Introduction: How to Set a Coyote Trap
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Coyotes are incredibly wary and cautious by nature, which makes them perhaps one of the most challenging animals to catch. They will not enter confined cage traps or any other sort of visible enclosure, which leaves steel foot traps as the most adequate way of capturing one. Even this, however, requires a dedicated amount of practice, patience, and commitment; do not expect to catch a coyote on your first attempt!
Also, do not expect to learn everything about coyote trapping just from this Instructable. This is only meant to be an introduction, to give you a general idea of how this process works. If you are truly interested in learning how to trap, I would recommend joining your state Trappers Association and taking any hands-on classes they may offer. Learning by doing is the best way to figure it all out!
To get you started, though, here is the basic equipment you'll need, for the set shown in this example:
- Steel trap, appropriately sized for coyotes (sizes #3 or #4 are best, with four coil springs) Check your local regulations - Make sure the type/size of trap you choose is legal in your area!
- Pan cover, to place over the trigger pan of the trap (wax paper or plastic is commonly used)
- Trap stake, to anchor your trap into the ground
- Dirt sifter
- Claw-ended hammer or trowel
- large paint brush or small broom, for blending dirt
- Baits/lures of choice
Step 1: Choose Your Trap Location
The number one rule for finding the best trap location, is to set on sign. Look for tracks, droppings, or other fresh telltale signs of your target animal. Coyotes typically travel main roads or pathways, and will take the easiest route possible to get where they want to go. Every coyote I've caught so far has been along a wide dirt road or open field - never deep in the brush or in dense woods.
Coyote tracks are easy to identify when found. They appear similar to dog tracks, however the hind track (as seen in the lower corner of the above photo) is very slim and narrow. The claw marks are always visible.
Step 2: Stake Down Your Trap
After you find a good set location, now the work begins! First and foremost, you need to properly anchor your trap to the ground to ensure your catch will still be there when you arrive.
There are several different options for trap staking. I prefer to use Earth Anchors, which are lightweight yet extremely sturdy when driven into the ground. An Earth Anchor consists of a metal spike connected to about 12" of steel cable and a swivel link at the end. The spike is driven all the way into the ground with a metal rod. The rod is then removed, and the spike holds the trap to the ground by its tension against the dirt. When driven in properly, it simply cannot be pulled out unless you physically dig it out with a shovel!
The trap is connected to the anchor by a sturdy quick-link, so the trap can be more conveniently removed for cleaning after you make a catch. A clean new trap can then be attached to the same anchor if you wish to re-set the area after catching an animal.
Step 3: Set and Bed the Trap
All steel traps work the same way, in that the springs need to be compressed in order to open the jaws and set the trigger. The brand of trap you choose does not necessarily matter, as long as it meets state regulations and of course follows general codes of ethics. (Don't use anything with sharp edges, jaws with teeth, or rusted out chains that would cause an animal to be harmed or escape with the trap still on its foot.)
Use modern-made traps with smooth metal jaws, or rubber-padded jaws, both of which will hold firmly yet prevent the animal from becoming cut or otherwise injured. In my state, only rubber-padded traps are allowed by law, so this is all I use.
After your trap is staked down, dig out a shallow "bed" for it using your claw hammer or trowel. Place the set trap securely into this bed and pack the dirt tightly around the outside of the jaws so the trap does not rock or move under the animal's foot as it approaches the trigger. The jaws of the trap should be level with the ground around it, not any higher or lower. The trigger pan should be about equal level with the jaws, or somewhat lower.
Also, make sure no dirt gets underneath the pan during this step, otherwise this could prevent the trigger from properly firing when a coyote steps on it. (I once missed catching a coyote because there was a big wad of dirt stuck under the pan!)
Step 4: Cover the Pan, Sift, and Blend
Once your trap has been securely bedded into the dirt, place your pan cover over the trigger and sprinkle some dirt around the edges to weight it down. The pan cover is vital to the trap working properly, in that it prevents dirt from falling underneath the pan once the trap is covered and blended into the set. I make my own pan covers out of wax paper or plastic cut from grocery bags, however you can also buy pre-made ones from most trapping supply companies.
After the pan has been covered, your trap is now ready to blend into the ground. Find some dry dirt from the immediate area and sift it lightly over the trap until the entire device is covered. Next, take your brush and smooth out the dirt where needed, blending it into the rest of the ground around it.
Because coyotes are such wary animals, any major change in their environment will cause them to go on alert and they may not even approach your set if it looks too "different" than what they are used to. This is why the ground needs to be blended back as naturally as possible after setting your trap!
Step 5: Lure and Leave!
Baits and lures need not be complicated. For this set, I simply used a piece of natural sheep's wool, dabbed with some skunk-based scent lure. Coyotes will also go for most types of meats (I have caught them using feral hog meat, raccoon bones, road-killed squirrels, etc) but oftentimes just a scent and some eye-appeal object like the white sheep's wool will grab their attention enough to make them investigate your set and get caught. Don't be afraid to experiment with different types of baits - you'll be surprised at what can work!
For this sheep wool lure, I placed it underneath a log at the set, about 12" in front of the trap. I also included an old cattle bone atop the log for added eye-appeal. Both the log and the bone were also taken from the immediate area, just re-positioned at the set to help encourage a coyote's curiosity. The trap set is now finished, and the only thing left to do is step away from it and let the lure do the rest of the work!
Step 6: Check Your Trap!
Setting a trap is a big commitment. If you do not have a way to check your trap(s) every day, do not set them! By law, traps need to be checked every 24 hours.
Coyotes might not get caught for a few days after setting your trap, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. Sometimes, they'll walk by your set several times before deciding to check out the lure. Catching them requires a lot of patience and understanding of the habits of these animals. Look for fresh tracks every time you go out to check your traps, and you'll find you can learn a lot from the coyotes themselves!
When you finally do connect with a coyote in your trap, it's an experience unlike any other, knowing you have successfully matched wits with the trickster of the woods!
Treat your catch with respect and put it down quickly and humanely. I shoot mine with a .22 to the top of the skull. Coyotes can be intense and aggressive, do not ever tease one or get too close within the chain circle of a trapped coyote.
Use every part of the animal possible. Coyote fur is useful for many types of crafting or garment-making projects, and coyote meat can also be eaten! Do not harvest any animal if you don't plan to make good use of it in some way.
For some ideas on what to do with your fur and meat, check out how to make Coyote Jerky or a Mountain Man Fur Hat!
Best of luck in your trapping adventures!
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