Setting Trails - Part II
Some of my first attempts at setting trails were over 40 years ago, and I've set hundreds more since. I believe there is a way for trail setting to be feasible for canines and cats.

I have always liked to investigate a set location first. I rarely jump out of the pickup without spending a minute or two looking the location over. I'll pick that perfect tuft of grass, or that eye-catching clump of dirt, and decide if those are the places to make my sets.

Taking a few minutes to look around first can tell a person a lot about the animals in the area, and what to expect. Many times this quick look has revealed spots that might have otherwise been overlooked.

As a lot of you know, not all animals "track up" or pack a spot down with tracks, so sometimes it's difficult to find sign. Over the years I've pretty much followed the rule of setting only where I find sign, with some exceptions. Of course any trails, no matter how defined, get the first look.

I try to walk along trails rather than in them. I'll parallel them, maybe a few feet away, looking for sign. Having the sun at your back helps you see tracks that aren't well defined. If there are other trails in the area, I'll cut across to one of them, and walk it back to my vehicle, watching for sign. I've learned that a lot of critters simply don't follow trails, but travel in the general vicinity of them instead. Any bare spot, gopher mound, or spot where they might leave a track, is looked at along the way.

It's not uncommon to see where a predator followed a well-defined trail for a short distance, only to deviate from it without leaving another track. That's why I like to look things over a bit before I just rush in and set traps.

I want to clarify one thing. The majority of trapping in the West is not done in areas of high predator populations. Sure, you'll find some areas with high animal numbers, and in those areas you'll find sign at just about any good looking location. But, the truth is, there are vast areas that hold very low densities of animals, especially coyotes.

It's in these areas of low animal density where really looking at trails and other natural travel ways will make the difference between setting a spot up or not. Some places are fairly predictable as to what will be found, but I still get surprised on a daily basis.
I mentioned in the previous article, that other animals may use the same trail. I have to stress the importance of taking that into consideration. It's a factor that you'll have to evaluate at every trail. If there are sheep present, I strongly suggest not setting foothold traps in any trails, and probably not in that pasture at all.

As for cattle, late in the fall most calves are big enough that a trap won't hold them. But if there isn't much fur sign I won't set trails around cattle. The fear of holding a cow or calf is always in the back of my mind. It's next to impossible to keep traps working in a trail frequented by cattle, anyway.

I also try to avoid setting trails by gates, along perimeter fences, close to water, and near mineral boxes or tubs. These are all high-traffic areas for many species, that will only cause headaches. I prefer to look for places a fair distance away from these spots; at times I might be a half mile away before I feel confident enough to set traps.

In some smaller pastures it's actually easier to look for spots in the adjacent pasture, if possible. Canines and cats don't pay attention to fences, for the most part, so you might find a good spot close by that's livestock-free. Many of the ranches I work on rotate pastures fairly often, and I have to keep vigilant of livestock being turned back into ones I've set. It's a constant variable that I've just learned to live with, and I consider it part of the job. The other way to look at it is simple: If livestock are moved into the next pasture, it leaves the other one open for possible setting. Predators like to hang around livestock, and their sudden absence might provide a good opportunity to go in and find spots that they'll investigate for a few days.

Hard packed ground in trails, freezing in wet spots, and snapped traps were all problems in my early attempts at trail trapping. To be honest, in some cases they're still factors.

In the case of hard-packed ground, I just naturally learned to look for a spot in the trail where the soil isn't the same. A slight rise in the ground, a hillside or saddle that the trail runs into, or maybe a sand blow, all get first consideration. It usually doesn't have to be much, but any type of soil variation can help at times. Some soil types don't get as hard packed as others, and it's only smart to take advantage of those areas.

If those spots can't be found, I'll pick one that's narrowed down naturally. Then with the digging tang on my hammer I'll chop out a trap bed.

The staking method you use will have to be taken into consideration, because I consider these types of trap beds "hard earned", and they leave little room for error. I still use some 24-inch long, 1/2-inch rebar stakes. Once pounded in the ground, the free jaw of the trap rests on it for stability.

I've been using more disposable stakes, and I prefer the 1/8-inch, 7X7 cable. I use the top loop on them as a spot to rest the free jaw, just like when using a rebar stake.

If I'm using soil that I brought in or gathered at the set, I line the whole trap bed first, and even pound it in place with my hammer. I then add just enough dirt to the bed so the trap "nestles" in with minimal effort. I use the same method with waxed dirt.

I ultimately want the finished set flush with the top of the ground in the trail. Of course a slight variation to this will still work, but I aim for that goal.

Blocking can be used, and I prefer something natural, like a cow chip (yes, nothing has changed in 40 years), a rock that is found there, or even some rough ground left by the cows' hooves in the mud.

I rarely use a single coyote or cat dropping as a guide, like I see advocated at times. I've found, too many times, the dropping was missing when I checked the traps, leaving no blocking at all. If I do find a dropping in a trail, and it's close to where I can make a set, I'll use it. I usually give the dropping a small shot of good urine when I leave the set. Most droppings will absorb it easily.

I prefer to have any blocking like this fairly tight to the jaw of the trap. An inch or two is good, and with the naturally narrowed down spots, it leaves little choice for the canine or cat to step besides within the trap jaws.

I like to stagger my blocking a bit, too. By that I mean to have it slightly off the corner of the jaw. Hopefully that'll dictate even more where they'll step. In some cases you might actually break the stride of the animal, although I'm sure they know even a few feet away where they're going to place their feet when they reach a narrow spot in the trail.

As I mentioned, I do use a little urine at times, and I also like fresh gland lure at my trail sets. I set very few strictly blind. I want to give them a reason to make that extra step or two on the trail, and increase the odds. I don't have a set distance from the trap as to where I place the lure, but it's usually slightly off the trail, and by that I mean within a foot or so. The key being that the spot over your pan is the best place for them to step when investigating the smell.

Like all trapping, it's a game of odds and percentages. How you construct your set, and the spots you choose, are huge factors in your success.

I don't have all the answers, and the variables we encounter change things a bit, but these methods should be good guidelines to consider when setting up trails.