Setting Yourself up for Trapline Success

By JD Rogge

One factor most successful trappers have in common is their dedication to pre-season preparation and scouting. Pre-season prep can be the difference between meeting your season’s goals and falling woefully short of your expectations. I’ve known many trappers who prior to season claim to be ready to pile up the fur, only to find themselves unorganized and without the proper gear and preparations as the season wears on.

Each fall thousands of trappers go through their yearly ritual of dying and waxing their traps. While this method has certainly stood the test of time, it is time consuming, messy, and a bit of a hassle. I do dye my stakes every other year, but use a cold dye method instead of cooking them in a barrel, this method can be used with your steel traps as well. I think anytime I can get by without heating up my metal equipment the longer it will last, and the stronger my springs will stay. I prefer to use a large tote, filled with water and stir in some logwood dye. I then soak my stakes in this cold dye for 12 hours or so, giving them a good dark color. I like to put a batch of stakes in first thing in the morning, then rotate them out in the evening and soak the next batch overnight.

For my traps and snares, I prefer the water based dip Formula 1 brown which is mixed with one part Formula 1 and two parts water. This is the ratio that I prefer on steel traps, NOT on snares. Formula 1 is very quick drying, and I often dip equipment in the evening and set it the following day. Water based dips can also be made by thinning exterior latex house paints with water, but this method requires a little more “air out” time if the equipment is used out of the water.

On snares my preferred method is to thin the Formula 1 considerably more than the manufacturer recommends, until it has a consistency similar to water. I give my snares 2-3 dips, drying in between coats, until the snares have a light tan color, which blends very well with dead grass. I then dip the snares in 1 coat of a product called Full Metal Jacket. Full Metal Jacket dries into a clear hard coat on the outside of the snare that “slicks” the snare back up almost as wax would. All dip/dye products will somewhat slow a snares action more than bare cable, but I have found the Full Metal Jacket speeds the action of the snare considerably. When the snares are dry I roll them up individually, and stack them in square 4-gallon buckets, 100 per bucket, snap the lid on and write what kind of snare they are on the lid in marker.

One common snare treatment which has been used for years is to boil the snares in water with baking soda. While this method does work to take the shine off the snare cable, boiling the cable also takes the oil out of the cable which will cause the cable to corrode from within, shortening the life of the cable. When cable corrodes it will look like there is a fine powder on the cable, and the strength, speed, and durability of the cable will be compromised.

Another problem caused by poor pre-season prep is having the proper amount of locations scouted and secured to set during the course of the season. Most trappers are creatures of habit, and start the season setting their “ol’faithful” hotspots, along routes that they have trapped in prior seasons. It seems few trappers look ahead to a plan B or even a plan C, if something would happen to disrupt their line on their normal route. It could be competition, weather, crop rotations, road conditions, animal populations, or many other factors that influence whether a section of line will be productive or not.

I typically trap a section of line for 4-5 days taking the cream off the population before pulling, and setting a new line into new populations. If a trapper plans to keep his catch high, and trap deep into the season they should have several lines planned, scouted, even prestaked. When the catch starts to decline on one line the trapper can quickly shift to another scouted/prestaked line to keep his catch numbers high. Later in the season you can shift back to previous lines as more animals again start to use these locations. A good example of this would be if you heavily set a section of creek with running tiles, or fast moving water, and pulled the traps after the catch declined early in the season, this would be a good place to return to during the late season. Running tiles or fast moving water will often stay open during very cold temperatures when other water is frozen, these places become a magnet for all kinds of furbearers, and become hotspots for the trapper.

Always try to have more locations scouted than you think you can possibly set during the course of the season. You never know when your Plan A will be disrupted and you will need to shift all or part of your line to new territory; if you don’t have any new ground scouted you’re in a tough spot and your lines’ efficiency will take a hit. I begin my pre-season scouting in early October, and keep a notebook, a plat book, and a county map handy. Keep detailed notes and you will have new locations/lines at you’re fingertips later in the season when you need them.

Pre-staking is an important part of my early season success. In Iowa, a trapper can pre-stake equipment on public right of way (road ditches) two weeks prior to the opening of season. Pre-staking is not “claiming” your locations-if your equipment isn’t actually set, another trapper can still legally set that location before you. Once your equipment is actually set it can’t be legally touched by another trapper. What pre-staking allows me to do is get a large amount of equipment set on opening day. Instead of pounding stakes, and hauling equipment on opening day, all I need to do is set/bait the equipment that is already staked in. Once again detailed notes are an essential part of my system-each location is written down as it’s staked, then checked off as it’s set, and later crossed off as it’s pulled.

I try to start my truck out as organized as I can to make me as efficient as possible at least for the first few days of the season. As much as I would like to say the truck stays that way, it wouldn’t be the truth. After a few days on the line it generally looks as if a bomb went off in the back of my truck. To begin season I have equipment organized in the back of my truck so that it can be easily accessed from either side of the truck, this includes two sets of some pieces of equipment such as hammers, pliers, cable cutters, tile spades, etc. Unfortunately things get lost or left at the locations, and it helps to have extra equipment to keep you moving. The old adage “two is one, one is none,” was never as true as it is on the trapline. Trying to keep ahead of the mess in your truck bed will save you time, and make you more efficient on your line.

Time is money, and your time is the most important and valuable thing you possess on your trapline. How you choose to spend your time during pre-season will absolutely effect your success on the line during season. I liken this to athletics-the athlete who works in the off season to prepare their mind and body to play, is almost always more successful than the athlete who doesn’t prepare but just shows up and plays. Good Luck and Happy Trapping!