Flat Sets
I was lucky to have a trapping mentor, and what a trapper he was. Bounty coyote trapping in the late summer/early fall was one of his main passions, and as a kid and an aspiring coyote trapper I got to accompany him many times on his lines throughout the eastern UP of Michigan. We travelled through many colorful areas in that end of the state, and the names are etched in my mind forever. Strongs, Dollar Settlement, Raco, and other crossroads and 'burgs' were regular stops for us. He always felt an obligation to gas up and buy a little something at the local store, and visit with the folks a bit. He didn't volunteer much information on what we were doing, but looking back I know now that most people knew him well. His reputation as a coyote trapper was legendary. His old Bronco was well suited for navigating the narrow roads and two-track trails through the hardwood forests and scrub pine plains of northern Michigan, and we often travelled many miles across country without touching much blacktop.

I remember us pulling off a seldom travelled state highway, and then following him through a patch of trees that hid a little half acre 'park' of sand dunes and ferns, surrounded by the old growth pines. He had a few coyote sets there, and he was very careful not to leave more sign on the soft sand than he had to. One set was a typical dirt hole. Some dead leaves had blown into the hole, which really helped the set blend in and gave it an aged look.

The second set, which was maybe 30 feet away, was a simple set, and the weather and time had blended it so that I had a hard time even visualizing where the trap was. When I asked what type of a set it was, he replied, "A flat set, which is basically a dirt hole without the hole." I stood there for some time, soaking it all in. The backing, the level approach, the fact that the scent was at ground level, everything. That was 38 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Today, many years, states, and coyotes later, I find myself relying on the flat set as a staple on my coyote lines. Properly made and placed, they are as effective as any dirt hole for coyotes, at least in my opinion.

I use flat sets at pretty much any location that I see fit for a canine set. I like to have them at the edge of a decent backing, which can be anything from 6 to 24 inches high. At times I've used a higher backing, like a high sage. The key is to have the lure or bait placed fairly close to the backing, so the coyote has to approach from the front, or at least from the side, which is still acceptable and workable.

I like to have my flat sets blended in, at least partially, so I hunt out bare spots for my sets. I use wide spots in trails, natural sand blows, and I'll even flip a cow pie out of the way and set a trap in the spot where it had laid and killed the grass. Sometimes farm machinery has swung wide and left a slick spot in the stubble or grass along a farm lane. The vegetation or sod that is moved actually creates a backing, so to speak, and I'll take advantage of it. Coyotes that live in farm country will follow these edges, and a well-blended set in a bare spot that has been there for a while can be made in short order.

A lot has been written about the fact that cat toilets are a great location for catching bobcats, but not much is mentioned about setting up coyote 'toilets' too. In some cases, one lone dropping might be all I see in an area with hard tracking conditions, but that is all I have to see to know that the spot might need a few sets. Fairly often I'll use droppings as an eye appeal, as well as a main draw at flat sets. I like to make a shallow trench to lay the dropping in, to keep it from rolling around easily, and then blend a trap in right next to it. I usually sprinkle a little good urine on the dropping, or a small dab of fresh coyote gland on it as an extra smell factor. At times, if the dropping is fresh and black, I will smear it on a tuff of grass and bed a trap in front of that, as a variation. If you pick a sizeable clump of 'rough', or tougher type grass, you will reduce the chances of the coyote approaching from the back. Coyotes will actually straddle those types of spots to urinate on the dropping. This type of set is as natural as you can get, but you rarely see it mentioned.

I like my flat sets fairly level. I've never had much need or use for step-down sets, trench sets, or any set of that nature. I've found they collect too much moisture for my liking, and my kind of coyote trapping is usually a long-term effort. I hate to have to maintain sets any more than is absolutely needed, and remaking wet sets slows me down.
I usually blend in my flat sets as well as I can. The specific location, and time I have to spend, are both factors. I've found that an aged or weathered look works best for me, and I'll make the extra effort to have it look as natural as possible. I'll scrape the top layer of soil away from the intended trap bed and place it nearby before digging the bed out. I'll use that as a final 'dressing' of the trap covering in all but the coldest weather. At times it doesn't take much to freeze up enough to effect the trap closing, so I use it very sparingly.

In a good coyote book I read many years ago, the author mentioned using a water sprinkler can to pour water over the entire set, to make it looked rained on. It was mentioned in reference to dealing with stock killing coyotes, and no doubt in warmer weather than when most fur trapping is done. I could see the value though, as I fully understood how it could work when dealing with some super shy coyotes.

Many times I've mentioned in my demos that I don't like to use dirt hole sets for summer coyote work because the holes just create shade for rabbits and rodents. Some people laugh at that statement, but usually I see some of the more experienced people in the crowd nod in agreement. Dirt hole sets and their natural eye appeal do attract predators, but the fresh dirt and hole is worked by just about any animal that encounters it, big or small.

Flat sets can be a great way to remake a dirt hole set that has had the hole collapsed, or worn out by a previous catch. Some of the remaining backing, or maybe some chewed up material, can be placed to form a backing for a lure holder. Whatever you use, it has to be anchored so the wind won't move it.

I make my flats sets in a variety of ways, but almost always I use some type of lure holder. I use different things for that purpose, but anyone who has watched my demos or DVDs know that I prefer sun-bleached T-bones better than anything. The fact that they are porous, have a built in 'stake', and also provide a huge amount of eye appeal, make them a great all-around lure holder. I can't say enough good about them, and if they're legal where you trap, try to gather some before the season starts.

I will at times use a stake to make a shallow hole in the ground at the base of a small backing, and use that as an alternative to a lure holder, as a place to put the smell. I like to have it placed back a few inches into the grass clump, roots, etc., and use natural blocking to dictate where the trap will go, at least to some extent. You don't have to set too tight when you learn to use the natural blocking at the set.

Trap placement will vary from spot to spot. I, unlike many people, have no etched-in-stone distance from trap to attractor. I rely on the ground cover and blocking placed by me to dictate exactly where the trap will go. If I had to say, I guess most of the time the pan is about 6 inches from the lure or bait, with no offset either way, and that's as simple as I can describe it.
I use an outside blocking of some sort, though, to narrow down the animal's approach, and that in turn creates the walk-through effect many of us try to incorporate into our sets. Making the coyote want to step there is easier than making him step there, and if you keep that in mind, the percentages and numbers will work out for you.

I'll never completely get away from using dirt holes for coyotes, because they're too effective. But in my experience good flat sets, in the right places, will be equally effective. They've let me pick up many coyotes that were not taken in the standard hole sets. A blended in flat set, checked from a distance and allowed to age, has been my ace in the hole for a lot of years.