Proper Use of Drags - Part I
Using drags for land trapping has been an option for me since literally Day One of my trapping experiences.

When I was in junior high, the first raccoon I caught was with a #2 double longspring that was attached to a wooden drag. Earlier that summer, I’d made several out of a medium sized poplar tree. I cut the tree into 3-foot lengths, and then peeled the bark off, to let it “season”, just like one of my trapping books had told me to do.

My trapping mentor had told me to attach the trap to the pole with baling wire, but I should wrap the wire not around the middle, but rather towards one end slightly. When an animal pulled it, it would form a “Y”, and catch on brush easier. That was good advice.

My first trapped red fox and coyotes were caught with drags too, but by then I’d advanced to using metal 2-prong drags. They were handmade and forged drags, formed out of ½ inch material, with hammer pounded points. The vegetation in northern Michigan was tailor made for the use of drags, and for a while, that was my preferred method of anchoring.

I guess about 40 years have passed now, and I’m still using drags in my coyote trapping efforts, although I find myself using cable stakes more. Occasionally I get asked for input and advice on drags and their use. With the high interest in coyotes and bobcats in the fur industry, I guess it’s a good time to offer some pointers.

First, it’s fair to say that I haven’t used wooden drags of any type in years. When I focused on bobcats as a major source of income for many years, it was common for me to use either cable, or a doubled (or even tripled) piece of 14-gauge wire to attach a trap to a suitable limb or log that I’d find close by. It was quick, light, and very efficient. It eliminated carrying and pounding in stakes, and kept the overall weight of my pack down. Cat trapping can require lots of walking, and the weight saved was often replaced by putting an extra trap in the bag.

I had a lot of extensions made of 7x7 twist, 3/32-inch cable, from 4-6 feet long, with loops on each end. An aluminum double ferrule was used to make the loop, and I made them big enough that I could easily pass one end through the other with heavy gloves on, since I usually used them in the dead of winter. I preferred to make the loops solid by pounding the ferrules flat, rather than passing the cable through a double ferrule and putting an end stop on. I found out the hard way that after a catch or two, any loops left free to slide were often too tight to release easily.

I simply made a loop by putting one end of the cable through the loop at the opposite end, and putting it around the log or limb that I was using. I’d try to position it by a knot or other natural place to keep it from slipping off, but I also used a loop of wire or a fence staple to hold it in place. I’ve always tried to bury or attempt to hide as much of the cable or wire as possible. A bit of dirt, grass, or pine needles all come in handy at times.

I’d attach the cable loop to the trap by using a J-hook through the end swivel of the trap, using an S-hook tool to both open and close it. It’s an easy system to use, and with a decent sized drag, it works fine.

I often used the same limbs, posts, logs, etc. from year to year, and left them at the set. The soil in a lot of cat country that I’ve trapped has some alkali and other soil types that’s hard on cable, so I rarely left the cable attached at the end of season. I made some out of 1/8-inch cable, which is one size bigger that 3/32-inch, in hopes that it would withstand the elements longer. But I found it a little harder to work with, so went back to mainly the lighter, but adequate 3/32, 7x7 cable.

One of the things that I often did, and I’m sure I learned it from a friend in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, was to use the log drag as an indicator to check the trap from a distance. Any catch would move the drag, and it sure saved time walking up to some of the locations along rim rock and under junipers up a side hill.

I evolved into using them as an outside blocking for my walk-through type sets, that I preferred for cats whenever I could. The porous wood made an ideal place to put gland lure or urine on, and if possible, it could be positioned to be fairly tight to the outside, free jaw of the trap. So it becomes used in three ways: lure holder, blocking, and drag.
Any bobcat caught was usually fairly easy to find, as the log would leave definite drag marks, and any place that the cat would hang up, even temporarily, would usually show some sign of the direction it would go. Sure, there were always some surprises, but usually they tended to go downhill, or to the nearest cover. I learned quickly to look for the drag, rather than the ‘cat itself, because they can blend in and hide so well. I’ve walked by many cats caught when walking in to a location, only to find myself tracking a drag mark back to within feet of where I’d just walked.

I rarely caught a coyote with a log type drag, and if I did, it seemed to be late in the season, like February, when coyotes are breeding and they showed up in strange places. Aging of the set, and cold temperatures and a few inches of snow, seemed to help produce a few coyotes every year in these types of set-ups. But for the most part they seemed to shy away from something as gaudy and obvious as a log drag. I’m sure some areas are different, though. I have a fair amount of traps that I’ve rigged up with longer chain and a 2-prong steel drag. I use this type of set-up on roughly 1/3 of my coyote traps now.

I’d say the biggest reason I use drags is because I can’t get a stake in the ground at a location that I want to set. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dug out a trap bed, made a spot for the cable stake or rebar to sit under the free jaw to help stabilize it, and then could only get a stake in the ground part of what it needed to be. It happens in the West a lot, and it’s just something we deal with.

If there’s suitable vegetation for a drag to either leave a drag mark and/or hang up, I consider using a trap with drag attached. It’s also a big plus if the ground is soft enough for the drag tips to make tell-tale marks in the ground, even though they might just be slight scratches. These are both factors to consider. Frozen ground will allow even the best of drags to bounce, and keep the drag from leaving marks for a fair distance.

If there’s a lack of vegetation, I simply won’t use a drag. I’ll just look for a better place to solidly anchor the trap. I guess I’ve evolved into the reasoning that if the surrounding cover is too sparse, or my gut says the location is a little “iffy”, and they could get too far, I won’t use a drag! Experience counts for a lot, and I can tell you that trapped coyotes can have a built-in avoidance of heavy brush patches at times. I’ve seen them avoid that type of cover when caught in a trap with a drag attached.

The second reason I use drags is to use some spots that are in plain sight of people passing by, and the option of using a drag will hopefully let the target animal to get out of sight. Again, I’ve had so many different experiences in this type of use that I can attest that it doesn’t always work that way 100% of the time. I know it’s easy to stand at a location and envision what a coyote should do, and how it will end up cleverly hidden from anyone happening by. But, in reality, it doesn’t always work that way, and I weigh all the options and possibilities before I set the trap.

One of the factors that comes to mind is deer activity. If there’s a lot, like a natural crossing on a stock dam or a trail coming out of cover, I might not use a drag. A trapped deer will usually shuck the trap and drag after a short distance, but it can be a frustrating 5-10 minutes trying to determine exactly what happened, and that can be compounded if it snowed after they were caught. Deer are hard to second guess, and they rarely stay caught very long, but they can make several long jumps when they first get caught, so there will be little in the way of drag marks to follow. It’s something to think about.

Snow is a total game changer for using drags at times. Sure, a slight snowfall will make for easy tracking of drag marks, and I thoroughly enjoy that type of situation. But while staked coyotes and their catch circles are very visible against snow, at times snowfall can make it hard to determine if a catch in a dragged trap has even been made. Snow hides a lot of sign, and you almost always have to go right up to a set and sweep it off to determine if the trap is missing from its bed. That’s more sign than I want to leave, as I use waxed dirt and prefer to stay away as long as possible, to allow coyotes to work the location and set. In my area, if I walk up to and sweep off sets, it might be weeks, or take another snowfall, before they will approach the sets with any regularity. Sure, you can usually walk up close and see if there is a divot or void where the trap, chain, and drag was before the snow came, but so many times you have to approach too close, leaving a lot of tracks by the set.

In the next issue, I’ll cover the technical aspect of drags.