By Joshua Jones
Picture this scenario as a trapper:
It is Friday night before the opening day of the trapping season in Iowa and you are loading the truck with all equipment you may need for the next day. Hammers, trowels, wire, bait, gloves, etc. Everything that is on your list and checking it twice to make sure you have it all loaded. You can hardly sleep as you go over each set location and mentally you are deciding right away which ones will be the ones to take the most fur. Locations such as coon trails going to picked cornfields from hardwoods or rivers/creeks in between soybeans and cornfields. Water sets, conibears or snares in trails, dry land sets with dog proofs or footholds. The alarm then goes off and you realize you hardly slept at all and out the door you go with hip boots on and you are standing at your first set by 7:50 a.m. with the alarm on your cell phone set to go off at 8:00 a.m. It goes off and you set your first trap of the season. The next day after setting the majority of your traps you are out early before the sun comes up checking location after location and catching coon in many of those locations. You work hard the first month to catch as much as possible because you know the cold and wintery weather is coming and the catch will slow down. However it doesn’t have to slow the trapping down!
What I just described above happens just about every year, some longer and some shorter depending on weather patterns of that season. Many trappers will hang up their traps after their vacation is done or after the weather turns south thinking that there isn’t much else to catch but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the best trapping is yet to come. Sure it will take more work and likely more clothing but it isn’t that the coon population is way down, it just means they have changed their habits a little bit as they too adjust to the colder weather.
Raccoons will start to move to more sturdy shelters and dens that are a little warmer than their fall den locations. These areas are usually closer to acreages, old farmsteads with abandoned houses, barns, hardwoods with big hollow trees, feed lots, etc. One thing that will always be in common with these places is the availability of food and drink. If a farmstead or hardwoods is close to a grain bin or a place where a farmer feeds his cows then it is a likely location for coon to take up residence. Raccoons will also be close to any open water that is still going like heated water tanks, fast moving water in creeks or rivers that stay open. The equation is housing (dens), supper (food source) and drink (water source). You find that combination and the coon trapping will be very comparable to the start of the season.
I have one such area on my trapline. It is a combination of an old barn next to several fenced in areas where the farmer holds his livestock during the winter. The pasture next to the livestock area usually doesn’t see livestock activity and is about 30 acres in size but holds a lot of hollow trees and brush piles. The barn holds the feed consisting of shelled corn and has a heated water tank near the barn. It has all the makings of a completed equation…shelter, food, and water. I use dog proof traps close to the barn near the water source baited with what else? Shelled corn mixed with one-two ounces of cherry or anise oil.
To make the bait, take a gallon-sized pail of shelled corn and mix with the oil and it makes very loud smelling bait. I then branch out in the pasture to find the trails and there are about 10 coon trails that go from den trees to the barn approximately 30-50 yards long. These trails are set up with 220 conibears. (A note about conibears on land, make sure where you are using them you are not likely to catch a non-target pet.)
Setting 220’s is fairly easy to do, make sure you have a “safety gripper” tool so the trap doesn’t go off on your hand when stabilizing the trap. I use two steel stakes to form an X over the trap and usually have the bottom of the trap jaws off the ground about two-five inches. I put the trigger in a V on the bottom so the coon is more likely to hit the triggers with his chin to shoulder area resulting in a much better catch. Find places in the coon trails where they are “necked” down or ducking under something to set the trap. I took 39 coon from that pasture in 2011 and 36 coon in 2012. If you find an area like this on your trapline, don’t be in a hurry to set it up in the early part of the season; I usually wait about two weeks into the season before I set this place up.
Another example is last season during January I was going slow along an old gravel road in my area when I saw a trail in the snow going to a tube. Closer inspection revealed raccoon tracks and they were headed to where a person had dumped a lot of dead chickens. The other part of the trail went up to a hollow tree about 40 yards away. Since I didn’t have permission on that property I used two dog proofs and set them between the fence and the chickens. I ended up catching 5 coon at that location in middle of January in a weeks’ time.
By the time you read this article, trapping season will be in full swing in Iowa. Many might be wondering where to sell your furs and I would like to throw a few suggestions out to you. Some like to sell in the round (not skinned), green (skinned only), or stretched and dried (flesh scraped off, pelt stretched on an appropriate sized board or wire stretcher, and dried). There are several places to sell and here is the list of the buyers I sell to and not in any order: Groenewold Fur & Wool Company, Robeson Fur Company out of Missouri, Iowa Trappers Association Fur Auction on January 4th, 2014, Fur Harvesters Auction, and North American Fur Auctions. Type any of these in Google or your favorite search engine to find out how to sell to them directly…but these are not the only buyers. There are several others that buy fur in the state of Iowa.
The most important thing to remember when targeting coon when the weather gets a lot colder is to complete the equation…shelter+food+water=coon. Have a great season!