Tools of the Trade

Types of Traps

Traps are constructed in different designs and sizes to hold varying sizes and species of furbearers. Traps can be divided into three general categories: 1) those that hold the animal by the foot or leg (foothold); 2) those that hold the animal by the body and are usually intended to kill the animal (body-gripping or conibear type); 3) those that enclose the animal (box or cage type).

Long spring traps are generally less expensive and heavier than other types of foothold traps. Where easy concealment is not a problem and the extra weight might be an asset (as in drowning sets for muskrat or beaver trapping), long-spring traps may be the best choice.

Guarded (“stop loss”) traps are available in several styles. They employ an additional spring-loaded bail that prevents a muskrat or mink from escaping. Guards are almost essential if foothold traps are used for muskrats in shallow water or heavy vegetation. Many muskrat trappers use these types of traps almost exclusively. Although slightly more expensive than unguarded traps, these traps will quickly pay for themselves in extra muskrat, mink, and raccoon held and are highly recommended.

Under-spring or “jump” traps are more compact and therefore easier to conceal than long-spring traps. While they are a little more difficult to set than long-spring traps, jump traps are a bit faster and frequently stronger for a given size. They are also a little lighter to carry. Some manufacturers produce double as well as single under-spring traps.

Coil-spring traps are the fastest of the foot-hold traps. Available in sizes 1 through 4 from a variety of manufacturers, coil springs are often used in trapping predators. They have all the advantages of under-spring traps with the addition of increased speed. Trap modifications increase the efficiency of foothold traps and reduce trap-related injuries. Unfortunately, some of these modifications are not yet commercially available and must be made by the trapper. Contact the Minnesota Trappers Association for information on the latest trap modification techniques.

Offset jaw traps are manufactured so that a slight gap remains between the jaws when closed. This modification is designed to reduce trap injuries by increasing clamping forces and stabilizing the foot in the trap. Recently, a padded jaw trap has become available commercially and it may offer the potential for more safely trapping wary land animals in areas where the chance of catching non-target animals is unavoidably high. Although the idea of padding traps is not new, these traps utilize new materials and designs, which have proven very effective in preliminary tests.

Laminate jaws operate by laminating steel rods to the trap jaws, and the surface area of the jaw is increased. This more broadly distributes the holding forces of the jaws and tends to stabilize the foot in the trap resulting in reduced injuries and increased capture rates.

Center swivels operate by relocating swivels to the center of the trap, the holding power is increased, resulting in fewer pull-outs.

Body-gripping traps are the result of many years of research and design efforts. These traps are designed to catch the animal around the neck or the chest. When properly set, these traps usually kill the trapped animal quickly through a combination of striking and clamping forces. In an ideal situation, the animal will approach and enter the trap in such a way that it will be struck at the base of the skull, resulting in almost instant unconsciousness and rapid death. If a chest hold occurs, the animal may be killed by heart stoppage or suffocation, with death again coming quite rapidly. Catches on other parts of the body may cause death very slowly or may not kill at all. In order to be most effective, body-gripping traps must be set with careful attention to trigger placement and animal approach. These traps are very popular with water trappers, and quite useful in some kinds of land sets: CAUTION: Body-gripping traps are not adaptable to all types of furbearers, such as canines, or to a full range of sets. Canines instinctively avoid entering body-gripping traps and these traps may be dangerous when set on land. Minnesota regulations prohibit the setting of certain large body-gripping traps on land.

Cage or box traps of various descriptions may be useful in trapping some species where the potential of taking domestic animals is high. Like the body-gripping traps, however, their use is rather limited, especially for wary species. Their cost, size, and visibility are also disadvantages to their use on trap lines.

Snares are a simplified type of body-snaring device designed to capture an animal around the neck or body. Snares consist of wire cables with sliding locks, which may be either “locking” or “non-locking.” Depending on the set, the lock type, and the animal caught, snares either kill or hold the animal alive. There are restrictions on snaring in Minnesota and snares are not recommended for inexperienced trappers. Anyone planning to use snares should seek advice and training from someone experienced with their use.

The table below lists appropriate trap sizes for various species. Although a variety of traps may work for various species, certain sizes and styles of traps have advantages for different situations. Recommended traps are listed under trapping strategies in the specific sections. Each trap size is indicated by a number. Sizes may vary according to the manufacturer, but in most cases the smaller the number the smaller the trap.

Specialized Traps - Dog Proof Traps

Trappers are innovative and modifications to existing commercially produced traps to make them more efficient and species selective while at the same time treating the animal respectfully is an ongoing process.

The introduction of completely new trap designs to the market is another example of this continuing evolution. One of the most innovative developments in the trapping arena over the past ten years has been the introduction of commercially produced “dog-proof” raccoon traps. All basic designs currently available consist of a small opening in a steel tube or box that is baited inside. The raccoon either pushes or pulls a firing mechanism inside the opening while attempting to steal the bait which causes the entrance hole to be suddenly restricted, holding the animal’s foot.

Various swiveling designs and gripping surfaces allow the trapped raccoon to be treated respectfully. This highly selective trap design has revolutionized raccoon trapping in many parts of the United States and due to their extreme selectivity, these traps may be set in areas where a traditional foothold set or body gripper may not be a wise or ethical choice, particularly in areas where domestic animals may occasionally wander.

Because these traps are set completely exposed above ground, many of the common frustrations associated with traditional traps are eliminated such as freezing into the ground inoperable, misfires, and the possibility of non-target catches. Due to the unique firing mechanism, generally, only animals with the ability to grasp an item with their paws are taken with this type of trap which severely restricts the species of animals that can be consistently taken in these traps.

Although these traps are commonly referred to as “raccoon traps” other animals may be caught in them occasionally. Regular trap tending requirements as required by law should always be observed. Striped skunks seem to be the most common secondary catch although grey foxes are occasionally taken in rare circumstances as well.

According to a production Minnesota raccoon trapper who has used these traps extensively over the past several years:

The newest innovation in foothold traps is the “dogproof “or “DP” raccoon trap. These traps are designed to catch raccoons and severely reduce the chances of ever catching a domestic dog. The trap is basically a tube that you place bait into and as the raccoon reaches into the tube to get at the bait, it trips a trigger and is caught. These traps are not buried in the ground but set vertically above the ground surface and held in place by the “footpeg” incorporated at the bottom of the trap. These traps must also be staked down as the “footpeg” simply holds the trap in the set position. These traps are versatile and can be set on raccoon trails, in and around old or abandoned buildings, in close proximity to livestock, and near or in the water with the trap opening above the waterline. They can be either staked solid for live holding sets or rigged for drowning dispatch.

I have found groundfish to be good bait. I put enough bait in the tube so that the bait is just below the trigger and freeze the trigger down into the bait. I think the bait should taste good to the raccoon because the trigger likely won’t be activated the first time the raccoon reaches into the trap to investigate. If it doesn’t like the taste, it may not continue to work the set any further resulting in a miss. No bait or lure should be placed on the ground or around the trap in my opinion as I want the animal to focus strictly on the bait contained inside the trap.

Unfortunately, the DP although a fine trap isn’t perfect and will occasionally catch feral cats in some situations, so caution should be exercised when setting near homes and farms. Bait selection in these areas appears to be the key to avoiding problems. I have found the use of sweet baits such as jams or jellies as opposed to fish baits in these areas to be an effective way to still take raccoons consistently while substantially reducing the chances of taking a feral cat. Avoid fat-based baits such as peanut butter, however. Although peanut butter is “sweet” and attractive to raccoons, fat-based baits may also attract cats as well.

DP traps work very well on raccoon trails in road right-of-ways. The same trails that are routinely set with medium-sized body grippers can be set with DP’s without the same concerns associated with body grippers.

An additional advantage to using this type of trap is the fact that many landowners will give you permission to trap raccoons on their property when using DP’s despite the fact that they have denied access to other trappers in the past. Because of the selective nature of these traps, landowners feel more confident giving trappers access to their land without being concerned with Fido getting accidentally caught.

Although I have used only a single brand of DP, I’m confident that other brands on the market will give the trapper similar positive results.  JB

Basic Trapping Equipment

Before setting traps, a trapper must acquire some basic trapping tools. Determining what tools are needed is a matter of personal preference, terrain, weather, and the type of trapping to be done. Some equipment is a necessity for any type of trapping while other tools are very specialized.


Trap Tags – Minnesota regulations require that all traps and snares be tagged or indelibly marked with the trapper’s name and address, or driver’s license or DNR number. Tags made from aluminum, copper, or brass are best as they do not rust. Tags can be purchased commercially for little cost and are usually much better quality and less work than homemade tags.


Pack Basket – A trapper needs something in which to carry all equipment needed. Most trappers use a pack basket rather than a canvas pack because the basket is less likely to hold odors, is more rigid, and is more convenient to use. A 5-gallon plastic pail also works well for carrying equipment. Lure and bait are usually carried in a separate pouch or in a trapper’s coat pocket.


Wire – Wire and/or cable have many uses on the trap line. Wire can be used to repair chains, make drowning sets, or attach traps to stakes. It is also used to hold traps, baits, or even cubby pens in place. Many trappers prefer a dark flexible wire for these purposes. Strong 16-gauge wire is recommended for muskrats and 10-gauge wire or cable for larger furbearers. Heavy lap links or S-hooks are recommended for fastening fox and coyote traps. CAUTION: Beware of kinks or nicks because they will weaken the wire. Do not twist the wire tightly with pliers. It is best to leave extra length and twist it with your hands, then trim the excess. Wire twisted with pliers can break when an animal is in the trap. Do not use wire to extend trap chains – use chain or cable.


Pliers – They are useful for cutting wire and adjusting traps. They should have a good cutting edge.


Hatchet – Every trapper encounters the need for a hatchet or small hand axe on the trap line. Stakes must be driven, and ice sometimes must be chopped in making or checking sets. A good hatchet should be kept with your trapping gear. Learn how to sharpen it and use it safely. Hatchets should be kept in a stout leather sheath.


Digging Tools – Many sets require digging. Many trappers use a special trapping trowel that resembles a garden trowel with a long wooden handle. Other tools such as a mattock, mason’s hammer, a heavy spoon, or hatchet can also be used, but a trapping trowel is a good investment.

Land Trapping Equipment

Dirt Sifter – A dirt sifter is simply a mesh-bottomed box. Most trappers make their own using a wood frame about 8” x 10” x 3” and tacking in a bottom of one-fourth inch hardware cloth or “hail screen.” A sifter is extremely useful in dirt or snow trapping. Sifting the covering material helps to prevent stones or twigs from jamming the trap and lends a natural appearance to the set.


Kneeling Pad – Some trappers use a square of cloth, rubber, or plastic as an odor barrier and something to put the dirt on when making sets for animals such as foxes and coyotes. Others make these sets from a squatting position, letting only their clean rubber footwear touch the ground.


Gloves – Many trappers prefer to use gloves while making dry-land sets, although they are not essential. Cloth or rubberized gloves may be used, but all gloves should be kept clean and odor free. No bait, lure or other odors should be permitted on the gloves.


Pan Covers – Pan covers are used by many trappers to prevent dirt or other materials from getting under the pan of the trap and preventing it from going off. Pan covers can be made from fiberglass, latex, and window-screen.


Stakes or Drags – Soil conditions, terrain, and cover type dictate to the experienced trapper whether a stake or drag should be used. Staking traps have the advantage of holding the animal at the set where the trapper can locate it. Metal stakes are preferred to wood because they are more durable. A one-half-inch concrete reinforcing rod with a five-eighths-inch nut welded on top makes an excellent stake. The length of the stake needed varies with the texture of the soil in which they are used. Drags or grapples are used where it is not practical or possible to drive trap stakes, or where the trapper desires the trapped animal to move a short distance away from the set. The best drag is a metal grapple hook that has two prongs for easy concealment. Green saplings, fence posts, and rocks also can be used for drags in some situations. CAUTION: Drags should only be used by experienced trappers or under the supervision of someone experienced in their use. CAUTION: Check Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook regarding the use of drags as they are not currently legal to use statewide.


Catchpole – Many trappers carry a catchpole, a pole, or a length of tubing with a rope or cable noose. This highly recommended tool can be used to control a trapped animal so it may be released or dispatched more safely and easily. A catchpole can be made by running a loop of cable through a three-to-four-foot piece of rigid aluminum pipe or conduit. Attaching one end of the cable to the pipe makes use easier. Commercial catchpoles are available which allow the noose to be tightened without slipping.

Water Trapping Equipment

Rubber Gloves and Rubber Footwear – Short rubber gloves or shoulder-length gauntlets, and hip boots or chest waders are essential to keep the wetland trapper dry. Being wet and cold takes the fun out of trapping and can be dangerous. (See safety section on hypothermia.) Although not required by law outside the boating requirements currently in place, the use of PDFs (personal floatation devices) while water trapping is strongly encouraged.


Drowning Devices – Drowning devices are simple one-way slide locks designed for use when trapping water animals, especially beavers, and otters. When a water animal becomes caught in a trap it normally dives for deep water. Drowning devices are strung on a wire and permit the animal to go into deep water, but not return.


Staff – Many water trappers use a walking staff to help them navigate muddy shorelines. It can be used as a probe for finding muskrat runs. With a hook on one end, it is also a good device for retrieving traps in deep water. The use of a trap hook is much safer than reaching underwater or on ice to try to feel for a missing trap because of the risk of being accidentally caught.


Stakes or Drags – Wooden stakes are usually preferred to metal stakes for water trapping because they are often readily accessible along shorelines. Stakes should be at least an inch in diameter with a “Y” at the top or a downward-pointing branch to stop the trap chain from passing over the stake. Such stakes should be driven below the surface of the water, out of sight of casual observers. In beaver country, stakes should be pre-cut and dried. Green stakes will often be gnawed off by beaver. Drags used in water sets are usually heavy objects, pieces of brick, iron, or rock. Drags should be used when the soil is too rocky or too loose to hold a stake. Drags are also used where a raccoon catch is likely because raccoons are very powerful and may pull out a stake in soft mud or pull out of a solidly staked trap.


Ice Chisel – This tool is almost indispensable for setting traps under thick ice. An axe or hatchet may work under thin ice conditions, but an ice chisel is best for thick ice.

Tools of the Trade

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