Chain Length - Part I
One day this spring, while visiting with an old friend here in Wyoming, I had the topic for this article handed to me without me even realizing it at first. My friend asked, "Hey, you know the old argument about whether to short tie or hobble a horse, versus leaving them on a long rope?" He's an old horse hand, and spent a lot of time packing in the mountains.

I had to think about it for a few seconds. I replied, rather hesitantly, "Well, yeah."

He explained that you often got mixed opinions on the best way to "picket" a horse out, and all opinions had their merit. Some people like a long picket rope, which allows the animal some freedom to move, and also lets them feed on the available grass within its reach. Other people prefer to hobble them short, which keeps them closer, and less likely to get themselves in trouble or tangled in anything.

He laughed at the puzzled look on my face, and said, "That would be a great topic for a future article, your opinion on whether to short or long chain coyote traps." I had to laugh then, too, and I thanked him.

Over the next couple of days I thought about some of the things I've experienced with rigging coyote traps over the last 30 years, and decided to share them with you.

A lot of my early trapping was done with drags. I grew up in an area that was especially suited to drag trapping, and my trapping mentor was a huge advocate of it. He was no different than most people, and used 5-7 feet of good chain, and a suitable drag. With a few exceptions he had very few negative issues with that set up, and 30-plus years later, I sometimes still follow that very basic, but effective, combination. I tend to lean more towards 7-8 feet of chain now, and our drags have evolved into well built, heavy duty types with sharp tips, but their application and performance is basically the same.

But chain length for foothold traps that are anchored solidly is where this article is heading, so I'll start at the beginning. My first traps for staking canines were equipped with about 8 inches of twin-loop chain, and at the time, in the late 1970s, that was pretty much industry standard. In-line, or mid-chain swivels weren't the norm then, but end swivels had started to become popular. Today's swivels are a close cousin to those swivels, and their performance has been enhanced by some improvements. I remember seeing swivels that were triangle shaped, some almost oval, and also some rather long D shaped swivels that were actually pretty good at cleaning out grass and debris. They also swiveled around my ½-inch rebar stakes well.

I started my canine trapping on red fox, and it's pretty much universally agreed that they aren't hard to hold. They aren't notorious stake pumpers like coyotes, but in really soft or wet soil conditions I've seen a few stakes that had almost half their length protruding from the ground when I had a fox catch. It was clearly due to the fact that I had used too short of a chain. A fox is not very heavy, but jumping straight up on a rather short chain allows some jacking action.

I started to catch more coyotes as I got older, and I got to where I targeted them almost exclusively when I got into my early 20s. I was still using a lot of drags, but I was beginning to stake more traps because I was learning to hide them over banks and behind dirt mounds. Clay soil and sand were the norm, and not much variety in between, and I saw quickly that short chains anchored with anything less than 24-inch stakes could be pulled by a coyote at times, especially after a hard rain.
I borrowed a copy of an old John Ehn book written probably in the 1950s, and he mentioned a bit longer chains, and my wheels started to turn. I started adding chain to my traps. This was at the end of the fur boom, and there wasn't quite the selection of quality products there is now. Lap links and S-hooks were the connectors most of the "names" recommended at the time, so I tried them, but both seemed hard to use, and opening them was a real pain, especially when you're basically living out of a pickup.

I was introduced to the dogless Montgomery traps in the early 80s, and I was fortunate to have a friend who was their western distributor. He had some traps made to his own specs, and he called them "East Slope Specials". They were essentially a standard #3 or #4 Montgomery dogless, but he added a J hook or rivet to the existing end swivel, and then added another 7 inches or so of chain. Another swivel was attached to the end, and the result was a total chain/swivel length of approx. 18 inches. With the built in mid-chain swivel, the previously problem of the chain getting fouled with grass was helped, and staking was easy because a ½-inch rebar could be used, down through the end swivel. Looking back, I was witnessing history in the making. Thirty years later, I still use that combination: 18 inches of chain, with a swivel at the trap, a mid chain in-line swivel, and a swivel on the end.

A word about chain: I use only welded straight link machine chain, not twin loop. Yes, it's stronger, but there's another good reason. Twin loop, evidently because of its connected, in-line double loop design, has a tendency to catch on the end of the spring pins. This almost completely eliminates swiveling, bad news with coyotes.

Around that time, some other friends of mine had bought the Mike Ayers Dog-Knot Stake Company, and they were making those stakes with a swivel right on them, between the head of the stake and the famous "knot" that they were named after. That combination was a 'two thumbs up' winner, and I would be hard pressed to improve on it, but those stakes have gone by the wayside years ago.

When those stakes were gaining popularity I bought several hundred of them at a time, and used them in several states and many types of soil conditions. I had many that I drove literally into sand rock, and I had to open the J-hook to get the trap and chain off more times than I care to think about. I'd like to have even half of those dog-knots that I 'planted' across the West in those days. I did use some of them year after year though, and I did so by simply closing the rivet on the end of the chain of the trap, with my S-hook tool that I never trap without.

I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine, 'back in the day', about opening and closing J-hooks. (I call them rivets). I opened and closed one 17 times before it cracked. To be fair, I admit I only opened it enough to remove the chain, but I did close it fully, and I always moved the tool a few times while closing, to make sure I closed it as close as possible to a true 'radius', or in a circle, rather than just mashed it shut. It took a few minutes, but my friend did have to admit that the "rivets" were tougher than he had thought.

I never have felt the need to weld my rivets shut, but I know some people do. I guess with wolves being fair game in some parts of the West I might have to reconsider it, but for now, coyotes haven't made me change my mind yet.

Continued next issue.