on tracking where he mentions Tom Brown’s guide. Tom Brown’s guide book is $16 on Amazon. It’s 280 pages with reference material in it. He explains all of this thoroughly and convincingly in detail. It is worth the buy. As a matter of fact I just bought one for a cop friend of mine and it was on sale for $13.
- Measuring stick with 4 band washers, extra bands.
- 10′ retractile tape measure
- 3′ tailors tape measure, as a 6″ flexible tape.
- 6 power Magnifying glass with tweezers with light.
- String (for outlining)
- Popsicle sticks (for marking)
- Small Cutting pliers (wire cutting)
- 3×5 file cards (for drawing tracks)
- Sharpe Pen
- Scotch tape (for hair collection)
- zip lock containers and bags or glad lock.
- Plaster of Paris.
- A cup to mix plaster in.
- Some plastic to lay over plaster to keep weather off of it while it dries.