There is nothing more soothing to the soul then quietly enjoying a stroll through the woods, forests, and outdoor areas of this great countryside. And having a rifle or shotgun over your shoulder for the chance opportunity at a squirrel, deer, dove, or pheasant is nothing short of perfection for many of us. However, in a survival situation, a hard day of hunting with nothing to show for it is not only depressing but can be downright dangerous. A person in a survival situation must conserve their energy at all costs. Any activity that doesn't produce something towards the goal of food and water is a risk of losing all of that energy with no way to replace it.
There is only one way to maximize your effort for the return that it provides: trapping. This skill is as old as we are. And as such there has been more knowledge lost to the world than is currently written down. Of course there are still people who have a vast knowledge of what it takes to be successful as a trapper. And surprisingly this has become a fairly recent job skill. In the last 10 years the Urban Wildlife Nuisance Removal Technician has become a much more in demand career. With more and more people not able to handle things for themselves, and local Animal Control Departments being overworked on domesticated animals such as dogs and cats, this has left a large demand for men and women who can trap nuisance wildlife out of homes and commercial buildings.
I was fortunate enough to spend a few years after college working for a company that provided nuisance animal removal services to the metro area of Atlanta. While there, I was able to hone my skills in not only urban trapping but in rural areas also. Since that time I have continued trapping recreationally and occasionally for friends and neighbors who have had problems that needed help. This is not always an easy task but the rewards are many.
Trapping in its essence is time efficient. Traps work even while you are sleeping. Or working on other things. You can also add trapping to a hunting trip or vice-versa. Moving from one trap location to the next can always be used as hunting time, so you are maximizing your effort towards the main goal of surviving. Trapping is typically going to be best served in a long term situation. If your lost in the woods for a few days before rescue, or forced out of your home because of bad weather, trapping just may not be needed. But after 2-3 days it starts to become very important to look for the food sources that trapping can provide.
Let's look at a typical overview of trapping and the systems that are typically applied to its use. The first thing to understand is that trapping for food is all about numbers. The more traps you have out, the more effective they will be. Each trap placement is referred to as a "set". This describes the area you have prepared and the trap that is placed in that area. Multiple sets are described as a "line". Trap lines can have as few as two sets and as many more as you can fit in an area. Although I have found that more than 20 makes it difficult to check daily in a survival situation. And that is an important point. Do not over set an area to the point where you can't check all of your traps daily. Leaving animals suffering, or making them easy targets of predators is not only unethical it is wasteful. If coyotes, hawks, badgers, or weasels are stealing and eating your caught prey, then you don't get to. Also if you know you will not be able to check your trap lines for a few days then it is best to go and leave them unset until you have the time to regularly rechecking them.
Anything that moves can be trapped, but I will be mainly focused on the most common types of traps and the general animals that are targeted. Everyone has their own specialties and preferences when it comes to trapping. And every situation needs to be adapted to. The following information is designed as a starting point to get you some success and help improve the odds of getting that first meal when needed.
Before looking at types of traps we must begin with baits. Baits can make your set a lot more enticing to an animal. And with minimal preparation you can have a great bait ready to go. This is the recipe I have used for years with great success on everything from skunks to field mice and most everything in between. Even coyotes and other predators can be lured in with it. This should make approximately two [quart] jars about 3/4ths full. If stored in a cool dry place it will last for years. And one jar can easily be used for months worth of trapping. It does not require very much to draw an animal in and often a lesser amount will work better than big globs of bait.
Multi-Species Trap Bait Ingredients and Instructions:
1 [quart] jar peanut butter (crunchy works also)
1 handful birdseed with sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons of Vanilla Extract
3 pieces of bacon
2 pieces of white bread
2-5 tablespoons of maple syrup
To make this bait you may need to warm all wet ingredients in a pan to combine.
Fry bacon until very well done. Save grease to add and crumble bacon
Cut up bread slice into very small pieces
Mix all ingredients together and stir well.
Add maple syrup until the consistency is a very thick paste
If you do not have time to prepare a bait blend, you can use a lot of other options. Naturally available seeds, berries, and nuts can be used. Also, other animal carcasses can be used. The guts and entrails from a fish is very effective on raccoons and other scavengers. Strips of hide from a road kill or previously trapped animal can attract a host of animals as well as insects which also can draw in birds. The key to using baits is adaptability and presenting it in a way that entices your prey to investigate. And of course some types of sets require no bait, but these are difficult and can take a long time to eventually have success.
There are four main types of commercially made traps. The leg hold, conibear, box trap, and the snare. Each one has its advantages so lets examine each one and the types of sets they can be used for.
Leg hold: This trap is one of the oldest styles and in larger versions have been called bear traps. The two metal arms are opened and put under tension by a spring. The trigger is a lever or flat plate in the center of the trap. Older models use metal straps folded over as springs, and newer ones have actual springs under the levers. Both styles are effective. These traps come in several sizes but a good selection would be those with a 4-6 inch opening.This opening will then close or snap shut on an animals leg and hold it firmly. This will handle most anything short of big game animals in North America. I have found antique ones at yard sales for just a few dollars and even new ones can be had for under $10 on many web sites. I would suggest having 10-15 of this type for any long term survival situation you are preparing for.
Setting these are very simple and after a few tries you should be proficient in their use. Actually making a set to catch an animal is another story altogether. And something I will discuss at the end of this article.
Conibear: These traps are essentially two squares of heavy gauge metal wire connected to act like a scissor action. One or both sides may have coil springs to give it the strength to close on the intended animal. These also come in different sizes and small to medium will work well for food gathering. Although at least one larger one for beaver, fox, and coyote may be desirable. An important note on this style of trap is that on the larger models the springs can be very hard to depress by hand and may require a "setting tool" which acts like a pair of large pliers to compress the springs. This tool will be required if you are trying to set these larger ones by yourself. Other than that this trap is extremely adaptable as the animal crawls through it to trigger the mechanism and it will humanely kill them instantly which also prevents the animal from escaping. Anything from squirrels to beavers can be easily harvested with this style of trap.
Box trap: You will find this trap routinely used to catch and release animals such as cats, dogs, and other wildlife that does not need to be killed. Many Animal Control companies use this style because of the humane removal and relocation of the trapped animal is preferable to their customers. But they are more expensive and very bulky so for survival needs they are not as efficient as the other styles.
Snare: This is probably the easiest to carry and make or buy. Either made from scratch or purchased this trap is one of the oldest traps ever conceived. And works off of the animals own force to close around the legs or neck. Snares can be very effective in skilled hands, however for a beginner it is unwise to count on snares to be productive. If it is all you have then you better be a quick learner, have some good bait, or a lot of patience to wait for success.
Miscellaneous Traps: There are also pitfall traps, deadfalls, whipstick traps and many other styles that can be used but without practice and a true knowledge of trapping these will do nothing more than waste your time and frustrate you to no end. But I would highly recommend you research these styles and if you have the time to give them a try before you may need them.
Now that we have covered the basic traps you can use it is time to move onto sets. There is no way to give you every type or style of set in a short article and in fact many books have been written on just this subject alone. So I will attempt to give you some helpful ideas on how and where to set your traps. Your first decision is what will you be trapping for. This is the most important because just "trapping" will leave you with very little game on the table. Try to learn what animals may be around. Try checking for sign such as prints, feces, holes, fresh diggings, et cetera. When you locate fresh sign but are not sure what it may be then you can start with multiple sets from a few feet to a dozen yards apart. Try adding bait to some and some just in an open spot. You do want to avoid disturbing the area whenever possible. And multiple sets may take a few days to produce if the animal becomes wary of your presence.
For leg holds you can try to set 2 or 3 in a 2 foot area, lightly sprinkle leaves, loose dirt, or pine needles over them to hide their outline. Then hang a pinecone smeared with a good peanut butter bait about 3 feet off the ground above the traps. As the animal comes in to investigate it is looking up at the lure/bait and is less likely to see the traps until he steps in one and then the others. This set will work for many types of animals. Another bait option is a can of dog or cat food wired above the traps with a hole poked in it to allow the juice to drip out. I have seen a raccoon actually jump into the air to lick the can only to fall back onto two leg holds I had set under some leaves.
A good set for a conibear is to place over a fresh den hole. As the animal comes out it will trigger the trap and instantly kill it to prevent it from going back down. Or you can dig a hole slightly smaller then the traps opening, then leave some bait in the hole, place trap over hole, and as an animal sticks his head into the hole to smell or eat the bait the trap will be set off. This set is extremely effective for carnivores such as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, and possums, if you have guts or rotten meat to use as bait. This trap is also great for beaver. The best set I have used is to find a beaver dam and kick out a hole just big enough for the trap to sit down in. Stake both sides down through the springs and leave overnight. Beavers will always repair their dams and as they poke their noses in to the break to see what needs to be fixed the trap is waiting for them.
Box style traps are best if baited to lure an animal in. To make an effective set the cage needs to be hidden under natural materials like leaves and sticks. The best tip for this trap is to lay a nice amount of soil, moss, leaves, or sand in the bottom so as the animal walks into the trap they do not feel the metal wire of the cage on their feet. This can increase your catch rate dramatically. A good bait set in the back behind the trigger will have the best result.
Snares can be used in a lot of different ways, but essentially you are trying to get them to either step into the loop or walk into it to tighten around the animals neck. Setting along game trails, den openings, narrow gaps can eventually pay off. A great set is to either lay a log over a creek or use an existing one and set snares at both ends. These logs are high traffic areas and sooner or later an animal will use it to cross. Another good set if you have squirrels around is to use a fine wire snare and attach to a tree limb leaned up against a tree known to have squirrels. They will sometimes climb down the stick and snare themselves.
One rule for all of these traps is to securely attach them with wire, cable, or chain to something solid. A tree trunk or large rock will work. Using rope can be a hazard as the animals will try to chew through it and drag your traps off with them. And also remember that most states require your name and address to be attached to your trap using metal tags. You must study your local and state laws regarding trapping and any required licenses, tags, markings, and various trapping season dates before heading out to practice. Also there are some very well-done trapping videos on YouTube. And of course as with most outdoorsmen, if you meet a trapper they usually would be happy to help you get into the game and let you learn some tricks from them.A final survival hint is for those of you preparing your bug out bags. Why not add 4 or 5 of the larger snap traps used for rats? They take up very little room, and with a little bit of peanut butter can catch small rodents and birds very effectively. You could set out 5 every day/night and I am willing to bet that most mornings you would have a tasty meal waiting for you in the morning.