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Traps and snares – how to build, bait, and place traps to acquire food in the wild

Hanging snare traps

Acquiring food with animal traps – the most efficient game hunting method

You can typically acquire more animal food using traps than shooting – and trapping requires much less time and energy than stalking and hunting.  The time saved by trapping can be allocated to foraging for additional food sources.  To be effective with any type of trap or snare, you must do the following:

  • Be familiar with the species of animal you intend to catch.
  • Be capable of constructing a proper trap and properly masking your scent.
  • Not alarm the prey by leaving signs of your presence.

First, analyze the environment and determine the best place to set your traps.  Determine what sort of animal you are trying to trap and then set your trap specifically for that type of animal.  To determine the most effective location for your trap, look for the following:

  • Runs and trails.
  • Tracks.
  • Droppings.
  • Chewed or rubbed vegetation.
  • Nesting or roosting sites.
  • Feeding and watering areas.

How to place animal traps

Pay careful attention to the trap’s location

Trip-string deadfall trap using rock as counterweight

Don’t place traps in randomly selected areas.  Position your traps and snares where there is evidence that animals pass through. Animal trails lead to the animal’s bedding areas, water holes, and feeding areas.

First, determine if the animal path is a “run” or a “trail.” A trail will show signs of use by several species and will be rather distinct. A run is usually smaller and less distinct and will only contain signs of one species. You may construct a perfect snare, but it will not catch anything if haphazardly placed in the woods.

You must set the trap in such a manner that the animal is not alarmed at its presence.  Therefore, if you must dig, first remove all fresh dirt from the area. Most animals will instinctively avoid a pitfall-type trap.

Prepare the various parts of a trap or snare away from the site, carry them in, and set them up. Such actions make it easier to avoid disturbing the local vegetation, thereby alerting the prey.

Masking smells on the trap

Animals have a keen sense of smell.  Do not use freshly cut, live vegetation to construct a trap or snare. Freshly cut vegetation will “bleed” sap that has an odor the prey is able to smell. It is an alarm signal to the animal.

You must remove or mask the human scent on and around the trap you set. Although birds do not have a developed sense of smell, nearly all mammals depend on smell even more than on sight. Even the slightest human scent on a trap will alarm the prey and cause it to avoid the area. Removing the scent from a trap is difficult but masking it is relatively easy. Use the fluid from the gall and urine bladders of previous kills. Do not use human urine.

Mud, particularly from an area with plenty of rotting vegetation, is also good. Use it to coat your hands when handling the trap and to coat the trap when setting it. In nearly all parts of the world, animals recognize the smell of burned vegetation and smoke. It is only when a fire is actually burning that they become alarmed. Therefore, smoking the trap parts is an effective means to mask your scent.

If one of the above techniques is not practical, and if time permits, allow the trap to weather for a few days and then set it. Do not handle a trap while it is weathering. When you position the trap, camouflage it as naturally as possible to prevent alarming the prey.

Channel prey towards the trap

Traps or snares placed on a trail or run should use funneling or channelization. To build a channel, construct a funnel-shaped barrier extending from the sides of the trail toward the trap, with the narrowest part nearest the trap. Channelization should be inconspicuous to avoid alerting the prey. As the animal gets to the trap, it cannot turn left or right and continues into the trap. Few wild animals will back up, preferring to face the direction of travel.

Channelization does not have to be an impassable barrier. You only have to make it inconvenient for the animal to go over or through the barrier. For the best effect, the channelization should reduce the trail’s width to just slightly wider than the targeted animal’s body. Maintain this constriction at least as far back from the trap as the animal’s body length, then begin the widening toward the mouth of the funnel.

Using bait in animal traps

Baiting a trap or snare increases your chances of catching an animal. When catching fish, you must bait nearly all the devices, but with land-based animal traps, success with an unbaited trap depends solely on its placement in a good location. A baited trap can help draw animals to it.

Figure-4 deadfall trap with heavy log as counterweight

The bait should be something the animal knows. However, this bait should not be so readily available in the immediate area that the animal can get it from an alternative source. For example, baiting a trap with corn in the middle of a cornfield would not be likely to work. Likewise, if corn is not grown in the region, a corn-baited trap may arouse an animal’s curiosity and keep it alerted while it ponders the strange food. Under such circumstances it may not go for the bait.

One bait that works well on small mammals is peanut butter from a ready-to-eat (MRE) ration. Salt is also a good bait. When using such baits, scatter bits of it around the trap to give the prey a chance to sample it and develop a craving for it. The animal will then overcome some of its caution before it gets to the trap.

If you set and bait a trap for one species but another species takes the bait without being caught, try to determine what the animal was. Then set a proper trap for that animal, using the same bait.

NOTE: Once you have successfully trapped an animal, you will not only gain confidence in your ability, but you will also have resupplied yourself with bait for several more traps.

How to build various types of animal traps

Traps and snares crush, choke, hang, or entangle the prey. The mechanisms that provide power to the trap are usually very simple. The struggling victim, the force of gravity, or a bent sapling’s tension provides the power needed to operate the trap.

The heart of any trap or snare is the trigger. Most traps use a wooden trigger.  Choose wood that is strong and springy.  Do not use old, dry wood.

When planning a trap or snare, ask yourself how it should affect the prey, what is the source of power, and what will be the most efficient trigger. Your answers will help you devise a specific trap for a specific species. Traps are designed to catch and hold or to catch and kill. Snares are traps that incorporate a noose to accomplish either function.

Simple Snare trap

Simple snare trap and locking mechanism

A simple snare consists of a noose placed over a trail or den hole and attached to a firmly planted stake. It is designed to catch a smaller animal around the throat or a larger animal around the legs. If the noose is some type of cordage placed upright on a game trail, use small twigs or blades of grass to hold the noose above the ground. Filaments from spider webs are excellent for holding nooses open.

Make sure the noose is large enough to pass freely over the animal’s head. As the animal continues to move, the noose tightens around its neck. The more the animal struggles, the tighter the noose gets. For a smaller animal, such as a rabbit, make the noose about fist width in length and place it about four fingers above the ground.  This type of snare usually does not kill the animal. If you use cordage, it may loosen enough to slip off the animal’s neck. Wire is therefore the best choice for a simple snare.

Drag Noose

Drag noose trap for small game

The Drag Noose is most effective on an animal run. Place forked sticks on either side of the run and lay a sturdy crossmember across them. Tie the noose to the crossmember and hang it at a height above the animal’s head.

Drag noose trap for small game

Nooses designed to catch by the head should never be low enough for the prey to step into with a foot.  As the noose tightens around the animal’s neck, the animal pulls the cross-member from the forked sticks and drags it along. The surrounding vegetation quickly catches the cross-member and the animal becomes entangled.

Twitch-Up or Spring Snare

Twitch-up or spring snare trap

A twitch-up is a supple sapling that, when bent over and secured with a triggering device, will provide power to a variety of snares. Select a hickory or other hardwood sapling along the trail. A twitch-up will work much faster and with more force if you remove all the branches and foliage from the sapling before bending it.

Spring snare trap trigger

A simple twitch-up snare uses two forked sticks, each with a long and short leg.  Bend the twitch-up and mark the trail below it. Drive the long leg of one forked stick firmly into the ground at that point. Ensure the cut on the short leg of this stick is parallel to the ground. Tie the long leg of the remaining forked stick to a piece of cordage secured to the twitch-up. Cut the short leg so that it catches on the short leg of the other forked stick. Extend a noose over the trail, propped up with small sticks.

Since a twitch-up snare is more likely to kill the prey, it should be checked more often than gravity-operated snares.

Spring snare trap showing height of noose placement

The design below is particularly effective since it uses two trigger mechanisms – one triggered by pulling on the noose and the other triggered by disengaging the bait trigger.

spring snare trap 2

Set the trap by bending the twitch-up and engaging the short legs of the forked sticks (your trigger). When an animal catches its head in the noose, it pulls the forked sticks apart, allowing the twitch-up to spring up and hang the prey.

NOTE: Do not use green sticks for the trigger. The sap that oozes out could glue them together (and the smell of the sap may alarm the animal).

Double-Spring Snare

Double spring snare trap

In the Double-Spring Snare, two saplings are notched together to create the spring mechanism.  Bend the saplings towards each other and hook them together with a notched trigger.  A vertical bait bar is tied to one of the saplings and dangled just outside of the noose.

With a Double-Spring snare, multiple nooses (two on each sapling) can be placed to entrap the animal.

Squirrel Pole snare

Squirrel pole snare trap

A squirrel pole is a long pole placed against a tree in an area showing a lot of squirrel activity. Place several wire nooses along the top and sides of the pole so that a squirrel trying to go up or down the pole will have to pass through one or more of the nooses. Position the nooses (5 to 6 centimeters [2 to 2 1/4-inches] in diameter) about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) off the pole. Place the top and bottom wire nooses 45 centimeters (18 inches) from the top and bottom of the pole to prevent the squirrel from getting its feet on a solid surface. If this happens, the squirrel will chew through the wire.

Squirrel pole snare trap

Squirrels are naturally curious. After an initial period of caution, they will try to go up or down the pole and will be caught in the noose. The struggling animal will soon fall from the pole and strangle. Do not immediately remove the animal that is trapped.  Other squirrels will soon be drawn to the commotion. In this way, you can catch several squirrels. You can emplace multiple poles to increase the catch.

Ojibwa Bird Pole snare

Ojibwa bird pole snare trap

An Ojibwa bird pole is a snare that has been used by Native Americans for centuries.  To be effective, it should be placed in a relatively open area away from tall trees. For the best results, pick a spot near feeding areas, dusting areas, or watering holes.

Cut a pole 1.8 to 2.1 meters (6 to 7 feet) long and trim away all limbs and foliage. Do not use resinous wood such as pine. Sharpen the upper end to a point, then drill a small-diameter hole 5 to 7.5 centimeters (2 to 3 inches) down from the top. Cut a small stick 10 to 15 centimeters (4 to 6 inches) long and shape one end so that it will almost fit into the hole. This is the perch. Plant the long pole in the ground with the pointed end up.

Tie a small weight, about equal to the weight of the targeted species, to a length of cordage. Pass the free end of the cordage through the hole and tie a slip noose that covers the perch. Tie a single overhand knot in the cordage and place the perch against the hole. Allow the cordage to slip through the hole until the overhand knot rests against the pole and the top of the perch. The tension of the overhand knot against the pole and perch will hold the perch in position.

Spread the noose over the perch, ensuring it covers the perch and drapes over both sides. Most birds prefer to rest on something above ground and will land on the perch. As soon as the bird lands, the perch will fall, releasing the overhand knot and allowing the weight to drop. The noose will tighten around the bird’s feet, capturing it. If the weight is too heavy, it will cut off the bird’s feet, allowing it to escape. Another variation would be to use spring tension such as a tree branch in place of the weight.

Treadle Spring Snare

Treadle spring snare trap

Use a treadle snare against small game on a trail. Dig a shallow hole in the trail. Then drive a forked stick (fork down) into the ground on each side of the hole on the same side of the trail. Select two fairly straight sticks that span the two forks. Position these two sticks so that their ends engage the forks. Place several sticks over the hole in the trail by positioning one end over the lower horizontal stick and the other on the ground on the other side of the hole. Cover the hole with enough sticks so that the prey must step on at least one of them to set off the snare.

Treadle spring snare showing sapling as spring mechanism

Tie one end of a piece of cordage to a twitch-up or to a weight suspended over a tree limb. Bend the twitch-up or raise the suspended weight to determine where you will tie the trigger. The trigger should be about 5 centimeters (2 inches) long. Form a noose with the other end of the cordage. Route and spread the noose over the top of the sticks over the hole. Place the trigger stick against the horizontal sticks and route the cordage behind the sticks so that the tension of the power source will hold it in place. Adjust the bottom horizontal stick so that it will barely hold against the trigger.

Treadle spring snare showing sapling as spring mechanism

As the animal places its foot on a stick across the hole, the bottom horizontal stick moves down, releasing the trigger and allowing the noose to catch the animal by the foot. Because of the disturbance on the trail, an animal will be wary. You must therefore use channelization. To increase the effectiveness of this trap, a small bait well may be dug into the bottom of the hole. Place some bait in the bottom of the hole to lure the animal to the snare.

Figure 4 Deadfall trap

Figure-4 deadfall trap

The Figure-4 Deadfall is a trigger used to drop a weight onto a prey and crush it. The type of weight used may vary, but it should be heavy enough to kill or incapacitate the prey immediately. Construct the figure 4 using three notched sticks. These notches hold the sticks together in a figure-4 pattern when under tension. Practice making this trigger beforehand; it requires close tolerances and precise angles in its construction.

Figure 4 deadfall trap closeup of notched sticks

Bait should be placed on the end of the horizontal pole, on the end nearest to the drop weight.

Figure 4 trap notched stick movement

Do not push the vertical pole into the ground.  If forced to remain stationary, it will stop the drop weight from completely falling.

Paiute Deadfall

Paiute deadfall trap

The Paiute Deadfall is like the Figure-4 but uses a piece of cordage and a catch stick. It has the advantage of being easier to set than the Figure-4.

Tie one end of a piece of cordage to the lower end of the diagonal stick. Tie the other end of the cordage to another stick about 5 centimeters (2 inches) long. This stick is the catch stick. Bring the cord halfway around the vertical stick with the catch stick at a 90-degree angle. Place the bait stick with one end against the drop weight, or a peg driven into the ground, and the other against the catch stick.

When a prey disturbs the bait stick, it falls free, releasing the catch stick. As the diagonal stick flies up, the weight falls, crushing the prey. To increase the effectiveness of this trap, a small bait well may be dug into the bottom of the hole. Place some bait in the bottom of the hole to lure the animals to the snare.

Spring Deadfall

Spring deadfall trap with large rock

Working on the same principles as the above deadfall traps, the Spring Deadfall trap uses pegs driven into the ground through which a flexible spring is constructed using a thin branch.  Bait is placed on a trigger mechanism which disengages a stick used to prop up the deadfall.  The tensioned spring allows this trap to snap quickly, making it especially usable for small, quick mammals such as rodents.

Bow Trap

Bow trap illustration

A bow trap is one of the deadliest traps. It is dangerous to man as well as animals. To construct this trap, build a bow and anchor it to the ground with pegs. Adjust the aiming point as you anchor the bow.  The bow can be placed on natural branch points and anchored with cordage or anchored with cordage using the appropriate lashing.

Lash a toggle stick (the shorter vertical stick which holds the bow string) to the trigger stick (the larger horizontal stick which holds the toggle stick back). Two upright sticks driven into the ground hold the trigger stick in place at a point where the toggle stick will engage the pulled bowstring. The bow string’s tension causes the toggle stick to press against the trigger stick and hold it in place.

Place a catch stick (the shorter horizontal stick with trip wire lashed to it) between the toggle stick and a stake driven into the ground. Tie a trip wire or cordage to the catch stick and route it around stakes and across the game trail where you tie it off. When the prey trips the trip wire, the bow looses an arrow into it. A notch in the bow serves to help aim the arrow.

Warning: This is a lethal trap. Approach it with caution and from the rear only!

Pig Spear Shaft

Pig spear shaft with closeup of trigger mechanism

To construct the pig spear shaft, select a stout pole about 2.5 meters (8 feet) long. At the smaller end, firmly lash several small stakes. Lash the large end tightly to a tree along the game trail. Tie a length of cordage to another tree across the trail. Tie a sturdy, smooth stick to the other end of the cord. From the first tree, tie a trip wire or cord low to the ground, stretch it across the trail, and tie it to a catch stick. Make a slip ring from vines or other suitable material. Encircle the trip wire and the smooth stick with the slip ring. Emplace one end of another smooth stick within the slip ring and its other end against the second tree. Pull the smaller end of the spear shaft across the trail and position it between the short cord and the smooth stick. As the animal trips the trip wire, the catch stick pulls the slip ring off the smooth sticks, releasing the spear shaft that springs across the trail and impales the prey against the tree.

WARNING – This is a lethal trap. Approach it with caution and from the rear only!

Bottle Trap

Bottle trap

A bottle trap is a simple trap for mice and voles. Dig a hole 30 to 45 centimeters (12 to 18 inches) deep that is wider at the bottom than at the top. Make the top of the hole as small as possible. Place a piece of bark or wood over the hole with small stones under it to hold it up 2.5 to 5 centimeters (1 to 2 inches) off the ground. Mice or voles will hide under the cover to escape danger and fall into the hole. They cannot climb out because of the wall’s backward slope. Use caution when checking this trap; it is an excellent hiding place for snakes.

Noosing Wand

Noosing wand for snaring small game

A noose stick or “noosing wand” is useful for capturing roosting birds or small mammals.  It requires a patient operator. This wand is more a weapon than a trap. It consists of a pole (as long as you can effectively handle) with a slip noose of wire or stiff cordage at the small end. To catch an animal, you slip the noose over the neck of a roosting bird and pull it tight. You can also place it over a den hole and hide in a nearby blind. When the animal emerges from the den, you jerk the pole to tighten the noose and thus capture the animal. Carry a stout club to kill the prey.

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