Proper Use of Drags – Part II
My last article (Part I) dealt with the basics of using drags with foothold traps. I touched on some of my experiences with them, and some of their applications. I’m going to get a little more specific in this article, and share with you some of the finer points of using drags, based on using them my entire trapping career of 40-plus years. I’ve used various types in the sand dunes along Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and in the mountains of several western states, and for the most part, the basics are the same everywhere.

My basic trap/drag setup isn’t anything really unique or different than most of what is accepted in today’s industry. I’m sure there are a lot of variations that will work well too, but I’ll describe what has worked for me after years of using them for canines and cats.

First, as far as the trap is concerned, it should be based plated with a D-ring to attach the chain, so the foot of the animal will be pulled directly away from the drag, rather than to one side of the jaws. Not only does this help reduce or eliminate any possible foot damage, it also helps hold the animal, especially toe caught animals.

As for chain, I’ve used about every type. I’ve seen cable used instead of chain, and in my opinion it wasn’t a good choice. I’ve never rigged many that way, except when I was out of chain-rigged drag setups in my pickup and I felt I had to get a set in. Cable doesn’t lie flat, and way too many animals got their legs and/or feet wrapped up in the trap and cable and almost always seemed to get tangled up. It also reduced the swiveling action and I didn’t like that. So, I got away from cable fairly fast.

I used a lot of twin loop chain in my early years, mainly because I could buy it locally, and I salvaged a lot of it from old swing sets and the like. It’s fairly cheap compared to other types of chain, and that was always a big factor when rigging up a few dozen new traps. But it has drawbacks. It tends to kink up easily, especially when fine vegetation is involved. It also tends to wrap up on the levers of coilsprings traps. This reduces the action of any swivels close to the trap, and that isn’t good. It also doesn’t lay very flat, and takes up a lot of room in the trap bed. This makes it harder to justify using when the ground is frozen, and you’re struggling to get a bed deep enough to bury the drag, chain, and trap. Another drawback of twin loop is that it can get chewed up and damaged by coyotes at times, which affects the strength. With all these factors combined, I’d rate twin loop chain as my last choice.

I once had access to some kinkless chain, and used it in smaller lengths by adding it to traps that had shorter chains than I liked. It lays very flat it the trap bed and does work well, and if I came across any at a reasonable price I’d have no problem using it again, in either #2 or #3 size.

With that being said, almost all my coyote traps/drags are equipped with straight link, welded chain. I prefer the #3 size, but have plenty with good #2 size also, and I really see no difference.

Straight link chain lays flat in a trap bed, a big plus when you’re burying a lot of it along with a drag. It’s also heavy enough to help keep the drag on the ground, and it leaves its own “tracks”, which helps find an animal quickly. Both are big factors.

As for chain length, I’ve tried a lot of different lengths over the years, but I’ve settled on about 8 feet total to be adequate. I’ve tried shorter lengths a few times, but really feel anything less than 6½ feet isn’t adequate. I’ve used a few longer, pushing 10 feet, and it works fine, but I really think about 8 feet is enough.

The traps I run already have about 18 inches of chains and swivels on them, with a box or universal type swivel with J-hooks or rivets, to attach the chain to the D-ring on the baseplate. So I cut my chains for adding drags at 6½ feet, and attach to the trap chain with another swivel and J-hooks. I do the same to attach the chain to the drag. This setup gives a lot of potential swiveling action, and it seems to help keep the drag on the ground, leaving drag marks, which your main objective.

I don’t weld my J-hooks shut, but if live in wolf country, I’d consider it. I don’t see any reason to weld them shut for coyote work though. By using S-hook tools, I can take off or add chains and drags whenever I chose too. I carry lots of extra J-hooks in my canvas setting bag, for just that reason, and also for attaching my chain’s end swivel for cable stake use. I simply carry the S-hook tool on an outside pocket of my bag.

The design of the drag is a topic in itself, and there are many different designs and ideas out there. I’ve used mostly 2- prong drags, but also have a few 3-prong drags that were handmade. All seem to work to some extent.

I’ve been in plenty of discussions and also the cussing of various types of drags over the years. I do have my opinions.

First, the point of any drag needs to be sharp, and based on what I’ve found, the sharper the better. Tough ground, frozen ground, rocks, and the fact that drags can bounce off them all require that the points need to be sharp. Needlepoint sharp if possible, as long as it doesn’t allow the tips to bend easily. The drags that I’ve made now have points that are milled down, with the material being very hard steel.
I found early on that points made by simply cutting the material off at an angle simply did not leave very many marks at times. Hand forged points, if made so they are fairly pointed and sharp, work well though.

The shank length and point angle are important factors too, but without having a particular drag in my hand, I can’t really say if it will work or not.
A lot of the drags I’ve looked at are fairly light, and that usually isn’t a good feature. Drags will bounce and skip on hard ground, and weight does help keep them on the ground. I’d say about 2-2½ pounds would be a minimum to use. That weight, combined with the 8 feet of chain, will help keep the drag points digging in.

Overall, in my opinion, most drags seem to have the points at too much of an angle, which allows them to “skate” on top of the ground, rather than dig in and leave marks. You can easily test this by adding chain to a drag and pulling it through cover yourself.

I don’t necessarily need a drag to be an anchor, so it doesn’t really need to grab solidly in the ground in a foot or two. After all, if it does, it really doesn’t allow most critters to get to any kind of cover, which is part of the intended purpose. If a drag leaves adequate marks to follow, and tangles in minimum cover, I consider it to be worthy of using.

I prefer to bury drags at the set. I know people who don’t bury them and just throw them off to the side of the set. They seem to get by with it, especially for cats, but I know from experience that I can’t get away with doing that. I simply have too many avoidance issues from coyotes, which are my target animal.

I boil my traps, chains, and drags in logwood dye, all together. I wrap the chain and drag around the trap and make a bundle out of it. Cable ties hold everything together. Rust isn’t as big of a concern in Wyoming as it is elsewhere probably, but I prefer to have everything boiled.

I make the trap bed 3-4 inches deeper than I would if using a stake or cable anchor. That’s on average, and if digging is good I make it a bit deeper. I bed the drag in place, with the points of it pointing out, away from the hole or bone or where you have your attractor. I use my set making hammer to lightly tap the drag into a solid position as best as possible. I then add enough dirt for the chain to lay in so it will not tangle with the point of the drag as it’s pulled from the bed when an animal is caught.

After the chain is in place, I add more dirt (sometimes waxed dirt) into the bed, and place the trap just like I would with a staked set. The chain can be positioned to make a spot to rest the free jaw of the trap on, which will help stabilize it in all the soft dirt you’ve used. Then I use the side of my hammer to do a little tamping here and there, to make everything as solid as possible, followed by a final covering of dirt.

I use galvanized steel screen, and they are a great indicator of a catch as they show up well. Often I can spot the screen before I can readily tell if the trap is missing from its bed. But in most cases you have to approach a dragged trap closer than a staked one, and that is one of the drawbacks.

Most of the time you’ll see almost a mini explosion of dirt, and of course the vacant trap bed. Take note of where the pan cover or other material is, as it can be an indication of the direction the animal went.

Almost all coyotes go away from the set in the opposite direction that they approached it when caught. They seem to do this for at least a few jumps, and then it becomes a guessing game.

When I realize I have a catch, I place my bag by the set. Then I start deciphering the drag marks, and also watch for any sign; chewed sticks, tore up grass, anything that would indicate an animal had drug the trap in that direction. It’s smart to stop and listen after a few steps too, as many times I’ve heard the “tinkle” of a trap pan before I see the animal. And, always scan ahead with your eyes.

I’ve actually witnessed coyotes carrying drags in their mouth a few times, which might explain why drag sign just seems to end sometimes, and then pick up again after several yards. I don’t believe the coyotes know what they’re doing when they pick up the drag and run with it; rather it’s making noise and commotion behind them and they grab it. I’ve seen enough evidence of it to know that it does happen enough to be a factor.

After the trapped animal is located and dispatched, it’s a matter of remaking the set. If I’m using waxed dirt, I can almost always salvage enough of it that the remake only requires a minimal amount more.

Yes, I know what a good many of you are thinking -- a good dog is invaluable in locating catches with drags. But that’s another topic.