Windy Wyoming
Wyoming’s wind is legendary and a source of many local jokes. I remember seeing wind turbines for the very first time back in 1985, while working as a coyote denner in southern Wyoming. I was told that the ridge they were on was determined to be one of the windiest spots in the country, at least as far as constant winds go. I didn’t doubt it. I camped out in a bedroll near that ridge many nights that summer, and mosquitos and other bugs weren’t a problem.

Wind usually brings in moisture in this part of the world. Since we’re experiencing a drought, a northwest wind is always watched with anticipation. But we’ve had an abnormally high amount of southwest wind, which usually doesn’t contribute much, other than to quickly melt and dry up any snow.

Wind also makes snow drifts. It’s hard to believe to what extent drifting can alter things for trapping and snaring, until you’ve experienced it. Drifts also change getting around. Many times drifts have deterred me from following my usual route, and I had to take an alternate one. Some of these detours have added 20 miles or more.

Fighting drifts I’ve torn up clutches, totally destroyed a transmission, and slept in makeshift spike camps at times. I’ve broken a shovel handle or two, and scooped what seemed to be a semi load of hard snow out from under my high centered pickup, with a cut-down tile spade. I’m no fan of overly excessive drifting snow. It’s just something that I’ve had to contend with. It’s part of winter trapping in Wyoming.

Long periods of high winds can also make it difficult to keep sets working. I remember listening to a conversation, over 40 years ago, between a friend of mine who had taught me how to trap, and a young guy who had travelled “out West” to take trapping instructions from one of the big-name trappers of the day, who lived and trapped in the Dakotas. The young guy mentioned the fact that one of the main things he’d learned during his time with the experienced trapper was picking locations that had actually been blown clean of snow. He said that his instructor had many sets on top of stock dams, bare ridges, and other bare places. It made sense to me then, and it still does today.

Many times, I’ve walked slowly down the top or edge of a bare stock pond dam to see if I could spot at least one coyote track that would prompt me to make a set or two, only to find the ground so hard that I couldn’t even spot a toenail mark. Experience has taught me to pay attention to the snow leading up to the dam. Many coyotes will walk on bare ground as much as possible, especially when they get close to the dam. I’ve been fooled many times, and I learned long ago to take a few seconds and scan the surrounding area for tracks in the snow that would eventually lead right to where I was standing.

Bare spots that are naturally void of snow are usually that way for a reason - wind! Remember that when setting. If your location is in a spot that gets enough wind, it can be hard to keep your traps covered, too. The use of waxed dirt seems to be especially hard to implement in high wind periods. I’ve only found one real cure for it. I learned it the hard way, as usual, but it was a lesson not soon forgotten.

So many people, myself included, try to use too fine or light soil, or even silt sand, to wax. I got my first batches of waxed dirt from a friend, and he used very sandy material. It obviously worked for him, but it took me awhile to learn where I could and couldn’t use that light covering material.

I’ve evolved to using heavier soils, and we (usually my wife) make several batches of different types, from various areas. By having a variety of waxed dirt on hand, I can try to match the soil and ground conditions at a location. This helps cut down on canine refusals, as I have seen many times that coyotes, especially, will avoid sets that stick out like a sore thumb. By using heavier soils I get full effect of the wax coating the soil better; it’s heavier, so it takes more wind, and it blends in better.

All these factors add up in the long haul, and it means that I can stay away and check from a distance. I only walk over to re-lure or add bait when needed, which fits into my method of using sets as maintenance-free as possible.

Sure, it’s tempting to use sandy material, although I don’t think that the wax adheres to the fine sand as well as I’d like. And, the sandier and lighter it is, the more it tends to blow around. I’ve had traps lying exposed in a completely barren trap bed many times. Some people have given up on waxed dirt, and I blame it on the fact that they used material that was too sandy. If you’re one of them, consider my experiences. It could be as easy as just using gopher mound dirt, or dirt found along a country road. If it’s loose soil and hasn’t blown around in the summer wind when you’re collecting it, it’s probably heavy enough to use.

The wind direction is important when picking actual trap set spots at a location, too. I usually set facing into the wind, with backing on the upwind side of the trap. It’s usually effective, although at times little drifts will collect on the downwind side, much like a snow fence effect. If that happens, you have two options: 1) move the set, or, 2) keep maintaining it by sweeping the snow off.

High winds can hamper those efforts, too. I learned years ago to sweep off a fairly large area at a set, not just over the trap bed. With a stiff broom I try to sweep off an area maybe 3 or 4 feet across. You’re cutting down the drifting action, or at least slowing it. If you only clean off a small area while the wind is blowing, you can see snow start to filter in even as you’re standing there.
By sweeping off a large patch of snow on the upwind side of the backing of your set, maybe for several feet even, you can create a bit of a baffle, or catch area. This can buy you some time, as that spot will have to fill in before it gets the chance to cover your set.

Wind and drifting snow create a lot of work to keep many sets working, but usually the work is worth it.
Wind can also dry out lures and bait fast, and re-luring a little more often might be needed. Mother Nature can be harsh on smell and scents. Having your lures and baits on something porous, like a dried-out bone or dry cow chip, can help them stand up to weather. On the plus side, smells carry in the wind. You’ll often see where animals come to a set from a long distance from downwind.

Snaring in high wind conditions can be very trying. I use trail snares in brush and tall grass just like many of you. After snaring in the windy conditions of the high plains for most of my adult life, I’ve experienced just about every kind of condition possible. It’s obvious that drifting snow is a major factor, and brushy or grassy areas are where the blowing snow piles up. Sure, you can raise your snares a bit as snow accumulates, but after a while trails aren’t defined enough to be traveled with any regularity. Predators will travel at random spots, as will the prey base. The results are many missed opportunities, and more than a little frustration.

It’s not uncommon for me to have to completely pull snares from a location such as a brushy draw. These areas can get so full of snow that only the very highest vegetation is still uncovered, and any suitable gaps to place snares are buried.

The wind is the main reason that I don’t use loaded snares. Wind will fire them in many cases, and it just isn’t avoidable in my conditions. I want my snares to hang in place throughout our windy conditions, and I’ve settled on a few hard fast rules to follow.

First, I use heavy support wire, such as 11 gauge or 9 gauge (#9) annealed wire, at virtually all my trail sets. I use a simple, yet effective snare support system that I’ve been using for over 20 years, and have seen no reason to change. I use a 30-inch piece of ¼-inch diameter cold-rolled steel (rod), with one end flattened to a spade, which I pound flat on an anvil after it’s heated in a small forge. It resembles a small canoe paddle, and is fairly sharp, which helps when pounding it in the ground. The flat spot is more than enough to keep it from moving or turning in the wind, especially in frozen or hard ground conditions. I weld a 20-inch piece of #9- or #11-gauge wire to the opposite end of the rod, for the pigtail to hang or suspend the snare or cable restraint in position. It’s important that the support rod is driven in the ground far enough that it’s as rigid and solidly in place as possible.

I use a ½-inch piece of polyvinyl hose on the snare cable as a support collar, and have had zero problems with it. I use 3/16-inch I.D. (inside diameter) hose on my 5/64-inch snares, and also on my 1/16 inch snares. I also add a 1/8-inch I.D. collar on my 1/16 inch snares, so I can use either size support wire. It’s very important that whatever size cable/collar combination you use, that the snare loop is held snugly. This is a huge factor when snaring in any condition, but magnified by windy situations.

Another thing to be careful about is to not wrap your pigtail support around any branch, limb, or bough that will move or sway when the wind blows. This can actually “jack” your support up at the worst, and at the very least, knock your snare down. Low lying branches aren’t affected as much as large, drooping branches or boughs. It’s a good plan to not let them touch the snare support wire when you’re tempted to blend it in.

If you choose to narrow the spot down a bit, which I personally try to do very little of because of possible refusals, make sure the fencing object is solid and won’t blow around in windy conditions. A small branch can be used at times, but make sure to jam it in the snow and tamp snow around it, to hold it securely in place. Simply laying a branch on the ground and assuming it will stay there very long isn’t going to work well. Again, the wind will work against you.

There is one good thing that wind does. It works wonders removing any sign you create at a location. Footprints can disappear or at least be weathered in a matter of minutes, and certainly in a few hours. Tire tracks will fill in fast too. That all helps when coyote trapping.

Coyotes can catch on fast to your trapping and snaring efforts, and keeping your sign down to a minimum counts. Avoid making too many tracks, and back tracking to get stuff you need. Take it all with you on the first trip to the set, and if you think that you might need a piece or two of additional blocking, try to gather it before you get to your spot.

Wind can be a huge factor, especially in the winter. Learning to deal with it has taken me a lifetime, and I still learn more every season.