The Definition of Upland Trapping would be setting traps above the water on higher ground for animals like Coyote, Fox, Coon, Opossum and other small land animals. Setting traps on Land requires a bit more in the way of equipment than water trapping depending on the type of traps you are using and game you are seeking to trap. For the purpose of this article we will only be discussing Foot Hold type traps, with later articles dedicated to Snares and Body Grip traps. The first thing to understand is that there are several different types of Foot hold type traps, which is to say the animal is held fast generally by the foot, and alive upon arrival of the trapper. So let’s discuss types of traps. There are basically 3 types of Foothold traps general used for upland set, the Single Spring, Double Spring, and Coil Spring.
Important as well are the individual components that make up a trap and a short discussion of terms will help later. There are 5 main components to foothold type traps, the frame, the spring (s), the jaws, the pan, and the dog. The frame is the base of the trap that all other components are attached to. The spring(s) can be a Long spring(s) or a Coil spring(s) these operate the Jaws to close them. The Jaws are generally made of steel and either offset or not offset, meaning there is a space cutout so that the jaws have a bit of gap in the closed position to aid in the animals comfort and help prevent “ring offs”. The pan is the target area where you want the animal to place the full weight of his front foot when he approaches the bait; this in turn releases the Dog which lays over what is called the operating or “Strong” jaw of the trap and is toggled in a catch notch on the pan. The true art of trapping is much underestimated. Think about hunting you have the opportunity to scan for animals and shoot any animal that enters you kill range with the chosen weapon, which could easily be 100 or more yards. With a trap to have to entice an animal to place his foot in a 2” circle when you are not even there.
In this day and age the Coil Spring is the most popular for upland sets and we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the 3 later. A single “Long” spring trap is basically a set of steel jaws that are closed by 1 power spring when the pan is tripped. A Double Long spring respectively has 2 springs operating the Jaws and a Coil Spring can be Single or Double as well. In the days of old the Mountain Trappers carried mainly Long Spring Traps and these are what are most familiar in image to non-trappers.
So now that we understand the types of traps we are talking about we need to speak about another important item before we get the traps ready for use and that is Pan Tension. Pan Tension refers to the amount of downward pressure required to move the pan down and release the dog. In newer traps this is controlled by a Screw attaching the Pan to the trap frame. Tightening this screw will make the pan more difficult to move and the reverse if loosened. The reason pan tension becomes important is because this controls what type animals you catch in that it will take a heavier animal to release a trap with more pan tension, thus helping to curb the capture of a non-target animal in your traps.
The next thing we must discuss is the trap chain which is attached to the frame. This chain usually is connected to a stake or anchor of some sort to keep the trapped animal from running away with the trap. The length of chain is up to the individual I prefer about 18” of chain and at least 3 swiveling points. Swivels will help keep the animal from twisting the chain and further injuring himself while awaiting you to arrive.
Back to stakes and Anchors later for now let’s get our traps ready for use. When traps come from the factory they are coated with oil to keep them from rusting in transport or storage. This oil must be removed so that the trap can be dye and or waxed or both. To remove this oil the best method is simply to boil the traps in hot water and then let them air dry until they lightly rust. Yes you want them to get a light coat of rust as the dyes and waxes will stick to the metal better that way. Liken it to patina on your knife. Once the traps are cleaned of any oil they can be dipped for dying with commercial products or simply boil them to begin with in Black Walnut hulls and this will kill two birds with one stone so to speak. Now on to waxing the traps. The reason for waxing is only to help them operate smoothly as well as keep further rust from forming. It will also keep them operating if you use them in water or wet ground in freezing temperatures. The best wax is beeswax for this operation and it can be bought commercially as well if you don’t have a supply. The dying portion is not completely necessary according to many experts, spray paint or nothing will work as well. As long as the trap is well lubricated with wax it will operate and catch animals if properly set.
With our traps ready to use we now have to understand what types of equipment we need to use these traps productively. There are a lot of gadgets on the market as with any other hobby, but for pure catching of animals for Food and Fur the tools can be kept to a simple few many of which you may already carry. You will need a Screening device to sift fine granules of dirt’s onto your set and this item I am afraid cannot be easily substituted. For pounding stakes the hammer pole of an axe will do or even a large batoning log. For digging the trap bed an E-Tool, Small hand trowel, or even a digging stick will work fine. The digging stick can also be used to dig a Dirt hole that we will discuss latter and if the digging stick is large enough even pound the stakes. A small brush for exposing the pan is very helpful but I have found that blowing the pan off to expose it has no ill effect on the catch. So now on to staking the traps, you will need large stakes or Earth anchors for holding your traps in place to keep them from running away with a live animal in them, the 2 preferred methods for this are Rebar stakes about 2’ long or earth anchors. Earth anchors are basically a piece of angle metal attached to a cable that when driven into the ground goes down straight, but when pulled upward will turn sideways in the dirt below anchoring the trap fast. I have seen many old trappers that used wooden stakes to trap with and these could be fashioned from natural material easy enough, although this will force the carrying of strong wire 16GA minimum to attach traps to stakes. The main problem with earth anchors for the short term is that they are difficult to remove without a large levering device. However using earth anchors virtually ensures your catch won’t get away from you nor will you lose your trap. All traps that are not secured by an earth anchor should be double staked.
With our equipment in tow we are ready for setting our traps; remember as with any real estate location, location, location. Traps set in the wrong places will usually not catch or take longer to catch than one placed in a good spot to begin with. This really depends on the quarry you are after but assuming you are just trying to catch meat, it is not too difficult. Remember that most game will travel on specific trails or routes and these places are the best. Look for sign that animals are there to begin with and using the route, tracks, scat, refuse from feeding are all good indicators. Also, anywhere trails meet or connect will be prime locations in a wooded environment. I like to set 2 traps at intersections at 45 degrees from one another on opposite sides. The old saying goes “if it was good enough to set one trap, it’s good enough to set 2”. Edges are always good where trails intersect with open fields and high ground is generally preferred to low ground in open areas as most predatory animals travel higher for good visibility to detect prey. When selecting your trap location be sure to account for the wind, any bait or lure you are using to attract an animal will need to be upwind so that the smell travels well. The difference between baits and lures really is simply a Lure attracts the animal by smell to the set location and bait is something the animal wants to eat or investigate. Lures are usually made of Glands or Oils and bait is usually food based in some way. A good example of lure would be skunk musk, it can bring animals in for a look from a very long distance.
With a good location selected we need to decide how large or small the trap should be and what trap to use. I generally prefer Double Long Spring traps for all around leg hold traps for many reasons. First a small DLS will hold the same animals a larger Single spring will hold but will also catch smaller game. These traps they are much more stable for water sets and generally safer as well as easier to set. I prefer the #11 DLS by Sleepy Creek; these traps are made in the USA and have not left me wanting for sure. I have caught everything from Opossum and Coon to Coyote in the #11 DLS. These traps are easier and safer to set than single spring or coil springs due to leverage and size. I would recommend carrying at least 6 of these in conjunction with snares and body grips but 3 will suffice if weight is an issue, for longer term meat and fur gathering 12 would be better, but to carry that many traps you will need transport other than just a pack when combined with other traps and kit. In this article I will show example of all traps but the main set photos will be of the #11 DLS as this is my preferred go to trap. For a good all round Meat Gathering set up, I would carry no more than 12 traps in any combination. Carrying the right 12 for you environment will keep you in meat without hunting anything if you set them right.
Let’s take a moment to cover scent control as this is an overwhelming question I get both on You Tube and by students. Animals in this age are used to humane odors, they travel cities, towns, farms, and rural areas enough that even smell like oil and gasoline are most likely familiar. Animals are very good at discerning different odors and the trick is to overwhelm them with something their curiosity can’t resist. Human odor will dissipate from your set within a day or so anyway, so don’t be overly concerned. Gloves are not a necessary evil unless you are worried about safety but I find they are more dangerous and get in the way when setting my traps due to lack of feel.
When we are ready to set our trap in a great location that will surely attract even the most wary of animals we have to begin by digging a trap bed, this will be the area that will conceal your trap so that the set looks natural. The bed must be deep enough to cover your stakes or anchors as well as the trap chain; these should be inserted first and then covered before the trap is actually bedded on top of them. Bedding the trap is one of the most important steps to making catches; believe it or not a perfect set with an imperfectly bedded trap will wind up with your trap face down still set on top of the dirt. What generally happens if the trap is not bedded solid is that it will rock in the dirt. When an animal is working your set and he accidently steps on the outer or weak jaw of the trap is causes the strong jaw to rise up in the dirt, this arouses the animals curiosity and he will dig where the movement occurred generally hooking the jaw of the trap and pulling it up. The game is over at that point. This is another advantage of the #11 DLS Trap because it has two springs that act as stabilizers they do not rock near as easily as the coil spring trap if the bedding is not perfect.
Once the trap is properly bedded, and I usually do this first, always according to the wind direction and with the dog toward the back of the set, this prevents the dog from blocking the animal’s foot or pushing it out of the way of the closing jaws. After the trap is set and covered with “Sifted Dirt” I continue. This is important because you do not want large clumps of dirt, debris, or rocks affecting the traps operation or jamming within the jaws causing separation and escape of the animal. Once I have this complete I will sweep lightly or blow off the dirt from my pan to expose it to my view. This step helps me decide offset and where my backing and Dirt hole/Visual attractants will be placed.
Backing is the structure behind the set that prevents the animal from approaching from any direction but where you want him to come in from and it can be anything from a semi-circle of dirt, leaves, or other debris, to a log, tree, rock, or stump. A Dirt hole can be placed against the backing and is really only a bait holder of sorts. I generally use a hole approx. 12” deep at a 30-45 degree angle, this does 2 things. First it forced the animal to approach from the front to get his eyes and nose in line with the hole and it also is deep enough to make him go deep to find the prize or dig either way is fine with me. Within the hole you will place some sort of attractant, there are many commercial baits on the market of course but you can use anything that stinks. I actually prefer Catfish Sticky bait that comes in a large container that last a long time and a little is all you need. In self-reliance scenario anything that is left from the last kill will work. This article cannot go in depth enough to explain the uses of Glands and Urines as Lures but most animals will give you bait and lure for another several traps. Just think stinky, anything rotten will work. Place the bait deep into the hole at the bottom if you can. Another great trick for the dirt hole is to bait the hole and then plug the hole with a tail from another kill like a rabbit or coon. This becomes a visual attractant as well. Remember that animals hunt by sight and smell so visuals are always a good addition and sometimes they alone are enough. Another technique often used is a prominent feature, with this you are using the object or feature as the backing it could be a large bone, burnt log, or anything that directly contrasts with the environment to attract them visually to the set. At this point you should bait or lure the item itself. You can shove bait into the bone cavities or even just place some guts under a large rock covered a bit with dirt to seem as though it was buried by another animal. The object of the game now is to make the animal approach you trap from the front and stick his nose in the hole to work the set; this is where offset comes into play.
Offset is both left to right and front to back. To make it simple you have to think about the animal he will lead with one foot and it will be offset from centerline, you can force which foot that is by fencing we will talk about in a few moments. You also need to understand the size of the critter dictates how far the distance is from his nose to his foot. I have many times made a rear leg catch on a smaller animal like a Fox or Coon when attempting to set for Coyote with a larger back set. I have found that for shear trapping of meat a small 2-4” offset in both directions works best, if attempting to trap larger Predators you will need 6-9”Once I decide my offset, and being able to visually see exactly where my pan is I will set up my dirt hole or visual or both, I then will place my backing if it is not a naturally occurring object. Once the backing is in place I can worry about fencing and this may be part of the backing. Fencing is what we will use to make the animal put his foot exactly where we want him to. It can be very simply some of the rough material from your sifter that the animal will not want to comfortably step on. A note of caution try not to make any fencing or backing extend beyond the front or “Loose” jaw of the trap, in other words the jaw opposite the dog, there is such a thing as too much fencing it really can be simple make the most comfortable spot for the animal to put his foot on be your pan. You can then use secondary fencing like pebbles and sticks even chaff to crowd the animal further toward the pan.
Once all these steps are complete you are ready to lightly cover the pan with sifted dirt about 1/4” is plenty. By this time the pan should be the lowest part of the entire set and that is what you want because he will have to commit wait down to step there comfortably. When the set is complete you can then bait, lure, place visuals or all three. Scat from other animals is always a good curiosity booster as well as secondary fencing. Feathers placed into a dirt backing make a great visual attractant as well. A great teacher once told me at the FTA “Fur Takers of America” college that every set should have a BLT “Bait, Lure, and a Turd.”
Some Tips and Tricks-
Remember that rotten and fishy meat attracts scavenger type animals.
Cats hunt more by site than by smell so hanging visuals above the set work best.
K-9 Predators will be more attracted to meat type baits in the winter when other food is scarce.
Skunks that are shot then bagged in a drum liner can be used to contaminate other items with Skunk scent one of the best long distance call lures.
Like Fishing Large traps with heavy pan tension catch large animals, small traps with light pan tension will catch about any animal.