Humanely Trapping Raccoons, Foxes, Skunks and More
How to Set a Live Trap to Protect Your Investments
By Ronnie Ashmore, West Virginia – A family farm, homestead, or just your little backyard herd are all susceptible to predation. There are many four-legged animals just sneaking through the brush looking for an easy meal; they don’t care if it’s another wild animal or an animal that belongs to you. It is impossible to keep watch over your backyard chickens, dairy goats, sheep and other livestock 100% of the time, but trapping raccoons and other pests will give you an upper hand on the situation. In recent years, traps have gotten a bad reputation by different animal rights groups. They only publish what the general public sees as cruelty, and most people seem to believe it. I want to cover how to properly use traps and do so humanely. Above all else, I recommend you read up on the trapping regulations of your state and abide by them. Do not assume what I tell you is legal until you verify it is where you live. You will also need to verify seasons of use and if they can be used for problem animals out of season.
I do agree that some people do not go about trapping raccoons and other pests humanely and doing such is cruel, but when used correctly, traps are a humane tool. The most common things I hear is that traps are designed to hurt the animal and that they immediately try chewing their way out of them, which is not the case. I can set any foothold trap I have and trigger it with my hand without causing any damage to myself; they are designed to hold the animal not hurt it. After the traps are set you have to religiously check it. Here in West Virginia, the law requires you to check the trap at minimum once every 24 hours. Since most predators are nocturnal and caught at night I check my traps at dawn to minimize the time the animal is caught in the trap. I have never had an animal attempt to chew out of the trap, but I could see it happening if you were to let it remain in the trap all day or days on end. It would be fine to check at dawn then again right before dark, just in case you have a hungry critter wander into one during daylight hours. If you plan on setting traps be sure you will have time to tend to them.
I would like to cover several traps and their usefulness, starting with the standard foothold trap. I like using them because they are relatively inexpensive, durable, and last a very long time. I would recommend getting half a dozen #1 1/2 coil spring traps for starters. #1 1/2 coil springs will handle most of the animals that plague farmers including fox, raccoon, skunk, weasel and opossums. If coyotes or bobcats are a problem species for you, I would get two or three #3 coil springs as well. I like to add about six inches of chain to my traps as well as a double stake swivel, so that I can be assured they will not be pulled out of the ground. The first thing you want to do when your traps arrive is simply throw them out in the yard for about a month. You want those nice shiny new traps to get completely covered in rust. The rust will help hold dye to camouflage the traps better and the dye also gets rid of any odors on the traps. You can order a commercially made dye, or just use what I use, walnut hulls. When dying the traps I use an old pot on an outdoor fire. You simply fill up the pot with water and add a few handfuls of walnut hulls and when it begins to boil drop the traps in. It should take about 45 minutes for the traps to accept the dye. I use a stiff piece of bent wire to reach in and pull the traps up to check them. When they are ready all the rust will have turned a very dark brown, almost black. I usually dye traps next to my outbuilding where I have nails drove about halfway into the wall. As I pull the traps with the wire, I hang them on the nails to dry. Be careful, the traps will be very hot as they come out of the pot. From this point on do not handle the traps without wearing gloves because you will contaminate them with your scent otherwise. You will also need stakes to keep your trap in place, which can be purchased. Personally, I use 18-inch pieces of 1/2-inch rebar with a 1/2-inch washer welded to the top. These are rusted and dyed just like the traps.
Now for how to set a live trap—putting a trap in the ground in such a way that it convinces an animal to step on the small trigger pan. I personally like using a dirt hole set with a log backer for just about every animal, the only difference being the bait used. A dirt hole is pretty simple and very effective. You start by finding a log on the ground in the area you want to trap, then using one of your stakes punch a hole beside the log about six to eight inches deep and place your bait in this hole. You then dig out a shallow wide hole big enough to set your trap in about two inches deep just in front of the bait hole. You stake your trap in the center of the hole, then place your trap on top of the stakes. You want the trigger pan to be about eight inches from the bait hole and slightly to one side. You then place a sheet of wax paper over the trap to keep debris out of it. Then cover with dry dirt, or my favorite, a nice piece of log moss. You can then scatter a little ground litter (leaves, grass, etc.) on top of the set to make it blend in. You want the bait hole to be visible and everything else to look natural.
Box Traps or Live Traps
Box traps or live traps is what I would like to cover next. There are many models available for purchase and plans to build them yourself are out there as well. Because they generally are painted or galvanized they do not need to be dyed, but I always store mine outside to be sure they don’t pick up any odors to deter an animal from entering. They all work the same way. Bait is set inside the trap and when the animal enters the door closes and locks behind them. Although it is the pet owners responsibility to keep their animals tied up, I tend to use these traps in areas where a pet may be wandering around, mainly because of the ease of releasing them. The biggest mistake I see when using these traps is that people tend to simply put bait in them and set them out. Yes, you may catch one or two animals this way, but if you blend in the trap you will often double your catch rate. Once the trap is set and baited, I like to pile debris everywhere, except for the entrance, to put the animal at ease and entice it to enter. There is no specific way to camouflage them, so just use what is in the area, whether it be pine boughs or leaf litter.
The part that no one wants to talk about or hear but very important is the dispatching of the animals once they are caught. I have always used a .22LR hollow point to the head, it is a quick kill. I know that a lot of people are tempted to use live traps and simply relocate the animal, but when you get right down to it you are just giving someone else your problem. Think of it as do unto others as you would have them do unto you, how would you feel about finding half your chickens dead and then hearing someone say they released chicken predators near your house? Trapping raccoons and other pests helps to keep these animals in check before overpopulation, starvation, and rabies outbreaks do. Trapping raccoons and other pests is a very valuable tool that many don’t use anymore but it surely has a place in rural areas.
Trapping raccoon, fox and opossum with bait
• 1 cup dry dog food
• 1/2 cup peanut butter
• 1/4 cup honey
• 2 tablespoons anise
Bait for most carnivores and scavengers:
• tainted meat scraps,
• rotted eggs, or
• chicken skins
What suggestions would you add to this list for trapping raccoons and other pests?
Originally published in the July / August 2013 and regularly vetted for accuracy.