Anyone watching the current fur market knows by now that coyotes, especially the better color and quality ones, will be in demand this coming fur season. And, like a lot of you, I will be doing everything I can to put up a good number of winter pelts to sell next spring.

I've been at this a long time, and like most veteran trappers I've kind of got my fur trapping strategy down pat. I scout and locate, sometimes pre-bait, pick my best spots, and set them up accordingly. My equipment is what works best for me, and my sets are tried and true. If things go as planned, and I do my part, there will be a good pile of well furred coyote hides, destined for parka trim, in the fur shed next March.

I got my first coyote trapping experience tagging along with a family friend on his summer bounty line in the late 1970s. The warm weather was tough to work with, and we often checked traps while returning home from cutting a load of firewood, but I'll never forget seeing those coyotes bouncing around in his old Newhouse and Triumph traps. After checking some sets he always seemed to find the time to check out a few other spots, and see what was around for sign.

We didn't call it pre-baiting at the time, but that was exactly what he was doing. It might be a groundhog he shot on the way out of town, or maybe some fish scraps from the day before, but he liked to place that stuff in prospective spots along his lines. He would dig a quick, shallow hole and throw the 'bait' in. Sometimes it would just be a partial bucket of something stinky and slimy, and that would just be poured on a bare spot.

Being new to the game, I figured each and every spot that we had 'sweetened' should be dug up like a minefield and be all covered up with tracks. But in most cases that wasn't the result. Usually there would be a few tracks, a dropping or two, some scratches, and often the missing parcel left close by, chewed up and rolled on. I'd often show my disappointment, but my friend would read the signs with his trained eye and make a quick assessment of what had happened. He'd say, "I'll leave a few surprises here when we come back."

When I got old enough to run my own traps, this process became part of my yearly ritual of getting prepared for my fall fur line. I had taken a summer job at a restaurant/bar that featured fresh cut steaks, and I'd gather up some beef bones, and fat whenever it wasn't used for hamburger grinding. This was chopped up into smaller pieces if needed, but usually whatever came out of the bucket on the end of my shovel is what got stuffed down the holes I dug in spots I picked out to assess.

It hadn't taken long to see that traps set right at those test spots resulted in a lot of skunks the first check or two, but it took years for me to realize that traps set several yards away would still receive the benefit of the test spots, and not catch as high a percentage of skunks and coon. It was a lesson well earned, and not forgotten. And if a skunk was caught, it did nothing but help that spot, too, even if it took some time to produce.

My pre-baiting was done during my scouting trips, and like my mentor I was doing an assessment of what was available to catch, and also kind of creating a 'hot spot' for animals to visit. In my opinion, any time spent finding new spots and increasing my chances was time and gas well spent. That hasn't changed in 35 years.

My initial preferred beef fat and bones was supplemented with a new find - the scrapings that cooks had at the end of a long hot day tending the grill in a burger joint. Those bits of burger, cheese, and grease are like concentrated candy to a canine pup putting weight on in the fall, and some of my pre-bait holes looked like a bomb had gone off in them. I'd 'applied' it with an old shovel, and I simply scraped the shovel off in the dirt to get the residual grease off. I usually didn't really care to do a great job of it. That old greased-up shovel didn't rust for many years.

Along about the early 1980s a friend of mine gave me an old book. It had been written by the late John Ehn, in the 1940s I believe. John was originally from Michigan's U.P., like me, and I could identify with a lot of what he described and said in the book. One of his pre-baiting methods involved using old tin cans filled with fish, and the oil it produced as it aged in the sun. He would bend the top over, and hang it from a tree.
A few small holes would let the oil drip out on the ground, attracting a variety of animals. A messy but no doubt effective and innovative way to have a long lasting 'bait' in the general area. Fish were plentiful, and I tried that method too.

When I moved West in 1983 I didn't always have the means to get or store pre-bait, so I used an alternative. I usually used beaver and muskrat from my traplines, and where legal I used bones from a butcher shop that processed wild game during the hunting season. My scouting was done throughout the entire year, and I always seemed to have something smelly in the back of my pickup. Placing those baits saved me a lot of gas and time in the long run, and I was in the field as much as possible.

When I denned coyotes in the mid-1980s, I usually preceded it by going down into southern Wyoming and trapping spring beaver for a week or two, just to get a feel for the area, and get back in to the swing of things. My supervisor always requested that I save the carcasses for him, to use as pre-bait at some of his prospective trapping spots. Keep in mind that this was in late April, and the next fur season was 6 months away. But he loved to have those beaver carcasses 'melted down' in choice locations. He knew that every last scrap of meat and bone would be gone in a month or so, with the final clean-up being done by beetles and other bugs. But he also realized, through experience, that by fall any predator in the area would know about these greasy, smelly spots, and had urinated and left droppings in the general vicinity. After a lifetime of taking coyotes he knew that increased his odds; it was only good business. For me, it was positive reinforcement of what I had been taught years earlier.

In some cases I helped him place a few carcasses in spots that we had placed them in the year before, and I'd often see catch circles in the vicinity. More than once we stopped to look at a track or two, and he'd scan the horizon, visualizing where the coyote that made the tracks could possibly be denned. Clearly, we had created a spot that coyotes liked to visit from time to time.

I still mostly use a shovel digging pre-bait holes, but I am trying (and liking) a new auger bit, which digs a nice clean hole. I do use the shovel to handle the bait. If I have access to beaver I use them, and I've come to the conclusion that they need to be wired to something substantial or they disappear pretty fast. Even beaver tails will work, especially if they have had a chance to melt down a bit. The oil from them will still be on the ground for months.

I go through a lot of disposable gloves handling pre-bait. I take them with me and throw them away at home. Even the most understanding and co-operative landowners don't always appreciate seeing your garbage left behind.

To make myself clear, I better state that when pre-baiting, I am usually not pre-baiting an actual set. I think of it as baiting a general location, or a 'landing place' for coyotes to stop and investigate, smell around, read the signs of other animals that have passed by, and leave their own smells. This is not always possible, such as in small parcels of land, or when dealing with landowners who, understandably, don't want to see or smell even a fairly well hidden spot. And, let's face it, some spots are just naturals and don't need pre-bait -- they seem to produce well no matter the weather or season.

But it seems like you always have places or locations that just don't produce what they should. As I learned from an old Canadian trapper friend many years ago, you can actually draw coyotes from other properties with pre-bait. In the case of coyotes dispersing or simply moving on, any and all smells and sign of other coyotes will only add to the attraction of that location for any new animals that show up. If all works well, you will have coyotes fill in after you catch the residents. That's a win-win in anybody's book.

Even if you don't live or trap in a high concentration of coyotes, you can make the best of what you have to work with. By doing a little homework, and giving them a little 'prime of the pump', you can increase your odds, save gas and money, and increase your catch. Give it a try.