Unfortunately the outlook for fur prices this year is, well no other way to put it, dismal. However there are still new trappers called to the sport every year with the same questions we veteran trappers had somewhere along the way. Common questions are where do I start, what animal should I target, what’s the best set, what’s the best trap, the basics we all had to learn somewhere along the way. For you long liners this article might be a little boring, but hopefully a new trapper or two will find a little wisdom in the words and become hooked on my favorite outdoor sport…trapping.
“What animal should the beginner target?” There will always be disagreements but I would start the novice trapper out on the raccoon. Here’ why:
•The raccoon is highly inquisitive and generally tolerates humans; although it can be a fierce fighter when cornered. The animal’s keen sense of smell, natural curiosity, and sense of safety in its home territory make it susceptible to a variety of trapping methods.
•The raccoon is abundant in every section of Iowa.
•The raccoon prefers to live in wooded areas, especially areas with plenty of large, hollow trees, suitable for dens. Raccoons also make dens in ground burrows, drainage tile, and old buildings.
•Raccoons are primarily nocturnal feeding animals.
•Raccoons are highly social animals that usually den and feed with others. During the cold winter months, they are known to partially hibernate, alone or in small groups, emerging on warm days to feed.
•The raccoon’s diet is diverse allowing for a multitude of effective baits.
Like any outdoor sport trapping requires a significant monetary investment. If you are new to the sport this is actually a great time to start. Prices for pelts are extremely low, you are not going to make any money doing this right now, so limit your investment, learn the sport gradually and increase your investment in traps and gear if and when prices increase. Besides no better time to buy gear when the market is down in any endeavor.
Before we discuss the basics of raccoon trapping lets touch base on some basic equipment that you will need for any type of trapping; 14 gauge wire, wire cutting pliers, small axe, bait, lure, trapping basket or 5 gallon bucket, trap stakes, hip boots, trapping spade, etc. You will also need an abundance of time, patience, and dedication.
Okay the basics. Raccoons are actually easy to trap. They respond to many different bait and lures, which can either be purchased at the local grocery store (peanut butter and/or marshmallows, etc.) or commercially at your local trapping supply store. Raccoon can even be trapped, without bait, simply by setting a trap in a raccoon trail or in an area where raccoons frequent; in fact this is one my favorite set placements as it pits my ability to specifically outwit the animal. Look for raccoon tracks in wet areas on trails or for their droppings to indicate that they are using a specific trail. Areas where raccoons frequently visit include any tile or small body of water that empties into a pond, ditch or creek. They are found near likely den sites such as mature woods, barns, abandoned buildings, and ground hog holes.
There are many types of traps that can be used for trapping raccoons. They include box traps, foothold traps, specialty traps, snares, and body gripping traps. Snares and body gripping traps have their place on any trap line; however, their use requires more experience and our focus here is on simplicity and learning the basics.
The easiest trap to set and the best at holding a live raccoon is the box trap, and is especially ideal for youth. I began trapping as most people my age using pocket sets in rivers and creeks. Body grips, box traps, snares and dog proofs were not on the scene. If I was going to put out a long line today to specifically target large takes of raccoon I would use the box trap.
• The animal is completely restrained by being enclosed inside the trap.
• Box traps can be set anywhere there is room, regardless of the vegetation or debris near your set and box traps work well on concrete or asphalt, set next to a trash dumpster; a location where other traps cannot be set.
• Box traps can be used where the possibility of capturing a pet or unwanted animal is likely, which can open up trapping areas normally unavailable to trap.
• Landowners will generally give permission much more readily if you tell them that you will be using box traps.
• Box traps can be set by even the young trappers with little difficulty.
The advantages of using box traps far outweigh the disadvantages. Although bulky and costly, any trapper would be well served to have at least a few available. The fact that they can be used over and over, with little or no upkeep combined with the fact that a single box trap can produce dozens of raccoon a season far outweigh the investment.
There are many foothold traps available for trapping raccoons with a little practice even most youth old enough to trap should be able to set these traps without too much difficulty. Foothold traps are old school and are not used as extensively as they once were. Raccoon have been the focal point of most long line trappers for many years and the use of easier and faster to set traps meant larger catches; however the foothold trap will still take its share of raccoon and is a must for many other species of furbearers.
Foothold traps are relatively inexpensive and with proper care will last for many years. The one disadvantage with using them is that they must be set properly to prevent a raccoon from escaping. A raccoon’s paws are designed for escape and their powerful body make them one of the hardest animals to hold in a leg hold trap. To prevent this, foothold traps must be set in such a way that a caught raccoon cannot reach any debris; such as tree roots, heavy trash or anything that is heavy and/or immovable. If a raccoon can reach any of these objects it is likely they will pull themselves out of the trap. The best solution is to have your sets near or in water and construct a drowning set.
Drowning sets work well whenever there is deep enough water, typically something over 1.5 feet. Instead of single stake securing your trap solid, it is attached to a length of wire (I use 14 gauge). The wire is fastened to a stake driven into the deep water. Run the wire up to your set and fasten your trap to the wire using a “L” shaped drowning lock. When attached to the wire properly, the trap will slide easily into deep water, but will lock on the wire and not slide back towards the set. The other end of the wire is attached to a stake near the set. When caught the raccoon will naturally attempt escape away from the set. The trap slides down the wire and the raccoon will quickly drown.
Dog-proof traps have become extremely popular as they prevent most accidental domestic animal catches and little to no set preparation is necessary. These traps can be difficult to set for the new trapper; however they work well for dry land sets and raccoon cannot escape their intense grip. Most certainly these traps should be considered in your trap line as your confidence and experience grows.
Trapping is trial and error. What works for one trapper doesn’t work for the next. The same trap won’t work in every situation. It is one of the most frustrating things you will ever attempt and I think if you give it a try one of the most rewarding. The bottom line is you have to get out there and give it a try.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the set type and trap I used to catch my first raccoon, at 10 years old. A pocket set, in a fast moving creek. The trap was a 1 ½ Blake & Lamb Long Spring. The lure was Hawbaker’s Muskrat 1. The bait was sardines. You will remember your first raccoon too! I promise it is a rush. Fur prices will be down this year and for how long no one really knows. Don’t let this deter you from trapping no matter if you are a beginner or a long time veteran. Trap this year and all years for the passion and excitement the sport provides. Good Luck! I would enjoy hearing from you and would be happy to provide you more in depth information so please reach out.