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Traps & Snares
© 2006

Traps and methods of trapping small game.

Suitable only if you are going to be in the same location for a long period of time.

Not suitable for trapping food if you are on the move.

So You Want To Trap an Animal?

What's my name?

Of all the "woodsman" skills I can think of, trapping requires probably the most effort, skill, and luck. Even if you have all the correct equipment, either purchased or hand-made, you still have to have the skill to get into the woods, find the animal's habitat, and set up a trap that will actually catch the animal. Animals are ALL hunted every day. They are wary of predators, most of whom are better than you are at catching dinner.

Squirrels watch out for everything and chatter like crazy if you bother them. The ones in my big oak tree out front throw acorns at me walking in my own yard. I have hostile squirrels.

Rabbits are faster than greased lightning, and muskrats hide all day. Most small animals suitable for trapping in a survival situation know more about avoiding you, than you know about trapping them. I know, everyone of us would like to think we are the be-all and end-all "Paul Bunyan" in the woods. But, sad to say, most of us aren't.

Having said that, it's also good to know that, given a little instruction and a lot of luck, you might just learn how to catch one or two woods-critters that you can eat. A word of caution, though, it might seem like a good idea to try and trap a larger animal first. After all, the bigger the animal, the more meat we have to eat. Right? NO!

Trapping big game, like deer, wild pigs, moose, and the like will all present MAJOR problems if you don't do it right. First of all, traps the size to trap deer and moose will also catch people and bears. The human-type animal can't be eaten, and the bear will probably eat you. A trapped deer and/or moose have awesome strength when trying to escape. If you dig a pit large enough to trap an irate bear, you go get it out of there, I'll be back at the campsite...miles away. I try to make it a rule that I never trap anything big enough to eat me.

(My "Fishing Corollary" to this is "Never catch a fish big enough to become Captain of the Boat").

Call me "Chicken in the Woods" if you will, but I don't go out and try to catch large animals. I'm reasonably sure that, with my luck, I will latch on to a Wolverine, or a Bear, or a Yeti, which will not take kindly to my starvation problems; and will use me to solve his own starvation problems. Or at the very least, vent his anger.

That leaves us with small animals that can bite us, but probably won't kill us. Rabbits, muskrats, and that size animal can all provide food for the table. However, practicing this craft in today's society is going to be a mite tricky. Most states today, if they even have a "trapping season", require a license of some kind and you will be limited as to the season and type of animal you can trap. In some states, steel traps are forbidden. For example, trapping muskrats in some states can only be done in the very cold winter months. You will have to check with your state's version of Fish and Wildlife to check on licensing. I'd feel very bad if the first chipmunk you catch in a trap costs you a $200.00 fine. That's expensive eating...and they keep the dead chipmunk.

Trapping can be done in several ways. You can purchase steel traps (they are fairly cheap if you shop ebay). Or, you can wander around in the woods setting traps and snares using native materials or pieces of flexible wire or rope. Both systems work. Both systems require a lot of woodcraft skills. A word of advice. In today's "Politically Correct" environment, telling the public that you are going out to practice your trapping skills will reward you with the "Bambi Killer" neighborhood award.

Growing up in the 1950's in Indiana, there were a lot of open fields, creeks, rivers and even a canal that could be trapped for game. A trapping license cost about $2.50 for a year. I think I was the only licensed trapper in the north side of Indianapolis. The local game wardens knew me and where I set my traps, and even gave me a few tips to do it better. They were pretty cool guys. One of the wardens got me a permit to trap squirrels (live) in the inner city of Indianapolis, to release them out in the country.



Squirrels do NOT carry the RABIES virus.

My step-daughter was bitten by a startled squirrel at school. We rushed to pick her up and go to the emergency room. A very frustrated doctor pulled out a dog-eared medical book and opened it up to a flagged page. It read to the effect that "squirrels don't get rabies". So they just cleaned the little wound, and we went home.

Lesson learned. I never knew this.

In the spirit of "its better to learn to crawl" before your walk, I'm only going to teach you (first) how to trap rabbits. One way is with the manufactured "live trap", but that's only for reference, because in a survival situation, you don't need a live rabbit, only a dead one. The other way I'm going to show you is how to set two traps: 1. A deadfall, and; 2. A snare.

Why start with Rabbits? Rabbits are found in every state in the union. Some are huge floppy-eared skinny things that are called Jack Rabbits in the Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico area. Some are medium sized and cuddly and are called "Thumper". Whatever you call them, remember that they are members of the rodent family and they can bite "REALLY HARD" if they are caught alive. From experience, if you catch a rabbit kill it and skin it before you get back to camp with KIDS in it. They've all seen the Walt Disney movies and you will be treated like Jeffrey Dahmer if you don't. When asked what the meat is, say "hasenpfeffer" (German for Rabbit).

Live Trapping

The "live" traps look like this trap made by New Haven Mfg. It consists of a trap door that is triggered by the pan inside the trap. All you have to do is put rabbit food (I use lettuce) on the pan, the rabbit goes inside to eat, and the door closes behind him. This is a socially acceptable trap, but the problem is that now you have to kill it "eye-to-eye"; and that takes a kind of "hardness" that not everyone has. The other problem with these traps is that they take up a LOT of space for such limited use. I may use one around my house to "relocate" trespassing animals to the pound, but for food, never. But, like I say, some people can't stand the though of strangling or crushing an animal. Strokes for folks.

Steel Traps: The two steel traps shown are meant to kill and/or maim. The traps are from the Duke Manufacturing Co. and could possibly be used for rabbit, but I don't think it would work very well. The rabbit would have to jump up and down on the trigger pan to get it to go off. You could possibly suspend the bait above the trap so the rabbit would have to stand up to reach it, putting all his weight on the pan. I'd avoid this system for rabbit. These traps are best used for muskrat, raccoon, and possibly groundhogs. They are easy to carry and work well. There are good buys for these on ebay. I'll cover steel trapping in a later article.


DEADFALL: A simple and effective deadfall trap, can be made to any size. A horizontal bait bar is balanced at right angles to an upright with a lock bar, which supports a rock or other heavy weight pivoting around the tip of the upright.

This trap is probably the best all-around deadfall trap you can make. It works regardless of weather conditions or time of day. It is a baited trap. You need to know what the favorite food is for the animal you are trapping. Lettuce and carrots work great for rabbits.

The trap above is also called the "Figure-4" deadfall because of the shape of the trigger. In the last episode of "Survivorman" (read my review) I saw, poor Les was starving and had set up his deadfall while his freezing hands were shaking. He had a really hard time getting the balance right, as well as the different lengths for the support arms. After he got it set up (and it took him a long time), he forgot to attach the bait to the lower pivot arm. He set the bait on the ground under the arm. Just as advertised, the ground squirrels he was after came up and stole the bait without leaving a thank you note. Very rude. I've got to give Les credit, though. He set up more than one of these little traps and actually got one that he cooked and ate right on TV. What impressed me is that IT WORKED!

The figure-4 trigger above is made of 3 separate pieces of wood. The bottom piece, shown above as the darkest of the three, does NOT get stuck into the ground. If you did stick it into the ground, then the falling rock would hang up and not crush the animal. All three sticks must be free to fall over.

The more deadfalls you set up, the better you chances are of catching a rabbit. You don't have to use rocks. Heavy branches will also work.

For the Less-than-experienced first-time trapper, it is a problem as to where to set up these traps. You have to be able to find an open field, sit down, and watch where the rabbits are. Like Alice in Wonderland, they have trails that they follow through the brush. These trails stand out from the regular grass because the trail grass is either eaten down, or trampled down, lower than the surrounding grasses. If you're not looking for the trails, you won't see them. Sometimes it's just a shadow difference that makes them stand out. You set up your traps somewhere on this trail.

To try and improve your chances, you can change the trail area a little bit, creating a smaller "choke point" forcing all the passing rabbits into a relative confined space. Of course, inside this space is where you set your trap.

This type of "choke point" can be used for ALL trap set-ups, not just the deadfall. You could place a steel trap in this spot, or set up a snare (coming up next).

The point is to make it hard for the grazing animals to avoid your trap.

The "Point of Diminishing Return" is that you don't want to make such a mess and leave so much scent that the animals avoid the whole area.

Here's another drawing of the Figure 4 Deadfall that shows in a little more detail, the sticks needed to operate the trap.


Snares are made from either rope/twine or flexible wire. The are designed to strangle trapped prey. They should be carefully looked after several times a day, and when you are through needing them, they should all be picked up and taken apart.

On the left is a commercial snare from Thompson Standard Snares. They are available in different sizes and wire strengths based on the size of the animal you are trying to kill. They use a type of aircraft cable (similar to the wire used on bicycle hand brakes). This is a "top of the line" snare.
Raymond Thompson Snares

Cumberland's Northwest Trappers Supply, Inc. sells these rolls of trapping wire at a good price per roll. If you put just one roll in your pocket, the only tool you will need is the "Multi-tool" you should already have on your belt. This will make dozens of snares and last for a long, long time.
Product ID: 11GTW Category: Miscellaneous-Trappers Wire
11 Gauge Trappers Wire
Description: 11 Gauge Trappers Wire.
Price: $5.50 My personal bug out bag has one spool of this wire.

A snare is simply a noose that you position so that an unsuspecting animal will pass by and strangle himself with it. On the ground for rabbits, it is most often used attached to a bent over sapling or branch from a tree. When the rabbit becomes trapped in the loop, it pulls the sapling away from a hook and springs the noose tight around the animals neck. Eventually, the animal dies of strangulation.

OK. I don't like this idea either. Snaring food comes right after eating raw plants in my book. But, there will be times when hunting with a firearm (if you even have one) is just not possible. I would like to humanely kill all my meat products, but that just isn't always possible. We are back to the "What would you rather do" syndrome: "Die" or "Kill an animal slowly"? I pick killing animals over human life. You do what you want to do?

The following set-ups are just a few ideas for the use of the snare. Once again you have to find out where the animals are before you set up your snares. Putting one on the ledge of a rock, just because its easy to do, is futile if animals never pass that way.

SPRING SNARE: Game running through the snare disengages the trigger bar, and the prey is flung off the ground. Use on game trails or in gaps through rocks or hedges. Cut a notch in trigger bar (a) to fit upright (b). Drive upright into ground. Attach snare to trigger bar, then trigger bar to sapling. The snare is set up to be open at the height of the animal's head.

LEG SNARE: Push a natural fork or two sticks tied together into the ground. The line from a sapling is tied to a wooden toggle and the toggle passed under the fork. When the game takes the bait, attached to a separate stick, it falls away releasing the toggle which flies up taking the snare and the game with it. Large versions are amongst the best snares for heavy game. This type trigger release is more sensitive than the spring snare, above. However, it holds the animal by the legs and the animal may escape by chewing off its own feet.

SQUIRREL POLE: Attach several snare loops up a pole leading to a major tree used by squirrels. The big tree could be one just used for food during the daytime, or the nesting tree used all the time. You have to watch the squirrels to find out. The noose is attached to the underside of the pole and it is possible you could catch more than one on the same pole.

Animals in their own environment use all their senses to keep out of trouble. Not the least of these is their keen sense of smell. When setting snares (or hunting), try to keep your "human" scent out of the area as much as possible. At the very least, the human scent is not a natural scent and it may put the animal "on his guard". Avoid washing hands with scented soap, and use no lotions, etc. The more YOU smell like the woods, the better your chances are of catching dinner. (But your wife will never understand this smell, and may not let you back in the shelter.)

These traps and snares I've pointed out in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of variations and many other types of traps and snares. These will get you started. Learn these first, then come back to the "Trapper's Corner" and point out other, possibly more complicated snares and traps. Stay tuned.