Lesson Learned on the 2016-2017 Pennsylvania Trapline


End of the line, 2016-2017


Every weekday morning, the alarm would chime at 4:30 am.  For most other circumstances I would be inclined to roll over and aimlessly smack at the snooze button. But during the weeks that I ran my trapline, the alarm-clock’s usually annoying chimes, were very much welcomed.  Some days, I found myself up before the alarm sounded (I think my wife really appreciated those days).  On the weekends, I had time to sleep in, at least until daylight.  There were a few weekends where I was joined by a helper, sometimes two or three.  I was more than happy to have the family along (including my two Labs). My daughter, Natalie, who was four at the time, was my favorite helper.  Although she was not able to be with me during the days that I caught coyotes and foxes, she did get excited to see them when I returned home.  Her excitement, when I showed her a short video or a picture of the animal, was a welcomed sight.  Her sad sigh, on the days that I returned without a catch, were humorous.

I am not sure whether I found success or success found me during the 2016-17 trapping season. Either way, for the first few weeks, I was presented most mornings with tight chains. Some of the days, I was lucky enough to have multiple traps full.  Fur was plentiful at the beginning of the season.  I was greeted with a coyote filling a #3 Montana Special on the first night!  Although, I did catch some grief from a fellow trapper on this catch.  He stated, “Rear paw catches don’t count.”  Nonetheless, that dog was the beginning to the most successful season I have ever had. 

So, what brought the success?  Well, that is a damn good question.  A question that cannot be addressed by a single or simple answer.  I feel as though it may be from a combination of techniques that I had read about and practiced, and by taking extra time scouting and studying the layout of properties.  So, here it goes. I’ll go into more detail on some of the things that helped me catch more fur.

My favorite helper with the day's catch

My first coyote of the season.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Scouting: The pregame to the season started with a few phone calls to landowners,  multiple hours looking at maps for potential pinch points or travel corridors, and multiple evenings spent scouting for sign. I obtained permission to trap a few new properties prior to the opening of the season.  These new properties helped launch me into a successful season.  
  2. Solid Trap Beds:  During the season prior, I found myself having traps uncovered or fired-off.  In the off-season, I read a few books and articles on the subject, and it seemed like a commonality for getting busted was improper trap bedding.  After reading these articles, I took my traps and practiced.  It wasn’t long before I found a system that worked well for me. 
  3. Location is Key:  It doesn’t matter if you have a trap bedded perfectly solid and hidden so well that even you have a hard time seeing it; you could be using the finest bait or lure and you still might not make a catch. Simply stated, if you don’t get in front of the animal, you won’t catch it!  This is where the studying of online maps and preseason scouting comes into play.  I took the time to research an area and come up with an idea for natural travel corridors and pinch points that would force the animal to come close to my sets.  After the research was finished on the computer, it then started in the field.  The online maps are useful tools, but the real proof is finding the animal tracks or scat.  Finding the hard evidence is the best way to plan on where to put your sets.  
  4. Wind direction: This is a detail I did not pay attention to last trapping season.  Looking back, it was a rookie mistake.  Wind direction plays an important part in getting the scent of your bait or lure to the animal’s nose.  In prior seasons, I would find tracks within feet from my set and the animal had apparently paid no attention to it.  This year, I did a test. I had a beautiful pinch point at the end of a field.  The pinch point was a land bridge.  Just before the bridge, I pounded 2 identical dirt hole sets.  The upwind set hit the first 5 nights in row!  Catching coons, opossums, foxes, and coyotes.  It took 7 days before the downwind set hit.  The catch ratio was much higher on the upwind set.  Wild animals have a very powerful sense of smell.  They depend and trust their nose much more than a human could dream of.  

Probably my biggest yote of the season

A nice red fox from the season

Closing Remarks:

If you were to walk into a room full of trappers and ask, “what bait or lure is the best?"  you might find yourself in middle of a hornet’s nest.  Or, you might end up with a novel-sized book of what each trapper uses as their “go to” attractants.  In my opinion, before you worry about bait and lure, get the trap solid in the bed, get in front of the animal, and use the wind to your advantage.  Those steps are much more important than bait or lure.  I have used a few different manufactured baits from local and distant bait makers.  I have used deer heart, liver, and I also beef liver.  All of these baits have brought animals into my sets.  As for glands and lures, I have harvested my own glands and have used commercial ones.  Here again, I was able to persuade animals into my sets using either one. Also, I commonly used a combination of bait, lure, and a gland at a single set.  Darin Freeborough, who was a very successful PA trapper, once told me, “With the right set, at the right location, you could throw an old chewed-up piece of bubble gum into a dirt hole and have success.”  Although I may not agree with the entire statement, I do see truth in the majority of it.

So there you have it.  The Reader’s Digest version of some of the techniques that I used during my most successful trapping season so far…Until next year.