‘Rats and ‘Coons: Tried and True Sets

As a long time trapper it is great to see a bit of resurgence in the sport over the last few years. While trapping took a hit during the late 80’s and all through the 90’s and 00’s it appears that many trappers are getting back into the sport.  What’s really nice to see is some younger folks participating and getting started in trapping, something that I believe is extremely important to the future of this tradition.

If you just started trapping, looking at getting into it, or simply want to get back into it and knock off the dust below is a list of ways that many trappers go about catching Iowa’s two most popular fur bearing critters, the raccoon and muskrat:

Muskrat Trapping Sets

Muskrats are naturally curious and always hungry and as such they tend to be fairly easy to catch if you can locate a decent population. Most “Rat Trappers”  use a variation of one of three types of sets, a traditional pocket set, a slide or stumble set and a den or underwater set.  We will discuss each of these methods more fully in the following paragraphs:

Pocket Set

The “Pocket Set” is constructed when ample water is available to cover the trap pan.  The trapper should look for a shelf on the bank that is as close to perpendicular to the water as possible.  Using a trapping trowel or spade dig a hole straight back into the bank the length of your trowel if possible and deep enough so the water will cover the pad about an inch and one half.  After digging your hole smooth the edges with your rubber gloved hand and throw some water over the set to make it appear natural.  I strongly recommend using a drown line set which includes two stakes, one positioned close enough to the whole so the trap can be placed just in front of the entrance, with the jaws allowing the animal to step between them, not over a jaw.  Please note if using long springs the trap spring needs to be turned to about 35 degrees before placement.

A small amount of lure can be placed on a stick or piece of grass just above the set entrance to attract the rat to the set. Although the lure itself may be sufficient to get the Muskrat to investigate the set it’s a good idea to bait the set with a small piece of fish wrapped in grass or use one of many different commercial bait’s that are produced.  Although rats come off a little vicious when cornered mink will make quick work of a Muskrat and I avoid using mink lure when focusing on rats.

Slide and Stumble Set

The slide or stumble set is simply made to catch the muskrat in their normal activity of running around and playing along the banks of the water source. Look for slides, tracks and fresh activity and set your traps to take advantage of active muskrats.  These sets should be set below the waterline at the same depth as a pocket set and drowning stakes can be implemented.  Although this type set may sound pretty simple actually determining where the animal is travelling consistently takes experience and understanding and most trappers ignore this type of set due to the time entailed in scouting the activity.

Den/Underwater Sets

Den and underwater sets utilize the 110 body grip trap which is set in the openings of the entrance and egress points of the muskrat’s dens, as well as in the underwater runways muskrats use in their daily activities. This type set is highly effective and can yield a quick effective catch in good populations of rats.  Like the slide and stumble set the Trapper needs to determine active pathways and dens in good eater depth although dry land sets with 110’s can yield rats if the population is large.

Trap placement is simply made in the active runway and paths with trap location being placed within the swim pattern. Stakes or manufactured stabilizers should be used to secure the trap within the swim pattern and although the body grip trap provides a quick dispatch if the animal light staking will allow for finding the catch more easily.

Raccoon Trapping Sets

Raccoons historically have been the most targeted catch for novice and experienced trappers in Iowa. There plentiful numbers, ease of catching and consistent demand make them a trap line favorite.  Raccoon trappers use many different sets and variations thereof, but in general these sets can be categorized as body grip sets, dog proof sets and water pocket sets.

Body Grip Sets

Body grip sets utilize a body grip trap and most commonly in the size known as the “220 Conibear”. The Iowa Department of Natural resources requires the body grip trap set above land must have a jaw spread that exceeds eight inches and the trapper should make sure they comply with this law and other regulations involving body grip traps.  Again activity and placement are keys with these sets.  Body grip sets and basically a stumble set, is when a trap is placed in active runways raccoon use to travel their food territory.

Stabilization of the trap should place the bottom of the open jaws approximately two inches off the ground. Each trapper has his own way of disguising the set, but generally grass from around the area is placed over the top of the set and sticks or brush is used to help direct the animal into the traps location.  Lures are unnecessary as these sets are placed within the animals normal travel way.  A variation of this set called a bucket set utilizes a bucket, with the body grip placed at its entrance.  Bait is placed in the back of the bucket and the raccoon is enticed into the set by its presence.

Body grip traps are effective human tools and can provide tremendous trap line results. However the investment in the trap is considerable and regulations require more time be spent at the set.  Over the last several years the use of body grips have declined as snares have become more popular; as well as the movement to the dog proof traps.

Dog Proof

The dog proof trap has grown in popularity and is arguably the most used trap for coon in the trappers’ pack today. This trap provides a successful, cost effective tool for catching coon and is used in sets on flat land to creek banks.  The trap is cylinder shaped with a very small round opening in one that does not allow for a dog to get their paw inserted and become caught thus eliminating a tremendous disadvantage to dry land trapping coon.  Bait is inserted into the opening and the coon will set off the trap as it attempts to retrieve the bait.  Dog proof traps take little time for sight preparation and although standard practice is to augur a small hole to stake and insert the trap many times a baited exposed trap will do the job.  Your best bet for sight preparation is to experiment with various sets and locations so you can ascertain the patterns of raccoons in your various trapping areas.

Water sets utilizing long springs and coil spring traps have become less and less popular as dog proof traps have become more and more popular. Water sets will still yield good amounts of coon however the work load involved in digging pocket sets and traversing creek and river banks has caused a significant move away from this long used method of trapping.  Pocket sets for coon are similar in size and location as those for muskrats and indeed both animals can be caught in the same set.  When concentrating on raccoon the trapper should use a coon specific lure and bait, but if rats are in the area they will still be caught.

Hopefully the information above has shed a little more light onto some popular methods of catching Iowa’s two most popular fur-bearing critters. There are many more styles and methods for setting traps, however the ones listed above are by far the most popular and practiced approaches used today for catching coon and rats.  The sets discussed above are general in nature and each trapper might have his or her own variations to each set and that is great.

Part of trapping is figuring out what works best for you and adapting to new ideas and strategies. In a sense trapping is a real life game of chess; it’s your brain against the animals.  You would think it would be a win for you every time but you would be surprised how smart and difficult it can be to consistently catch an animal with the brain the size of a marble.  That is not to deter you from picking up this sport, but rather a challenge.

Trapping has been around for hundreds of years and is a time honored sport and passion. There has been some recent declines in trapper numbers due to some fur market declines and outside factors such as PETA getting involved, but it appears that trapping is starting to make a pretty good comeback both in numbers and fur prices.

If you want to pick up a sport and a passion that gives you great pride and satisfaction all while making a few extra bucks look into getting a trap line started this fall.