Trapping Coyotes

Picture By Duane Fronek Trapping Expert

With the abundance of fur bearing animals out there, trapping has suddenly become a very popular sport again – -especially with the price of pelts on the increase. People are becoming very keen to get out and get some of the abundant fur bearers that are available. One of the most popular and abundant of these fur bearing animals is our “pal,” the coyote. And of course in the winter, coyote pelts are “primo” – -thick, colorful and extremely saleable. So it’s a way to get out into nature, help control the over population of coyotes, have a lot of fun, and get paid some handsome bucks if successful. Usually trapped coyote pelts will bring more money, since they won’t be tore up as they might be from being shot – -bullet or arrow –and of course, you can set out a lot of traps and may get a good number of animals over a short period of time, without having to track, sit and wait, and freeze your buns off under a moonlit night on some frozen tundra waiting for a perfect shot.

OK – OK. Just whoa up a minute. Don’t think that if you’re reading this over morning coffee, that you’ll jump in your 4 x 4, go to a store, pick up some traps, and you’ll be a millionaire by nightfall. Won’t happen. You need to know what the “hey” you’re doing, and it’s a LOT OF HARD WORK!! Capeesh?

My good friend and expert, licensed Wisconsin trapper, Phil Schweik gave me some great info regarding coyote trapping (he hunts them, too). I’ve accompanied him on some trap runs, and can tell you it’s quite exciting to do so – -but of course all you see when do the run is the hopefully positive results – -all the hard work and preparation went beforehand.

Most people don’t think about the old ways of getting coyotes, via trapping. Most of us aren’t Jeremiah Johnson, and prefer hunting them. Read what is said here, and take a step back. If you’re certain that you would like to give it a try, then by all means move ahead. It’s not a simple procedure. All states have different requirements. I’m going to generally speak of what the regs are in Wisconsin, but make sure you check everything out first – from licensing requirements, to the types of traps that can used (we’ll describe different types of traps, but there may be areas or entire states where certain traps cannot be used; then there’s the question of seasons, numbers that can be trapped, registration, and on and on). I do know that in Wisconsin that you have to be a licensed trapper- – and depending on your date of birth, you may very well have to take and pass a trapping course, as well as all trappers must have a small game hunting license. I’m not going to give any “specifics” about these regs because they change constantly, as I’m sure any hunter knows. And that goes for any state or area. So check everything out BEFORE you move ahead. My best suggestion is to get to know a licensed trapper who has a lot of experience in your area. Then after taking and passing any required course, pay this person if need-be to take you out and actually show you how to set the traps, all the “little secrets” that this trapper has learned over the years, and have this person accompany you when you buy the needed equipment. These trapper licensing courses will give you the basics, BUT, there is absolutely no substitution for having a tried and true mentor – and if your mentor is as old as the hills, has a scruffy beard, chews tobacco, and wears a coon tail hat, then you know you’ve found the right person.

OK – – enough of the prelims – -let’s “play the game.”

There are multitude of ways to trap coyotes – anywhere from leg hold sets, with steel traps that catch the coyote by the leg; where legal, snaring them with steel wire cable (by the way snaring is a very quick and humane kill method, as it will either choke the animal very quickly, or break its neck). One thing you must be critically aware of when setting traps is scent elimination. If any smell of you is present, the coyotes will stay way away. They have EXTREMELY keen noses and their sense of smell is without peer in the animal kingdom.

Even previous to making sure there is not scent from you, you’ve got to insure that the TRAPS THEMSELVES are scent free. And remember what I said about preparation and a lot of hard work? Well, here goes. When you buy traps, they’re usually shiny, silver-like steel or equal. You don’t want that. What you want to do is literally dye the traps black or charcoal. And if you cannot afford dye (don’t you dare laugh – -lots of folks – me included – – have to watch every penny, and if I can save you a buck, I’m going to do so), bury your new traps in oak, maple or any big pattern tree leaves, and let the traps age for six months to a year (just like fine wine or prime beef – -only this time you’re the “executive chef trapper”). The “aging” will turn the traps rusty and/or brown from the elements, and leaf and litter seepage. And you’re not done, yet! After you clean off the aged and now properly colored traps, prepare a large, sturdy pot of water, and put a good amount of paraffin wax in the water. The wax will dissolve in the boiling water. Dip your traps in that hot, boiling pot of water and paraffin, and voila – -your traps will be not only be waterproof, but they’ll be scent free, and also very “quick.” The wax makes the traps work fast as all get out, and will also prevent the coyote from getting a firm grip anywhere on the trap. And by the way, any great trapper, like any great hunter (and Phil Schweik is both) will do these procedures every single year. Keep up your equipment, and your equipment will give you everything you want from it.

First off – -find an area where there are reports of good coyote population. There’s lots of public land in Wisconsin, but there are also plenty of private farms and wilderness areas – – get permission if you wish to trap on private property. Most farmers will welcome you, as coyotes can become a problem for their own animals/livestock. Be courteous. Ask up front. Offer the landowner something if you wish, and I’ve found that 99% of private landowners will allow you on their property.

A quick word of caution: ALWAYS keep a close track of where you have located traps – -either via GPS, or markings on a map. That way, you won’t have to worry that someone will get caught in these traps and suffer injury – -or even worse; and while very rare, it can happen. Make sure that your traps are tended to and removed when you’ve finished your trapping tour. Don’t ever, ever leave traps out in the field, and keep a close count of how many traps you’ve set, so you’re sure you’ve retrieved every last one of them.

The easiest traps to set are field sets, which are set up on any game trail on the edge of a field. You’re “blind setting” these traps along that game trail in the hopes of picking up a coyote. Now, if there’s snow or sand on the ground, you’ll be able to literally see coyote tracks which will give you some hint as to where on the game trail to set up. And of course, you can get lucky and pick up incidental fur bearers like skunk, raccoon, or fox. This trapping method is not the most successful, but it is the easiest, and probably that grizzled old mentor of yours will suggest this method to start – -that is if you can understand him between his spitting out a “chaw of tobakky,” and scratching himself. By the way, trapper Phil Schweik is not old and grizzled, nor does he chew tobacco or scratch himself — well, maybe he scratches himself – -a little.

These traps must be totally concealed, and are usually anchored to the ground by a big steel stake, with a swivel on top so the coyote is able to run around in circles. Some trappers will even incorporate a spring on a track chain as a shock absorber to prevent the coyote from breaking free after the trap is sprung. If the ground is too frozen to anchor the steel stake of the trap in the ground, you can anchor it to a big log or large tree branch; and although the coyote may be able to move it a little bit, believe me, it’ll hold the animal.

The next type of popular set that’s used is called a dirt hole set. It indicates the home of a rodent, which is the major source of a coyote’s food. Dig a hole about two inches in diameter, leaving a pile of dirt or sand outside the hole. Bury or hide your trap in that dirt pile (dirt piles outside of a rodent hole are common, so the coyote will expect it), and when the coyote comes to investigate, it springs the trap. In this particular trap set, it’s a good idea to use some type of scent attractant. Usually it’s coyote urine, but there are a multitude of such scents available. Don’t go nuts. Buy the simplest and cheapest urine scent available. That’ll work most every time. The coyote will be attracted not only by the scent, but visually, as well. The hole itself will look familiar, and if you’re the least bit experienced, you will know what rodent hole looks like. So will a coyote. Scent travels a long way, and the coyote usually will surely smell the scent before it even gets close to the hole. Once it sees the hole, it will be drawn in both by the scent and visually.

You can also shove some type of bait in the hole, but it must be completely sealed, and at least in Wisconsin cannot contain any fur, feathers or GENERALLY any part of a wild animal (there are exceptions, so check the regs carefully, as we keep preaching to you). The dirt hole type of trap works very well, and will attract a coyote from a great distance. They’re extremely curious animals, and if you can get them drawn in a bit, they’ll do the rest themselves.

Phil Schweik says his favorite type of trap set is what he calls a “hay bale set.” Coyotes, like foxes and wolves like to be able to see long distances. Anytime you go to a field, and there’s a mound or rise in the terrain, you can be sure the coyote will hit that spot so it will be able o see long distances. In addition, these rises are often home to great numbers of rodents, so the coyotes have another good reason to go to them.

Phil Schweik makes his own “rises.” It’s a lot of work – -I know I keep saying that, but it’s true, so be prepared. Phil drags a big bale of hay to the field, and sets up his own “high terrain,” creating not only a ‘rise,” but a home for rodents. You set your traps in two places: One trap at the very top of the hay bale, firmly anchored to the ground. The second should be placed along the longest edge of the hay bale. You dig a “rodent hole” in the general middle of the longest side of the hay bale, and you MAKE SURE it’s just far enough away from the hay bale that the hole can be spotted from a distance. It should look like a rodent is trying to burrow underneath the hay bale. Again – -a little coyote urine sprinkled around the entire hay bale will help immensely.

So, if a coyote gets up on the top of the bale, the trap will spring, and if it tries to get to the rodent through the hole you’ve dug, the trap, hidden in the pile of dirt at the side of the hole will get it, too. Guide Phil Schweik says that he has caught two coyotes simultaneously – – one in the trap at the top of the hay bale, and one in the trap in the rodent hole he dug. Indeed, he said once, ONE coyote sprung and was caught by both traps.

The final trap set we’ll discuss is by snare – -where legal! Check your regs. I know. I know. Stop my preaching, but better to be “preached to,” then end up with a hefty fine, or maybe a couple of days in the hoosegow.

Setting a snare trap can be tricky. First- – you must find a trail that the COYOTES are using – -not some general game trail. You have to make sure that the snare is the right size. Not too small. Not too big; and placed at the right height. If the trap is too small, the coyote won’t fit. If it’s too big, the coyote will jump through it. If it’s too high, the coyote will go under it, and it’s too low, they’ll jump over it. This is where experience and that mentor come in.

Here’s what Phil Schweik suggests: Place the snare about 18-24 inches off the ground, which is about the height of a coyote’s head (and don’t forget folks, you’ll have to adjust depending on where you trap – -eastern U.S. coyotes are 10-15 pounds heavier, and bigger than their western U.S. counterparts- – we’re talking “eastern U.S.” here). The snare should be about 8-10 inches in diameter. Conceal the snare with twigs, leaves and branches, so as the coyote ambles along the trail, it’ll think it’s a funnel area, and will jump right through it and into the snare. Phil also suggests spreading the branches apart, with the branches facing downward. This is the most natural “look” and will not spook the coyote. It’ll see the branches hanging down, figure it’s just some downed tree part, and run right into the trap.

As to expense, like anything else, if you expect to make money on trapping, you’ll want to invest in good stuff – and that’s going to be more expensive. A trapper who tries to make money, will of course hopefully amortize any cost over a relatively short period of time, but traps wear out, they break, they’re stolen (yes- – sadly, it happens – -especially if there’s a prime coyote in the trap), and every year you’re going to be spending money on new equipment, or repairing some of your old stuff. If you’re like me, and would just want to do it as a “different” type of activity, then I’d opt for starting out real slowly. Find out which trapping method you find most appealing, then initially only buying some basics, trying it out and going from there. Regardless, trapping for coyotes is fast becoming a more popular outdoor activity. I can tell you that it can become almost intoxicating and attractive for the person who wants to explore new horizons.