Winter Strategies
As I write this article in mid-November, I’m sure most everyone who intends to trap this season is hard at it. I don’t spend a lot of time on the social media sites, but when I do take a quick peek, it’s full of people showing off their catches, and in general enjoying success while participating in the great sport of trapping.

I’m no different, and my family and I have been enjoying the fall fur season, although there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done that we want or need to do.

Checking traps right after a snowfall is great for reading sign, and usually the second day is more productive than the first. At the same time, checking during the snowfall is a good alternative, since it will cover your tracks, and make your remake circles blend in that much more. It’s not always possible to do, but having even a light dusting of snow can help catch those shyer canines at times.

There’s been very little moisture to contend with here, which is fairly typical of most places in the West, although a lot of my trapper friends scattered across the country haven’t fared as well. The ground hasn’t frozen too deep yet, and digging holes for sets has been easy. I’ve been able to use a 4-inch auger in a Dewalt 20V drill to make some huge holes that really mimic a shallow hole made by a badger, complete with a berm of dirt around the edges.

The 4-inch auger hole adds eye appeal over the 2-inch ones, and the dirt that it removes is enough to bed a #3 trap easy enough, especially in the early season. I still use a cut-down tile spade to make a hole the oval shape that I prefer at times, when I want to change things a bit to fit the situation.

As the weather has transitioned towards winter we’ve started to bed each and every trap with waxed dirt, so I can’t use the dirt removed from the hole. But it’s still scattered, for even more eye appeal. I have no problem with clumps or chunks of grass and top oil at a set, because, let’s face it, a critter digging one doesn’t take it anywhere either.

I really like to use a piece of this grass root/dirt clump as an outside blocking at my sets, if I can. I know I’ve mentioned using walk through type blocking many times in my articles, but I feel I can’t emphasize their value enough. For those of you unfamiliar, I’ll explain briefly.

I use a blocking of some sort, positioned a few inches in front of the outside jaw of the trap. This ranges from a clump of dirt, as I’ve mentioned, up to a fairly large cow chip. Cactuses work great, as do sharp rocks -- basically, anything natural at a set that an animal won’t want to step on while approaching or working it. I usually place either gland lure or urine on this outside blocking, to increase the smells at the set. This type of blocking has worked well for me over the years, and I rarely deviate from it. When I do, I pay for it with increased misses.

I’m also using a lot of flat sets of various types, but typically they’re made with T-bones or lure holders in the same place at the set that a hole would be. They’re productive, and I find myself leaning more and more towards them. They have their own version of eye appeal, and they will pick up the animals that tend to get shy of hole-type sets.

As the season progresses and the weather gets worse, things can get a little tougher. I find myself looking for spots that are naturally windswept and bare, either by the sun hitting it for a good share of the day, or by the relentless wind that we endure in the West. I’ve found that canines will naturally focus on these bare spots too, and sets there eventually get visits. My theory is that a few of these all-weather (hopefully anyway) sets will out-produce a bunch of snowed in sets, that require constant maintaining. Waxed dirt has changed trapping for a lot of us. The fact that you can stay back from a set and check it from a distance is a huge factor in catching canines, especially coyotes, in many areas.

Canines will change their movements, too, and you might find that locations that have produced for a month or so, go dead. This can obviously be attributed to the fact that you’ve probably caught the local animals, and some from other areas haven’t filtered in yet. But another factor: Canines, especially coyotes, will begin to avoid areas where you’ve been making catches.

I’ve mentioned before about leaving a few of your more productive sets in, as you pull some of the unproductive ones as the sign and animal visits diminish. There are plenty of factors to this, of course, and you’ll have to evaluate things for yourself. I started doing this many years ago while trapping red fox in eastern Montana. I had some locations that produced over 20 fox through the course of the fall and early winter, and I’d leave 2-3 sets in those spots, and possibly pull the others off the entire ranch. I called it my skeleton line. It meant more miles between sets, but it was a productive way to trap as things got tougher in the weather department. The huge smell factor created by having multiple fox catches had to have been in the air for miles, because I’d have huge old fox show up check after check. Those older fox weren’t locals, as were the ones that had been caught earlier, but they seemed to keep showing up.

I still have to make decisions on when to pull certain areas, or specific sets, and I’m not always right in my gamble. I guess one of the main factors is if I can access the location or sets when the weather gets tough, and also if the sets will be fairly easy to keep maintained. I’ve driven a lot a miles out of my way to check a short skeleton line, and had it pay off, so I do continue to use it as a form of line management, especially in the winter season.

I know plenty of people who will disagree with me when I say that coyotes will shy away from too many tire tracks right close to a set after a while, but I personally feel otherwise. Sure, you can catch plenty right by a 2-track road, and I do set plenty of locations where that is the main factor and travel way. But it doesn’t take long before you’ll start to see some individual animals avoid those places, and sometimes it will be a total change of their movement.
The places that canines and cats frequent as the seasons drag on will change a bit, too. Food is of the utmost importance, and that usually means cover of some sort. Depending on your area or the location you’re at, the form of cover will vary, of course. In farm ground, it might just be the thick grass along a small ditch, or the edge of a farm field. If there are any tree rows with brush in them, they can be hot spots when the weather turns bad, too.

In a lot of the areas of the West, brush is at a minimum, but almost every type of terrain has its brushy areas. In some of the major river breaks, some draws are lined with junipers and sagebrush, and in other areas, scrub oak and ash thickets are common. Predator activity will usually increase in those areas after a weather front, and your focus should take advantage of that.

You don’t necessarily have to set right in the thick cover, but at times I do. I prefer to make my sets on the edge of the cover, where the sign is evident. Multiple access points means several sets at times, but that is the name of the game. Sign dictates the number you’ll need, but I’d bet if you look at the tracks in the areas, it’ll show they don’t always enter cover and travel the whole length of it, but they enter and crisscross it numerous times, trying to flush out prey.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a few animals will make a lot of sign at times, and you can be fooled. It isn’t always easy, but try to determine how many animals are hunting the area, and set accordingly. You can’t make multiple catches without having multiple sets in.

Sure, it’s a waiting game usually, but it does pay off. Canines and cats can converge on some of those areas from many directions, and gang setting is often needed to cover the spot well. And, because they might only hit those spots on a limited basis, the sign there might be a little on the light side. Still, tracks of various ages and maybe some droppings of the same means that they will be back, and it’s only good business to have it set up and ready to go when it all happens.

Winter also brings the opportunity to snare for many of you. Like trapping, a thicket of brush can be used to your advantage. Trails through these places are literally highways at times, and they will be used by multiple animals sometimes. I know that this isn’t earth shattering info for many people, because so many have been producing huge catches with them for years. Still, I see more and more people recognizing the fact that snares are a good alternative to traps, especially as Mother Nature turns the tables against us in the late season.

Snare supports, dispatch locks, and dispatch springs have become the norm for most people who can legally use them. Anchoring has always been an issue, though, and it’s just something that has to be dealt with on almost a case-by-case basis. I personally use some shorter rebar stakes, as well as wolf fang type disposable anchors. I also use small trees and fence posts where I can, but those aren’t always readily available. In any event, all snares intended to dispatch should be anchored solidly. This not only aids in a quick dispatch, but also ensures that the chosen release on the snare will stand a good chance of releasing at its prescribed poundage. This is a huge factor in snaring.

Since most of your trail and brush snaring is done during the cold weather months, with frozen ground conditions, anchoring a lot of snares can be a huge endeavor. Drilling pilot holes with a cordless drill can help put in earth anchors, and it’s a way that I’ve came to like in tough conditions. Since I snare some of the same places every year, I can use some of my anchors multiple times, which does ease the pain a bit I guess.

Luckily, the trapping world is full of innovative people, and it seems like new products pop up constantly, because of the need for them. Anchoring snares is a prime example. Let me take a minute to share something with you.

My wife, Nicole, and I have had the opportunity to host the Wyoming State Trappers Association Rendezvous the last few years. One of the people that we chose as a demo person was our longtime friend from Roundup, Montana, Keith Gregerson. Keith has done more to modernize and popularize snaring to a generation or two of trappers than probably anybody. For years he and his wife Lois travelled to upwards of 25 state conventions a year. His legacy is uncontested in the West, in my opinion. I guess I should have predicted that Keith would be the person to come up with an innovative new product for anchoring snares!

Keith has given hundreds of demos over the years, and they are always well attended. The ones he gave in Wyoming the last few years were no exception. Keith showed us a product he has developed that he calls a “Land Cross” that uses long screws that he calls, appropriately, “Land Screws”. They’re driven in the ground, using a cordless drill with a 5/16-inch driver. I have to admit I was a bit skeptical, and the thought of keeping even more cordless drill batteries charged in mid-winter turned me off a bit. But when Keith drove one into, and out of blacktop, and used the same screw again, I knew he was onto something. The Land Cross is basically like a double stake for traps, but can also be used with four screws. I’ve ordered a bunch to try this season, and will give them an honest test. I’m excited about it!

Like the development of modern-type snare supports, which added in the ability to set more marginal type gaps in light cover, I fully expect this anchoring device to aid in making snaring during the winter easier in certain places. I’ll keep you posted.

I’ll end this article with that little bit of a teaser. I hope when you’re reading this that you’re able to get out and produce some mid-winter canines and cats. The market is good, and now is the time to take advantage of it.