The Basics of Canine Success
I often get asked for tips and ideas that might make canine trapping more effective and perhaps a bit easier. Many times, it kind of catches me off guard, and my reply might be considered rather generic or non-specific by some. I guess, at times, I feel success comes from working hard and applying the basics over and over in as many places as possible, and usually the chips will all fall into place.

I sometimes have to step back and remember that some of the things I’ve learned over the years might seem routine for me. People new to trapping often seem to get bogged down with things that they’ll probably someday come to find were unnecessary or not worthy of undue concern. So, this article will touch on some things that I do consider to be factors in successful canine trapping. Also, a few things I’ve learned to disregard when it comes to the real world of trapping.

Let’s start back in my beginning as an aspiring coyote trapper. I started with longsprings, like many other people of that era. There were various brands of coilspring traps available, but many had thin, sharp jaws that were hard on feet, especially when you factored in the strength of the springs. I had put together a decent bunch of longsprings and a few jump traps and used them for a several years. They served as both coyote and beaver traps, which were my main target animals at the time. As most of you know, it takes a pretty big bed to properly get these traps in place, compared to coilspring traps, but that was what my mentor used, and I followed his lead. I did have success with those early traps, but looking back, I probably had more foot damage than what is strived for today.

It was when I moved west that I got introduced to good coilspring traps with rolled edges, offset jaws, and base plating. Four-coiling was being introduced, but I never jumped on that bandwagon, especially with traps that were plenty strong right out of the box. Sure, I’d read and heard some of the reasons for 4-coiling; they came up through the frost better, and they could catch cats because they moved their feet fast when the pan dropped, etc.

I figured out early on that spring strength also added pan tension. Nothing bothered me more than seeing a track on the edge of a pan, and the trap was still in the bed, un-sprung. Many times I figured the extra pan tension had kept me from making a catch, and I actually took some of the extra springs off of traps that were adequately strong with the standard two springs.

It has become popular to aim for full paw catches all of the time, but I have to be honest, I skin lots of critters that are the result of catches that are basically two toes, and part of the pad. With good traps they are held there anyway, and I’d rather have what some consider a poor catch rather than no catch at all. I know, this isn’t what you generally hear today, but I’m telling it how I personally see it.

And, before you start calling me and preaching to me that I can make more full pad coyote catches with proper blocking, save your breath. There are so many factors to consider with blocking. Not all coyotes work a set the same way, and some just never got the memo on where to step at a set -- they approach from the back anyway. And, some blocking will get moved by a cow or other critter, while little items like droppings tend to get packed off, and the list goes on and on.

Anyone who has read previous articles of mine knows I construct pretty much every canine set as a walk-through of one type or another. I came to the conclusion long ago that subtle blocking, with something natural to the area and location, is better than a bunch of smaller, moveable, or unnoticeable items placed on the trap pattern or bed.

I solved a lot of misses early on by using fairly stiff screen as a pan cover; in effect it created a larger pan, but it still seemed to perform better with a standard 2-coil trap than with mega-strong traps. It’s all about percentages to me, and it has worked for me for years. I’m not telling anyone to take extra springs off their traps, if you feel they’re needed for you. I know from experience that some people believe that a trap has to be super strong to catch and hold coyotes. Not true.

As for coming out through the frost easier, I guess there might be some merit to that. However, in this day, with so much information available on using waxed dirt, peat moss, or even available dry dirt, I can’t really acknowledge that argument without thinking it’s still a very small factor. The bottom line is simple: If the pan can’t go down, the trap jaws can’t close. What I’m trying to say is there are many other factors to consider. A crust over a trap won’t let the pan go down, let alone allow the jaws to come up, frost or no frost.

Proper bedding is another thing worthy of mentioning. This again has been beat into the ground so much that I better take a stab at describing what I’ve personally found to be true.
First, I try not to dig a bed much bigger than the trap itself. This is mainly for simplicity and speed, but I also consider the amount of dirt (possibly waxed) that I’ll need to fill it in. Also it’s a smaller area to blend in if desired. And, in the wind, huge trap beds will sometimes be the victim of erosion by the ever changing direction of storm fronts, and even light rains can make a trap bed settle a bit. Also, I like to dig the bed the shape of the trap itself, so it rests without moving. A simple swipe or two with the digging tang of my setting hammer will make a cross shape pattern for the trap to lay in. I use the chain or top of the stake or disposable stake to rest the free jaw on, adding stability.

I pack very little dirt in the trap bed itself, unless I think it won’t blend in well, but even then, I don’t pack over the springs. Since I use screen, there will be a little pocket or void under the screen and pan to allow it to drop. I like the finished trap bed or pattern to be basically flush with the surrounding dirt. Slightly higher might allow moisture to run off easier, but I avoid having the bed lower, because it can actually collect moisture. Other than that, I consider anything more to be overkill.

I do blend in the bulk of my sets, especially flat-type sets. I try to feather them as well as possible, and let the weather do its part from there. I still use blocking, of course, but I keep it to a minimum.

If I’m using waxed dirt, I try to use a type that matches the surrounding area as close as possible. I collect and make waxed dirt from various soils in the areas I trap, and I occasionally mix a few if needed. This can help cut down on refusals.

All of these steps can be done with a little practice, and are part of what I do virtually every time I set a trap. If something is new or different from what you’re currently doing, you might consider trying it on your own trapline.

Another topic I think could use a little visiting is the proper use of lure. I’m not trying to step on toes, or change anyone’s mind, but to just throw out a few of my thoughts on the subject.

I almost always use a lure holder of some type. Over the years, it has evolved into me placing an unmovable object at the set for my lure to be placed on. I tend to use a lot of dry, white bones, and they not only hold lure well because they’re porous, they also add a lot of eye appeal. Simply put, if the bone is still there when I check the trap, there is lure and smell there too. I use some dowels with felt wrapped on top of them too, and they are a great alternative to bones. In most cases, I like a type of scent or lure that the canine will try to come in contact with, and sometimes, lick or grab it.

I’ve used lots of grass and other vegetation over the lure or bait, and I think making the canine try a little harder for a better whiff helps put more tracks on the pan too.

Call-type lures have their applications, but I don’t honestly think they have to be a nose burner to work well. Skunk does help carry some smell, and it does help broadcast it, but for me, straight skunk doesn’t have any use right at a set. I prefer it to be aged, or sweet. Again, I want the animal to want to come in contact with it, rather than smell it from a distance and leave. Like I say, just my way of thinking, and it doesn’t conform to many I know.

There are different opinions on bait and its use. Some very large catches of canines are made every year with bait alone. Bobcat meat is very popular as a base, as is beaver and horse. I’ve been a fan of the paste-type bobcat based baits for over 30 years. I’ve had a few people tell me that coyotes won’t respond to baits of this type in the summer, but I’ve had a pile of coyotes prove them wrong over the years. I’ve actually had coyotes full of lamb meat work a baited set long enough to get caught. All canines are opportunists, and a free meal, complimented with the smell of another canine or maybe a bobcat (urine or gland), is a temptation that they readily respond to.

I use bait down a hole, and many times I use my hammer to drive a bone into the hole, too. This serves as a bait holder and, like at flat-type sets, eye appeal. I almost always put some vegetation I find at the location over the bone and bait. A loose wad of grass is my favorite.

I often get asked if I use an auger to drill holes for my sets, and the answer is sometimes. I still prefer the look of an oblong hole that I dig with a cut-down tile spade. I prefer to control the angle of the hole a bit, and I dig the trap bed at the same time. I know the augers make a hole quick, and in some soils I have to use one, but I still prefer the spade overall.

I know I’ve bounced around a lot and touched on some subjects that I’ve covered at length in previous articles, but these are all topics that I thought I’d re-visit or add a little more to. I hope it answers a few of the questions you may have, and possibly something you can incorporate into your trapline in the future.