How do I start trapping coyotes?
Well lucky for you, that is the entire purpose of this site. So many times I run into people who say "I've always wanted to try trapping" or "you'll have to show me how to do that someday." But we are all busy people, with plenty of things to do. And honestly, trapping does require dedication and hard work.
If you've found this site, its probably a safe bet that you possess those two qualities. While it is hard work, trapping is very rewarding, and because there are so few trappers out there, once you start trapping you are instantly part of a brotherhood that dates back hundreds of years.
Trapping is very rewarding. Not only is it taking an active part in wildlife conservation, in my opinion trappers are the ultimate outdoorsmen (and women). As a trapper you match wits with animals, on their turf. You've got to read and interpret sign, think like a coyote, and suggest his next move to him. Enough of that, where do you start when you want to get into trapping?
All of the information provided here is a general overview. If you want more specific questions answered and video tutorials then you should check out my Coyote Trapping School online training program, the first and only online trapping instruction course that is more comparable to personal trapline instruction. You'll learn exactly what equipment you need and exactly how to use that equipment to trap coyotes. Click the button below, and keep in mind, if you aren't satisfied with the level of training, I offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee or your money back!
First off, it would be good to browse through some trapping supply magazines or websites. Minnesota Trapline Products is a great place to look. They are really good to deal with and very helpful. And if you can get in touch with someone from your state trapping association they can really get you off on the right foot and give you a head start with regard to your specific area.
Just a warning, there are a TON of different trapping supplies out there, some worth having, and some not. Don't stress over the huge variety. There are a few items that are necessary to get started trapping, there's more to it than getting a handful of traps and catching game. You do, of course, need traps, but you need the right size, and type. You want to be looking at foothold traps, you aren't likely to catch a coyote in a body grip (conibear) trap. You want a trap with a 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 inch jaw spread. My personal favorite is the MB 550 made by Minnesota Trapline Products but there are plenty of other traps that will catch coyotes. In terms of trap size, you want a minimum 1 3/4 size trap, a # 2 or #3 will work as well. This is an area that you need to check your state trapping regulations. Some states have a maximum trap size that can be set on land, or some states require the use of rubber jaw traps. This is where knowing someone that traps in your state is a big help, you can check out the Resources page for links to your state trapping associations (which by the way are important to join not only to support trapping but also to network and meet and learn from other trappers).
Another great thing to do before making such a big investment is to read everything you can about trapping. Magazines such as Trapper and Predator Caller and Fur Fish Game can give you good insights into trapping. There are also some good forums online that can provide a plethora of information to a beginning trapper, one of my favorites is Trapperman.com. You can look through the archives, buy used equipment, view tips and stories from the "Good Old Days of Trapping", as well ask browse the forum ("Trapper Talk") and seek answers to any questions you may have.
The next important item is stakes, you've got to secure the animal once it steps into the trap. There are several options for this, principally either rebar or earth anchors. Rebar is just like it sounds, a length of rebar with a nut welded on the end that you pound into the ground. Its effective, but I think earth anchors are a better method. Earth anchors consist of either a length of chain or cable with some type of pivoting anchor on the end. The anchor goes in the ground at a 90 degree angle, so it goes in relatively easy to the desired depth. Then the cable or chain is pulled on to "set" the anchor. The anchor then pivots to be parallel with the ground surface, meaning it has more surface area that is being pulled up so it "locks" in the ground and is very difficult to pull up. I like these types of anchors because they are much lighter and easier to carry than rebar, they can be attached to the trap ahead of time and thus treated with the traps, and generally they hold better than rebar.
Next you need to treat your traps somehow. This means either dying or dipping them, but first you need to get any grease or dirt off of the traps. The easiest way to do this is using a pressure washer. If you don't own one just take your traps to the local car wash, lay them out on the pad and pressure wash them there. Alternatively you could simmer them in a big pot of soapy(Dawn) water. Some old articles may talk about boiling them in lye, that is way more trouble than it is worth and could cause you issues trying to dispose of the lye water.
Once they are clean you want to get a slight coat of rust on the traps. I know that sounds ridiculous but it will help the dye stick to the traps alot better if there is a light coat of rust. Then you can dip your traps into a simmering pot of logwood dye or use one of the dip mixes to treat your traps. You are accomplishing two things with the dying process. First, you are protecting your traps from the elements. You are getting ready to bury your traps and leave them in the dirt for weeks at a time in terrible weather conditions hoping that an animal gets caught in it. Not the best environment, especially for metal. Second, you are ensuring that your traps are scent free. Scent contamination can cause animals to dig your traps up, or avoid them altogether. Neither of which sounds like a good option. You want to be extremely careful about not exposing your treated traps to foreign odors. Coyotes noses are ten thousand times more sensitive than ours, so it wouldn't take much for them to realize there is something funny buried in the ground.
While we're talking about scent control, there are steps you can take to minimize scent contamination of your set and equipment as well. Rubber boots are a great way to minimize your scent in the woods, just make sure you aren't wearing them at the gas station to fill your truck up. You will also want some sort of barrier for when you are making your sets, this can be a kneeling pad, knee pads, or a pair of hip boots that you keep pulled up while you are trapping. Lastly, you'll need some sort of gloves. I like to use the rubber palmed gloves with the knit backs. The rubber palms give you a good scent barrier and can easily eliminate contamination that gets on the glove, the knit back lets your hands breathe, so on a warm day your hands aren't sweating inside your gloves. You can also use full rubber gloves, although they may get hot, or even leather gloves, but with leather gloves you will have to really watch for contamination, that leather will soak up and hold scents.
Another area to check your state trapping regulations is with trap tags. Most states have laws requiring traps be tagged in some way to identify the owner of the trap. A common method for this is copper trap tags that have your trapping license or address stamped into. If required you should attach your tags to your traps before you dye them.
For tools you will need a small sledge hammer for driving stakes into the ground, a trowel for digging trap beds and dirtholes, a sifter to cover your trap with dirt and blend it in once it has been set, and something to carry all of this is, for now a 5 gallon bucket should work fine. You want to use the sifter for covering your trap with dirt because if a rock or stick were to get caught between the jaws it could allow for the trapped animal to escape since the trap didn't fire properly or close all the way. Along with that you will also need some type of pan cover to go over or under the trap pan. This will ensure that nothing accumulates under the pan that could cause the trap not to fire because the pan wouldn't depress. A variety of items can be used as pan covers, anything from coffee filters, cut up trash bags, screen wire, pillow stuffing (poly fil), as well as purchased pan covers that are fiberglass or wire. The important thing to remember is that these need to be kept scent free as well, and things like coffee filters or poly fil can quickly and easily absorb foreign odors and get contaminated.
Those are the basic tools you need to get started catching coyotes, beyond that you simply need some bait/lure/urine to attract game to your set. And your best bet for those items it to purchase them from a trapping supply dealer. Don't get hung up on the hundreds of different baits and lures. All of those commercially made scents are good scents and will catch game. Pick a couple and go with them. If you know someone who traps in your area ask them what they use. Some scents will work better than others, this is where note taking comes into play. I highly recommend keeping notes on your sets. They don't have to be extremely detailed, but keeping track of your locations, the type of set you use, the scents you use, and your catches. At the end of the season you can look over your notes and determine which scents worked better than others, then maybe you try a new scent next year for further comparison.
One thing I cannot stress enough is that as a trapper you have to be a constant learner. Not only learning from people, but also the animals you are pursuing. Paying attention to how coyotes react to your sets can show you what you are doing right and wrong. Watch their tracks, watch how they move through the woods. If you are hunting, watching a coyote that doesn't know you are around can help give you an idea of how they move, what they are curious about, and what makes them cautious. I know its hard to not shoot a coyote when you see one but I would rather trap one than shoot it, so sometimes if I know I'll be trapping that property later on I'll just observe and think of how rewarding it is going to be to see that coyote in my trap in a few months.
So far as sets go, I'd stick with the two basic sets - dirthole and flat set. There are many variations of these two sets but these are the foundation for most all other sets.
The dirthole is without a doubt the most effective set, likely responsible for more trapped fur than all other sets combined. The premise is simple, you have a hole, can be big or small, with scent down the hole as an attractant, and a trap place in front of the hole. The hole may resemble a mouse hole, or where another animal has stashed something. The hole itself, and the exposed soil, is an instant attractor. You want your hole to be 10-12 inches deep at a fairly steep angle. This makes it harder for an animal to get the bait out of the hole and with the steep angle the coyote has to get right up on top of the set to be able to see down in the hole.
You need something behind the hole to act as a backing- this prevents an animal from approaching and working the set from behind. And your trap goes 10-12 inches in front of the hole, with that distance being from the center of the hole to the center of the pan. This actually puts the trap fairly close to the dirthole, but will work for catching all furbearers.
After you dig your dirthole you have to dig your trap bed. Dig it deeper than you think it needs to be, as they tend to fill up faster than expected. And it helps to dig it as small as you can, just large enough that the trap fits in the hole. This helps when you are bedding your trap. Put all the dirt you dig up in your sifter, as you will need it to cover your trap. Then drive your stake in the ground, before you do that I like to set my trap (it's usually easier to set before it is staked). You want the pan of your trap to be as level as possible, and also as close to firing as possible. If your traps have night latches (like the MB 550) that makes life easier, if not you just have to eye ball it.
When you are adjusting your pan be sure to do so from under the loose jaw, this way if the trap fires it doesn't catch your fingers. Now place your trap in the bed and put your pan cover in place. You want your trap to be rock solid in that bed, you don't want the trap to move or wiggle because if it does when an animal doesn't step right on the pan it will cause the animal to realize something isn't right there and the coyote will leave or dig the trap up, neither of which is a good option. Now start sifting dirt over your trap, you want a good covering of dirt but not too much, around a half inch should be good. Check again to make sure your trap is firm, sometimes it is easier to get it solid when you have the extra dirt in the bed.
I like my traps to be set in a slight depression, that is one reason I dig my bed extra deep. I also want my pan to be the lowest area in the dirt pattern. So as I'm sifting dirt I will sweep it off of the pan a few times to make sure that is the lowest point. This helps direct the coyotes foot onto the pan, right where it needs to be.
I don't blend my dirthole sets, meaning once is sift dirt over the trap I like to leave that dirt pattern readily visible. If you prefer you can use grass and leaves to blend the set in so that all that stands out is the hole itself, and I would encourage you to try that during your experimenting. But for myself I usually leave that exposed because I think it creates more eye appeal. Next I put a small spoonful of bait down the hole, a dab of lure on the lip of the hole, and where legal I like to use either feathers or sheeps wool in the hole. This adds extra eye appeal and scent, as well as blocking the hole so the coyote can't see what is in it. Lastly I'll brush my tracks away and get my skinning knife ready! Keep in mind I'm wearing my rubber boots and knee pads as well as my setting gloves to minimize the amount of scent I'm leaving at the set.
There's no doubt that we are still leaving scent at the set, and the coyotes know we've been there, but the less scent we leave the less cautious they will be, hopefully anyway. While we are talking about scent I'll tell you I have the most success several days after I set. You will catch coyotes the night you set your traps, but I'm a firm believer that your catches go up as your scent decreases, and because of that you don't want to be messing with your sets every day. Ride by and check for catches, if you don't have a catch keep on riding. That lure lasts a long time, you don't need to touch it up every other day. In fact, I catch alot of game after a rain, days after a rain even, when you would think surely your lure has been washed away. It won't, so leave your sets along and you will catch more game.
The flat set is the shy, unassuming brother of the dirthole. Also know as a scent post set, the flat set is more low profile. It usually lacks the eye appeal of a dirthole, instead relying on scent alone to attract the coyote. The flat set really consists of just the backing and the trap bed. For backing you could use anything from a clump of grass, rock, sapling, log, skull, turtle shell, just about anything. If you do use something like a skull or shell you want to be sure that the animal still has to approach across the trap, otherwise you may wind up with a disappeared backing because they coyote came in from the opposite side and carried it away (it will happen believe me). Because this set is made to imitate where a coyote has marked his territory I like to only use urine and gland lure. I'll squirt urine, doesn't have to be coyote, red fox or bobcat works really well, 8-10 inches up the backing, approximately where a coyote would urinate naturally. Then place a small amount, Q tip size, of gland lure at the base of the backing.
If you're targeting only coyotes, then you can use coyote gland lure, but if you want to catch predators in general, then go with bobcat or red fox. Coyote scent may deter foxes and bobcats from approaching these sets, as coyotes prey on them. That's a general rule, you will still catch other game using coyote scent but your odds will improve if you use fox or cat scent.
I still like my trap to be in a slight depression, so I set my trap just like I would for a dirthole. The only difference being sometimes I will blend my flat sets in using grass or ground duff. One of the great things about the flat set is that sometimes it will catch an animal that shies away from a dirthole, so blending it in makes it look even less assuming. Just be sure you still use your sifter if you can to blend your set in, you don't want any big leaves getting into the pattern that could get caught in the trap and cause the animal's foot to slip out.
The pairing of a loud, highly visible dirthole, with a quiet, sneaky flat set gives you great odds at a location, just don't let yourself get pigeon holed, get creative and mix it up. You never know what might work.
Once you do make a catch, proper dispatching is important. The most effective means of dispatching coyotes, or any trapped animal, is a shot to the brain from a small caliber firearm, .22 is ideal. If anyone is concerned about this method, a gunshot to the head is actually an approved, humane method of euthanasia by the American Veterinary Medical Association, click here to see the report. To achieve a proper shot to the brain a good rule of thumb is to draw a mental X between the eyes and ears, with the center of the X marking the brain.
Once the animal is dispatched you want to get it away from the trap and set as quickly as possible. Blood will contaminate the area. Scrape out any blood that is on the ground near the set and you will need to reset the trap and remake the set. These remade sets are fantastic locations because there is already alot of scent there, which is naturally going to draw other animals to the area to investigate. These remakes are where you can really get creative because there isn't going to be much left at the set, you will have what we call a "catch circle." Its a bare circle of dirt that the trapped animal was able to reach. Keep this in mind and don't step into this catch circle before you dispatch your catch.
Now, you may ask since we are talking about trapping coyotes why do I keep saying the "catch" or "game." I say this because no matter what, you aren't going to catch just the animal you are after. Pretty much all furbearers are attracted to these sets, so you stand a good chance of trapping a coyote, but also a raccoon, bobcat, fox, possum, skunk (yes skunk), badger (if they are where you live), and probably something else that I left out. Thats part of the fun of trapping, you really never know what you are going to catch.
So you've caught your coyote, now what. Well, if you want the fur you've got to keep in mind that once the animal is dead the clock is ticking, and you want to get that coyote skinned as quickly as possible. Now if you aren't able to skin it for a few hours thats okay, but you don't want to leave it out for 2 days before you skin it, the fur will be no good. Not to mention the fact that coyotes are pretty tough to skin, so if you can skin it while it is still warm it will make your life much easier.
You've probably got everything you need to skin your catch, except maybe a box of rubber gloves. Furbearers can carry a variety of blood borne diseases and those rubber gloves are cheap insurance for protecting you. They also make cleanup a much easier process, as you simply pull them off and you are pretty clean.
Any knife will do, but you will be putting it to alot of work. If you want to get a knife devoted to skinning I recommend a Chicago knife. They are cheaply priced, but a really good knife that holds an edge and stands up well for skinning. Its also a good idea to keep a knife sharpener handy. Something like this Diamond Knife Sharpener is a good choice if you don't have a sharpener already. Its quick and easy to use and puts a good edge on your blade. Other than a knife and gloves a tail stripper would be handy. You can purchase a tail stripper or you can simply use a pair of slip joint pliers to accomplish the same thing. Just remember you need to split the tail all the way to the end or it will rot.
The quick and dirty description for skinning a coyote, or most all furbearers, is to hang it up by its hind legs. You'll want to ring around both legs with your knife just above the knee. Then make a cut along the back of the leg, around the anus, and up the other leg. You will also need to cut at least partially down the tail, until you can strip the bone out of the tail, then be sure to finish splitting the tail or else it will rot. If you cut 5-6 inches down the tail, then proceed to peel the skin away from the tail itself. Once you get that complete you can place your tail stripper, or pliers, around the tail and pull down on the stripper while pulling up on the tail bone. The skin should slide right off of the tail with some pressure, just be careful, it is easy to break the tail while doing this. That isn't a huge deal, but it does affect the look of your skin once it is done if it is missing half the tail.
While you are still cutting you can ring around the front legs just below the knee. Now start pulling on the hide from the hind legs. This is called "case skinning" and basically what you want to do is take the hide off of the animal in a tube, with the only opening being at the tail where the hind legs were. When you are finished the hide will be inside out, similar to taking a sock off of your foot.
Depending on how long ago you dispatched the coyote will determine how tough the skinning process will be. Continue to pull on the hide, only using the knife when absolutely necessary. More knife work means more likelihood of cutting the hide. Use your knife sparingly until you get down to the neck. As you are peeling the hide down the neck try to locate the ears, you will need to slice through the ear cartilage to separate it from the skull. You want to cut the ear as close to the base of the skull as possible so you do not have an extra large ear hole visible. For the head you will have to use your knife steadily. Make sure you keep your knife at a 90 degree angle to the skull, this should minimize the risk of cutting the hide. Use caution around the eyes as well, or you may "big eye" the hide. Once you get past the eyes you should be able to locate the mouth, if you can cut through to expose the mouth opening this will give you a good hand hold to pull on the hide with. Just continue to work the hide down slowly. For the fur market it is not necessary to retain the lower lip/jaw on the hide so you can cut that off as soon as you can get it loose. Then your last obstacle is working down to the nose and cutting the nose cartilage to free the hide from the carcass. It will probably take you a while on your first one, but you'll get the hang of it pretty quick and speed up.
Now that you've got the hide off your next step depends on what you are going to do with it. You've got several options, first off are you planning to sell the hide or tan it?
If you are planning on selling your hides there are several options, there are local or "country" fur buyers in some areas, what I'll call regional fur buyers, some state trapping associations host fur auctions, and there are big auction houses. The local buyers, and some of the regional buyers, will buy fur "green" or even "in the round." Green is fur that has been skinned and frozen, not fleshed. "In the round" is buying the whole animal, fur/carcass and all. You can check with your state natural resources department to get names of local buyers. You can find regional buyers advertising in magazines like Trapper and Predator Caller and American Trapper. You an also find the big auction houses advertising in these magazines. For more specifics you can also check on my Resources page.
Selling your furs green or on the carcass will not bring you top dollar, because whoever buys them will have to put the work into them to get them wholesaleable. The benefit to selling this way, or in general dealing with local buyers, is that you can get paid for your furs immediately. That is the biggest drawback to selling to the auction houses. You will have to wait until one of their scheduled auctions to get paid, and there is a chance your furs may not sell and be held over until the next auction, all depending on the fur market.
The advantage to selling through the auction houses is that you will get top dollar. Buyers from all over the world attend these auctions, and the fur is sold in lots directly to people who are going to process the fur and make it into a finished product. But to be able to ship your furs to the auction house they have to be stretched and dried, which does require more work.
To finish your furs you will need a fleshing knife, fleshing beam, and fur stretchers. Once the pelt is off of the animal, you will put it on the fleshing beam fur side in and use the fleshing knife to get any fat, meat, and gristle off of the pelt. You also want to make sure the fur doesn't have any blood matted in the fur, and before fleshing you want to make sure there aren't any cockleburs in the fur, as this can cause holes to be cut in the pelt when you are fleshing. To accomplish both of these tasks I like to "wash" my pelts in a bucket of cold water and a small amount of detergent, like Woolite. All I mean by washing is simply submerge it in the water and swirl it around a few times. If I know there is a particular blood spot that is tough I will work it heavier to try to remove it. You want the fur to be as clean and nice as possible, this will help your furs to bring the most money. When I remove the pelt from the water I will pop it several times holding the head tight to get as much water out as possible, and hang to drip dry a few minutes before I start fleshing. If you wash them before you start fleshing, the fleshing will help to squeeze any excess water out of the pelt.
Use caution when fleshing around the chest and arm pits especially as the skin there is thin and can rip or be cut easily. Once you have all of the excess fat and flesh off of the hide you need to stretch it. This is done by putting the pelt on an appropriate sized fur stretcher and stretching and securing the pelt tightly. Typically the larger a hide the more money it will bring, but don't let this cause you to over stretch a pelt just to get extra length. You want the fur to be thick, at least as thick as it is on the animal.
Coyotes, bobcats, and foxes are sold fur out. But to get a properly dried pelt you need to first put them on a stretcher fur side in. This is tricky because you don't want to leave them on the stretcher like this too long or the pelt will be tough to turn fur side out. In many cases 12-24 hours is all the time that is needed for the pelt to begin drying enough so that you can turn it fur out. If you don't turn it flesh out to start with the hide may not dry properly and could begin to rot. It always helps to dry your furs in an area with low humidity and steady circulation. So having a fan in the room would be a plus, you just don't want it blowing directly onto the furs.
A few days on the stretcher fur side out and your pelt is ready to be sold. The hide is semi preserved like this. It will keep for some time if you keep bugs and moisture away from it. But the hide is not actually tanned, so you wouldn't want to go make something out of a dried pelt.
For shipping these pelts to the auction houses there are regional representatives that you can get your hides to that will handle getting them to the auctions. Many times these reps will be at conventions too, and this can help you save some on shipping, and make it easier on yourself since its not easy to find a box to ship a bunch of furs in.
If you are looking to have a few hides tanned, stretching them is a good step also. Some of the better known tanneries prefer them this way since you don't have to worry about keeping the hides frozen. But if you're not prepared to flesh and dry your furs just yet they will provide fleshing services along with the tanning services, just make sure you ship during the winter months and ship priority to make sure you don't wind up with your furs thawing out in some warehouse awaiting shipment.
This is a pretty lengthy page, but I think I've covered just about everything to give you a good idea of what you need to know to get started trapping. Of course I do offer an online training course that walks you through each step specifically, including exactly what equipment you need and detailed video of sets and catches. For more on Coyote Trapping School click the button below.