Blocking Down Snares
The current drought across much of the west and even into the usually lush Dakota’s has affected a lot of things in nature. I mentioned in previous article that we were seeing less coyotes than normal that were bred and carrying pups, and also smaller litters in fewer dens. I saw things that I hadn’t seen in denning coyotes for 36 years and I could only attribute it to the lack of moisture over a long period of time. To sum it up, the prey base was less than normal, and Mother Nature was compensating for it.

I also saw it carryover into deer and antelope, with fewer fawns being born. Rain, and also the lack of it, affects the ground cover that grouse and other small game needs too, and I watched available cover shrink weekly in some areas.

Ranchers are feeling the pinch in the form of rising hay prices, and several have had to graze some pastures longer than normal.

All of this has a long-term effect on rural economies and families, and I hope things turn around soon.

For me, being a trapper and snare-man, it changed a few things too, like where predators hunted for food.

I’m still setting footholds in the same basic locations, where I find sign, and they still produce coyotes. In late winter, I noticed a little higher percentage being caught in remakes than in other years. I guess a fresh hole with bait and a grass plug, along with lots of coyote smells already intact is more attractive than normal this winter. The many little snow squalls and skiffs of fresh snow helped blend and age sets too. It all adds up in the long run.

In the predator control business, I’ve relied on snares as a valuable tool for many years. In the winter I go into areas that have been grazed by sheep, cattle, and horses during the summer, but are livestock free now. It’s during this time that we try to work some of the rougher country and pockets that are historic denning areas. The intention is to get ahead of the game and reduce coyote populations that will later move into the lambing and calving areas. In other words, preventative work.

Brushy draws, willow patches, ash thickets, draws with sage brush, and juniper pockets are all my focus in the winter. Coyotes and other predators will hunt these types of cover, and I make note of them all year when I’m in the field. Even small patches that are no bigger than an average house can produce a few animals when the weather turns bad. If it’s the only cover in that vicinity, you might be surprised how much interest it’ll get from predators looking for a quick meal. I’ve noticed that if there are many small pockets of cover in an area, you’ll see how predators hunt from one to the other as they definitely know where each one is.

Snaring these locations might only mean a few snares at each spot depending on how many natural and available gaps there are. I learned, years ago, to set every good gap or spot that would allow a snare loop to fill or guard it as multiple catches can be a reality in these places. There’s also been those times I’ve had predators work the cover a little differently than I predicted they would and miss the best spots.

Setting heavy is my intention and if, while checking later, I see sign that they’re missing my snares, I’ll add more. I might have six to 12 snares in a brush patch about the size of a small yard, but I’ve also found some places where I can only get two or three snares in. If there’s only a few natural tight spots to use, but there’s sign, it’s still a good spot to me and I will place snares in them.

One factor of less available ground cover that affects me directly is when I’m snaring. And, that’s where I am heading with this article.

Snaring, including cable restraints, is basically placing or hanging a cable where a target animal will travel or pass through. That’s the simple definition of it, but there’s so much more to it if you want to be successful. I’ll share some methods that I’ve used for successful snaring even in the marginal conditions that many of us are dealing with now.

First, cable size is a huge concern in light cover and/or grass conditions. I know that sounds very basic and generic since the trend to use smaller cable sizes has been around for a few decades, but I can’t stress it enough. Personally, I use a lot of 5/64-inch snares, but I also use 1/16-inch in lighter cover, if I have to, to compensate for refusals resulting from the predators seeing the snare. The 1/16-inch cable is only slightly smaller, but it’s way less visible than the larger cable and enough to be a factor.

Also, like a lot of people who snare, I lightly spray paint my snares with a flat camo type spray paint. I like dark gray, light tan, and even a little green sage. I use a combination of two or three colors to help blend them in with the huge variety of covers I snare in. I also have a few hundred snares that I spray painted flat white to use in long term snow conditions. Our constant snow/thaw/bare ground conditions don’t usually dictate that I use them often, though I do have some places that are out of the sun so the snow tends to hang on there most of the winter; I use some of the white snares in those spots. I’m just guessing, but I’d say they get used at a ratio of one white snare to three colored snares. There have been a times this winter that we had a chinook wind come through quickly and melt every bit of snow in 48 hours. After that, snares painted white really stand out, and no doubt get a lot of refusals, so they have to be changed out with a different color. If that sounds like a hassle and not worth the time, I can only say that it does pay off, usually. In these current conditions, with very sparse cover, I still see the value of mixing in a few white snares as it’s all about the end results for me.
Supporting a snare or cable restraint has always been a huge factor in effective and efficient snaring. First, having the snare hanging the correct height from the ground is crucial. Also, having it hanging independently, away from any other vegetation, is important to me. In windy conditions, any heavy cover will blow in the wind possibly causing the snare loop to fall down. For me, trying to use a wire that has been wrapped around or entwined through existing vegetation to support a snare has long since been a thing of the past.

I prefer to use a support made from ¼-inch cold rolled steel with 11 gauge or #9 wire welded to the top. This independent support is solely for positioning the snare loop in the right position and height, NOT for anchoring. I much prefer to anchor to the side of a trail or gap, and let the snared predator get away from it with the intent to save that precious spot from getting destroyed.

After I have the snare positioned in the center of the trail, and at the correct height (I prefer the bottom of the loop to be 10 inches or so from the ground), I decide if I have to add additional blocking to help guide the animals through the loop. I’ve had to modify my blocking methods a bit the last few seasons; with less existing brush and grass than I’ve ever experienced, I saw more refusals and animals ducking around snares than ever before.

In the past, in a lot of snaring spots, I could simply grab any grass or vegetation that grew naturally at the edges of a trail and fluff it up a bit to blend in the sides of the snare loop, as well as subtly guide them into it. But, with the current conditions, unless I imported it, I didn’t have much in the way of natural guiding to use. The trails and natural spots were worn out by grazing livestock in some of my favorite spots, but when I saw coyote tracks in any of those areas, I still tried to use them. The easiest way was to find light brush stems close by, and cut off some with my 9-inch lineman’s pliers. Some people use gardening shears or pruners, but good quality pliers will cut pretty heavy brush and grass stalks.

I use a snare support to make a pilot hole, or a punch made out of a 3/8 or ½-inch rod. I make this deep enough to put the brush in, and then tamp in the edges of the hole, wedging it solidly. I like to have them out from the snare, maybe 6 inches or so, but it varies. I use them to break up the outline of the snares’ sides. One thing that I should mention is that you should try to get them in the ground, even if there’s snow. I know it’s easy to simply jam some brush and sticks in the crusted snow, but when that snow melts, you’ll come back and find some of that blocking laying in the trail and in front of your snare, or possibly even on it. Take the extra time to put any and all blocking in place securely so it stays in place, even in strong wind. Snaring can be a long-term effort, and you want things in place correctly when the time comes to perform. Rocks can be used too if in a spot that they don’t look too out of place.

My buddy, Bill Ilchik, of Wild West Bobcats fame, rode along with me this last fall. Bill is a top Nevada cat trapper and was once a government coyote hand. His knowledge is unsurpassed, and we’ve had hundreds of great conversations over the years. We’ve talked about blocking for trapping and snaring several times over the years, and how the little things add up.

I’ve watched Bill, along with our friend Joel Blakeslee, do their exposed cat set demo a few times and I noticed how they utilized rocks, in addition to sticks and small logs, to block off their sets. I’ve never been much for moving anything that’s naturally at a spot because of the spooky coyotes I deal with. Too many times over the years, I’ve noticed where coyote tracks showed that they avoided snares where I’d changed things around too much. But Bill showed me his simple method of using two rocks for blocking, and it was easy to do, if the rocks were close by. He simply put two rocks, baseball to grapefruit size, on each edge of the loop, directly under it. He leaves a gap of maybe 4 inches or so, to guide them right through the loop.

I tried his method throughout this past winter, and used sharp rocks laid on side, to keep them from stepping on them, as well as round rocks. Both types worked. I still used other blocking methods, but there’s no doubt that the rocks helped at times. When we got some snow, they sometimes got buried for a few days, but being dark they were some of the first places to melt creating a visually effective blocking.

I’m always planning ahead, and I know that I’ll be placing some rocks in key places this summer. They’ll always be right there or at least very close by if the cows move them around a bit through the summer. By then, the coyotes will be used to a rock out in the middle of a pasture nestled next to a sparse sage brush, or at least that’s my intention.

And that brings up my last point. During the summer, if I’m in an area where I intend to set snares in the winter, and if I get a chance, I’ll take the time to look over some prospective locations and place a few large branches or limbs next to a trail to help naturally narrow it down. These will initially look out of place, but by winter they look natural. All of this type of work pays off in the long run for me.

If you happen to live or snare in an area that is marginal for good snaring, I hope I’ve got you thinking about ways to improve your success. Snares are a very effective tool in the right spots. Think ahead.