Scent Control and Canines
Scent control and canine trapping seem to go hand in hand. The first trapping books I read as a youngster stressed keeping any set-making equipment clean, and to only handle 'clean' traps with gloves on. One book even said to urinate only in moving streams! They elevated the fox to almost magical status, with super powers of detection.

My first attempts at fox trapping were done with virtually every word that I had read, over and over, ringing in my ears. I can still remember my hands getting sweaty in the heavy rubber gloves I wore while laboring to set my first fox traps, and thinking all that sweat would surely give off some odor, the very thing I was trying to prevent.

My trapping mentor showed me a slick way of putting on my gloves without touching their outsides, except for around the cuff area. He'd slide his hand into a glove, slightly shaking it until it worked its way down to the fingertips. Then with the gloved hand he'd grab the other glove by the fingertips, with the cuff down, and wiggle his other hand into it.

We lived and trapped in the U.P. of Michigan, and even the resident red fox we saw on our farm seemed to be very wary of any human scent in trapping time. Looking back, I think they were more tipped off by the extra muddy tracks and other commotion I left behind making sets, but it took some time to figure that out.

I do believe that the humidity in Michigan had something to do with my scent staying at a location for awhile after setting, but I have no way of knowing how long. Also, in my early years I expected success pretty quickly, and I assumed I'd done something wrong when it didn't come soon enough.

Of course, my 'scent' left behind was my main concern (or excuse). In my mind I'd replay my trap boiling and waxing process, and how I'd boiled my trowel, sifter, and anything else used to make sets. I'd check everything for possible rust, since I'd read that was a factor too. I usually found none.
I remember starting to question my lures, which I had bought through the mail, even though they had smelled good to me when I had opened them about 100 times.

All through this time of questioning my equipment, my sets, the lures, and the fox themselves, I was 'babysitting' my traps. I'd re-lure, spray urine on the set, and even poke around in the dirt with a twig to make sure the trap was still set there. It was driving me crazy. A whole summer of planning and going through mental checklists, and the fox weren't co-operating.

Looking back, I realize all that extra commotion and traffic around my sets was probably keeping my catch rate at a snail's pace. My Dad's farm was mainly red clay, with the exception of a tall sandy ridge that was supposedly the old shoreline of Lake Superior, eons ago.

I probably should have concentrated my trapping efforts along that sandy ridge, for many reasons. But I had seen fox many times growing up, and it was always in the hayfields that I knew so well. Their muddy tracks were found after it rained, and even at a young age I knew that sign didn't lie. So it was in these red clay fields that my first years of fox trapping took place.

Fall was wet in the U.P., and with that wetness came mud, and muddy footprints - mine. They could be seen going up to sets, away from sets, and circling sets. Some would even hold water for a day or two, they were so deep. Places where I kneeled down to make the set were also muddy.

I've had some really good western coyote trappers tell me that tracks around a set didn't matter, and that I was being over-cautious when I told people to avoid leaving un-needed sign at a set. I just tell them they didn't grow up in the U.P., trapping wary fox.

After a time I started to catch fox, and later, coyotes. I started to check my traps off a 3-wheeler, a motorcycle, and then a pickup. This not only speeded things up, but the reduced smell and tracks around my sets seemed to help. The time I spent making a set was also shorter, and that helped, too. As my experience grew, things just fell into place.

I've tried different systems over the years, and although I'm not even remotely as concerned with my smell at a set as I used to be, I'm still cautious. I guess it's just a carry-over from my early years. Lessons like that come hard at times, so they aren't forgotten easily.

Thirty-some years later, I still boil and wax my traps. I used the black dye crystals for several years, but it seems like their availability has ended for the most part. I'm using the common red trap dye now. I have a half-barrel 'pot' that I leave set up, and I'll boil traps several times throughout the year. I have a good propane burner that is mounted on a stand, and it works like a dream.
The 'pot' and water, along with 30 or more traps, weigh a lot, so I placed cement blocks on end to form a ring, with the burner in the middle. The blocks support the weight with no problem. They also prevent the Wyoming wind from blowing out the flame, as well as holding in the heat. I cover the barrel with a light piece of plywood to speed up boiling the water. I leave the cover on between batches.

I should mention, out of fairness, that I did try two of the popular trap 'dips'. Both times I did it as per the instructions on the can, and I guess I just didn't like the results. One thing I noticed right from the start, was that I had a lot of traps pushed out of the bed, with several snapped, by deer. There is no doubt in my mind it was caused by the smell. After two tries, I went back to dying all my traps again. Again, just to be fair, I do know that a lot of people prefer to dip, and get by just fine with it. I didn't, so I went back to what I knew would work for me. To each his own, I guess.

I don't always wax my foothold traps, although I do if I have time. I do feel that wax can and will absorb odors, so I keep waxed traps in a sealed container. I have a stack of 10- and 20-gallon tubs that I store traps and waxed dirt in. I live in sagebrush country, so I simply place a handful of sage leaves in with my traps to let them absorb the odor, and smell like the pungent sage. Cedar, juniper, and anything else will work, too. I've even placed a little dirt in the bottom of a tub of traps, much like putting a box of baking soda in a refrigerator to absorb odors.

I still boil my sifters and digging tools, but they get used enough that they stay pretty shiny and dye-free. I boil them only if something gets rusty while in the back of the pickup. The same goes with my hammers.

A friend of mine gave me a pair of good knee pads a few years ago, and I really like them. I scour them with sagebrush or dirt from time to time, to help remove the smells and gunk you encounter when kneeling in catch circles and while setting traps. And, at the end of the day, you can take them off and your jeans are still fairly clean. But, more importantly, you probably didn't leave any un-needed smell at any sets.

As for gloves, I've been wearing good leather ones for years now. I did buy a pair of rubber grip-type gloves this last winter, when we had a stretch of weather that made for a lot of muddy catches. I usually rotate gloves throughout the day, depending on how dirty they get, so I keep three or four pairs in the back of the pickup.

By keeping all my set-making equipment in a canvas bag designed for setting, I eliminate back-tracking to the pickup. When I get out to set a location I survey the area quickly to get a rough idea where I intend to set, to keep tracks to a minimum.

I almost always place my lure(s) on something absorbent at the set, such as a bone, grass wad, cow chip, etc. This keeps re-luring to a minimum, and I routinely go three weeks or more before I re-lure. When I use bait, such as in a dirt hole, I usually place a grass plug over the bait. Again, this eliminates my scent and sign around the set as much as possible.

I firmly believe in checking sets from as far away as possible, while still being able to look at them well enough to see that they don't need any attention.

If I take someone along with me for the day, I try to give them a few ground rules. No spitting (if they chew), no cigarette butts (if they smoke), no wrappers (I hate littering anyway), and of course, keep tracks to a minimum, if muddy or in soils that are easy to leave deep footprints in. I'm not a fanatic about it, but I do like to keep disturbances to a minimum.

By now I'm sure a lot of you are thinking something like, "Coyotes have good noses, and they're going to know you were there anyway." Well, that's very true. But I've always felt that by keeping your smells and other disturbance to a minimum, you will increase your catch in the long haul.

If you live or trap in an area where canines don't seem to mind some of the things I've mentioned to avoid, you're lucky. I can assure you that not all of us have it that good. I know from past experience that a coyote that you 'tip off' right from the start is potentially a coyote that you might have trouble catching the next time. So I try to not mess things up right from the start.

One last thing, which applies to trapping in general but especially to this topic: You'll learn more from the animals you didn't catch, than from the ones you did.