The First Winter Snow
With the first winter snow blowing in as I write this, and the fact that the storm might be a 'dandy', I have mixed emotions. It's a game changer in many ways, and having lived in snow country my entire life, I already have visions of snow drifts, tire chains, and putting my new studded tires on the Ford. I also have to remember to grab my 'scoop' shovel out of the shop before I leave in the morning.

I already have the insulated gloves, the tubs of dirt, and all the extra stuff needed to deal with the white stuff, loaded in the pickup. I watch the 10-day forecast carefully year-round because I work outdoors, but I watch it especially close this time of year. I trap over a pretty big chunk of country, and it actually has two distinct weather patterns. The weather sometimes dictates which direction I go.

Like clockwork, when the snow starts, so do the phone calls from friends and fellow trappers. They too realize how trapping will change, but I guess we all still need to talk a bit about it, and give each other some moral support. A lifelong friend from the U.P. texted me this morning, and mentioned that they were calling for a lot of snow there. I just chuckled to myself, and thought, "Hey, it comes with the territory."

'A lot' of snow means feet in that country. That makes me cringe, having experienced it so many times. I grew up a few miles from Lake Superior, and I can remember how snow affected my early canine trapping years. Before I started trapping, winter meant sledding with my friends and putting the horses in the barn every night. But after the fox trapping urge took hold, snow covering the ground meant a whole new ballgame.

My early years of trapping on snow helped me become a better canine trapper in many ways. I'm glad I took the time in those early days to study the stories about snow trapping. A lot of what I saw on my line contradicted what I read in the books and articles of the day, and that confused me. I learned fairly quickly to base my trapping on what I saw and learned in the field, versus what I was reading.

For instance, it didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't seeing much of the standard 'walk up and lift a leg' type urine post situations that I read about in the trapping books available at the time, or, probably more so, in the articles in The Trapper and Predator Caller. Sure, I saw it at times, but more often I noticed that fox and coyotes actually straddled the object as much as they approached from the front.

My first attempts at the 'urine post set' didn't yield much. Looking back, I realize it was mainly due to the fact that I didn't resort to that set until later in the season, after the snow came. Keeping traps working with the freezing and crusting snow was one of my main obstacles as a young trapper. That problem hasn't really changed much over the years, actually.

At that time my placement of the trap in relation to the 'post' was off more than on, so I missed enough animals to almost turn me off post-type sets completely for years.

Tracking the local fox around on snowshoes revealed how many times a day they felt compelled to urinate on objects of apparent interest to them. It also showed me how much a hungry fox will zigzag around a 20-acre woods patch and adjoining hayfield. Many times I'd cross my own tracks while following a single fox, and I had to accept the fact that my 'woods full of fox' might actually be only one or two, leaving a lot of tracks.

Another lesson that I learned was how fox and coyotes loved to investigate odors and spots each other had investigated previously. Fox checked out coyote urination spots, and coyotes didn't seem to break stride while approaching fox smells, but rather charged it at times. I can still see in my mind the first coyote 'kick' I found when I was in high school. I had caught a fox in a set between a sandy ridge and a small patch of tag alders. A little snow had fallen since the re-make, and, like clockwork, a coyote had showed up.

My trap was bedded a little too close to the dirt hole, and the coyote missed it by a few inches. He obviously smelled the bait in the hole, but he wasn't about to commit to working the 'circle' created by the fox. Sure, the snow helped cover things a bit, but the coyote believed his nose, and his senses. He urinated on a piece of tall grass at the edge of the catch circle, and then made a huge 'kick' with his feet, scratching down through the snow and uncovering the leaves and grass. It was a dramatic sight, and I gained some respect for the coyote and his sense of smell and wariness.

That brings up something else. How many times have you seen where a coyote kicked, scratched, and peed on an object, and just assumed it was a male? If you've trapped coyotes at all, I'm sure you'll admit it was often. I was no different for the first few years, until I started reading the sign better. Yes, female canines will make kicks too. I've watched it through binoculars and my rifle scope many times. My female Mountain Cur does it too, but usually only after one of our other dogs peed there first. She'll actually step all over and mash down a place with a coyote dropping on it, and lift her leg, just like a male dog will. Does that tell you something?
As for the objects a canine will find of interest and pee on, I've seen all kinds of variations over the years. Like the obvious weeds and sticks that I mentioned earlier, I also saw where a fox would dig up a dead, frozen partridge (ruffed grouse) that would get trapped under the frozen crust of snow at times. After digging it up and eating it, the fox would urinate on the remaining wing, or maybe on the grass where it more or less half-heartedly buried it before leaving.

I re-investigated those spots every time I went by, to learn more. I'm sure that at times it was the same fox returning, but at times it was another fox that stumbled across it. The combination of the remaining food bits, the fox smells, and then the fox urine, was all it took to let a fox's nose find it in the winter landscape, sometimes over and over again.

Another type of spot that I seemed to find fox visiting from time to time was the grassy 'hummocks' or humps that are common around swampy areas. I tried setting up these spots at times, but the ground was usually so wet there that traps didn't stay working long, and I steered away from them after several tries.

I see that attraction here in the West, with ant hills. After a little snow, the obvious hump in the ground will get a visit at times. Our ant hills can be huge, and sometimes are covered with tiny sticks and vegetation, and there's no doubt the urine absorbs into this covering and stays there for quite a while. With the ants being dormant for winter, a dirt hole dug into these works well. And, you guessed it; these make great places for a 'post' type set, with the proper blocking of course.

I do make 'post' sets, but I rarely use the classic post, like a stick, weed, or piece of wood, anymore. And if I do, I am sure to make the set with an outside blocking, to guide the animal a bit more than just the traditional "bed the trap 8 inches in front of the post" that seems to be common advice when describing a post set.

After years of using them that way, with mixed results, I've referred back to my early lessons on the family farm, and my days spent following the fox and coyotes around. I remembered seeing tracks both in front of and behind the spot they urinated on, and my conclusion that they at times squatted over the object, or trampled it more or less, before or while peeing on it.
I make my post sets with that in mind. I try to make them against an object or vegetation they can't approach from the back. If it's a spot that I think they might straddle or approach wrong, I try to position the trap in the place that I feel has the higher percentage of being stepped on.

This can be done with blocking, and/or using vegetation to your advantage. You can also construct your sets so the only real flat spot is within the jaws of the trap. And, like with other canine sets, I tend to make them walk-through type sets, by using an outside blocking. I prefer to have this blocking be lower than the intended 'post', and I've used a lot that were darned near flat, like cow chips.

I use two smells at my 'post' sets, and rarely vary from that. I use fresh gland and urine. Like a lot of people, I don't care if it is coyote, fox, or bobcat. And yes, I'll use the smells of both at a set, and yes, it does work fine. Probably even better than just the smell of one alone. I'll put one smell on the post, and one on the outside blocking, to space the smells out a bit.

If I do use a taller object, like a stick or branch, or maybe a prominent weed, I tend to push the object back, angled away from where the trap will be bedded. It doesn't take much to deter the canine from coming from the back, but of course they still will at times. I like to place the urine or gland lure fairly close to the ground, and if I do my blocking right, it seems to get the higher percentage of catches for me.

Since I use a walk-through effect, I don't see the high amount of hind foot catches that I see so commonly attributed to 'post' sets. I know the extra blocking increases my catch ratio, and that's good enough for me to keep taking the extra few seconds to place it where I consider it to be the most advantageous.

I make many of these sets where I already see a coyote or fox using, and I do my best to blend the set in. Having one of these sets close to another set works fine, too. The distance apart will be up to you, but my locations tend to run fairly 'big' so I space them probably 25-50 yards usually.

Well, there's enough snow cover out there now so I'll be able to see what's moving around in the morning. Like most cases, I don't expect to see much canine movement for a day after the storm, but I'll run a line tomorrow anyway. The coyotes have been quiet, and the tracking has been tough, at best. It will be nice to see sign, and take inventory. I have no doubt I'll discover that some of the lessons I learned from the snow years ago, will still hold true today.