Back in March 2020, I attended Mark June’s Predator Trapping Academy (pictured above) in Kansas. One of the key aspects that students worked on throughout the week was their ability to quickly make sets. “Try to shave your set-making time in half, and then half again,” June said. “Seconds make a difference. Seconds add up into minutes and hours. If you make 60 sets a day and shave one minute off of each set, what would you do with that extra 60 minutes at the end of the day?”
I know what I would do. Another 60 minutes would be enough to set up more locations, which would mean more opportunities to catch more fur. Or perhaps I’d use that hour to get caught up in the fur shed, or spend time with the family, or complete any number of tasks so that I could spend more quality time in the field without worrying about other chores that needed done around home.
“Make sets faster” isn’t the kind of advice we expect to get when we ask a professional trapper how we can up our catch. It’s also the type of advice we’re apt to ignore because it feels like the people we’re asking just doesn’t want to give up their real secrets. That’s usually not the case, though. There are no huge secrets, and there’s no special magic behind being a top trapper. Rather, their success is a result of a series of little things that add up into big things.
(Photo: Streamline your equipment for maximum efficiency on the trapline. No gimmicks, no gadgets, just a few basic tools to get the job done.)
1. Streamline Your Equipment
One of those little things involves trap choice. Traps are like vehicles. They all work, but each trapper has their personal preference, and trying to argue with them about which brand is better is as fruitless as arguing the merits of Chevy versus Ford.
If you talk to Mark June, he’ll tell you that the MB-550 is the best coyote trap. He has used it all over the country with great success. But if you ask Mark Zagger which is best, he’ll tell you it’s the Jake Trap, which he has also used successfully everywhere he has trapped. Both guys are very knowledgeable and respected in the trapping community, and both put up great numbers every year. So who’s right?
They both are. If you ask June or Zagger, each of them will tell you that they have supreme confidence in the equipment they’re using, and they’ve used these traps for so long that they know exactly how the traps will function in any given situation.
More than that, though, once you get used to working with one particular trap, you start to develop what Mark June calls “muscle memory.” In other words, when you go to make a set with that trap, you don’t even have to think about how big to dig the bed, how to position the trap, or how to stabilize it. Through the process of repetition, your body naturally knows what to do – and does it. It seems like such a simple thing, but this alone can be a huge time saver. Bouncing back and forth between various types of traps disrupts the flow of motion. All of sudden you have stop and think about how best to dig the bed for that particular brand or model and valuable seconds are lost.
This also applies to more than just canine trapping. In his book Mega Lining Mink and Coon Trapping, Gerald Schmitt writes, “For all around raccoon and mink trapping, I have always preferred the #1 ½ Duke coilspring traps, laminated.” In his book Coon Trapping: The Untold Story, Red O’Hearn says, “My favorite brand of traps in my outfit is the old Northwoods #1 ½. Since they are no longer manufactured, the new traps I purchase are going to be Bridger #1.65.” Each trapper names a specific brand and size because that’s what they’re used to using. They know exactly what they need to do to bed the trap quickly and efficiently as well as any little nuances that might seem irrelevant but all contribute in some way.
If you were to further examine the equipment of any of these trappers, as well as most of the top trappers in the country, you’d also find that they’re overall system is pretty uniform and suited to where they trap and the species they pursue. Every trap is adjusted the same way. Every trap has the same length of chain on the end and contains the same number of swivels. Every trap is anchored the same way at the set.
Individually, these are all minor details, but collectively they create a system. Or, as Zagger once told me, “When I kneel down to make a set, every set is identical because I’m going to put that Jake Trap in there every time. It speeds things up and makes me a more efficient trapper. It might add only five coyotes to my total at the end of the year, but that’s five I wouldn’t have had.”
(Photo: Mark June, left, and Rocky Cade with a nice coyote Cade caught at June's Predator Trapping Academy. Quality equipment and a refined system are just two ways to increase your catch.)
2. Invest in Quality
When gearing up for the trapline, or perhaps when beginning a career in predator control, it’s easy to take the cheap way out. But as professional trapper Red O’Hearn once said, “Poor equipment will lose you money. Good equipment will make you money.” Of course, that goes for more than just traps.
Years ago, I purchased a cheap metal dirt sifter to use on the trapline. It needed replaced after just one season. Unfortunately, I replaced it with another cheap sifter that again only lasted one season. Finally, I “splurged” on a $20 sifter that was put together like a tank. Sure, it cost as much as both cheap sifters combined, but that was 10 years ago and I’m still using it.
I have similar stories for almost all of the equipment I use, from my trowel to my traps. In some cases, I just couldn’t afford anything better. And that’s fine. If you’re finally strapped, you can only do what you can do. But regardless of how much or how little money you have, always buy the best quality equipment that you can afford. The quality of your trowel or sifter might seem like such a minute detail, but again, it’s one of those little things that can potentially have a huge impact.
Using the sifter as example, consider this situation. While setting up my line one day, my sifter broke. I trap a lot of rocky terrain, and this was before I started using waxed dirt or buckwheat hulls, and I used the dirt that was on-site to cover my traps. Once the sifter broke, it took much longer to cover traps and pick out any stones or twigs that might interfere with the jaws closing. Fox and coon were bringing good money that year, so not only was I losing time, I was literally losing money.
In his DVD Cat Collector, Clint Locklear demonstrates the reason why he prefers a certain brand of drag at the end of his trap chains, even though they cost twice as much as the cheaper versions on the market. In the example, it comes down to being able to quickly find your catch. Time spent looking for an animal in the brush is time wasted and money lost. You may save money upfront during the time of purchase, but it ends up costing you money on the back end.
I also learned this in regards to trap modifications. When I decided one season that I was going to focus hard on raccoons, I splurged on jaw laminations and invested the time to fully modify my #1 ½ coilsprings to make them the best they could be. As a result, every trap check I picked up a raccoon that I knew I would’ve lost had the jaws not been laminated or other modifications made. By season’s end, I’d estimate that my catch had increased by almost 10%. Essentially, I made 10% more money for the same amount of work I was already doing anyway. The overall cost of trap modifications is a minimal investment that can pay dividends for many years, and it’s just one of those little things that good trappers do to improve their catch.
3. Scent Control
Scent control is another small detail that many trappers overlook, and I’m not referring to human scent. In this case, I’m talking about lures and baits and how they can contaminate equipment and set locations.
I used to have a bad habit of rolling up to a location, grabbing the traps I needed from a plastic tote and throwing them into my packbasket. I didn’t put on gloves until it came time to make a set. My trapping partner saw me do this and said, “Do you worry about scent on your trap?” My initial response was no, I didn’t think human odor on a trap was that big of a deal – and I still don’t. Of all the things that trappers fret over, human odor on a trap should be pretty low on the totem pole.
After the season ended, I reflected on the question of scent more thoroughly, and resolved to use gloves in the future when handling traps. I also started using a separate pair of gloves for luring and baiting sets than I used for actually making the set. It made a difference. I had fewer dug out or sprung traps than previous years, which I’d always attributed to probably not bedding those traps solidly enough. Looking back, think human odor was the main factor. Any smell of lure and bait on my hands transferred to the trap, and the animal’s attention was drawn there instead of where I wanted it to be, on the hole or backing.
This point was driven home again at June's Predator Trapping Academy when I noticed that every student carried their lures and baits in a separate container from their traps. Some used a small plastic pail, some used a metal tray, and one guy even used a gallon-sized milk jug with an opening cut in it for his scents yet he could still carry it with the handle (pictured here).
If you talk to Mark June at conventions, attend his demos, or watch his videos, he often talks about the skills required to be a “one percenter,” which is a trapper who is at the top of his game and can catch coyotes anywhere in the country.
Considering that most of the students at the Academy were attending for their second or third consecutive year, I don’t think it’s coincidence that they all had a simple method for keeping their lures and baits contained. In fact, I believe there was an even an incident where a coyote had dug at a spot next a student’s trap, but never actually worked the set. The student said that was where he’d set the lure and bait bottles on the ground.
In regards to human odor, I’ve also noticed that most professional trappers utilize some sort of kneeling pad, strap-on knee pads, or have some other method of minimizing their scent at a set. This also goes back to Mark June’s initial advice to reduce the time spent making sets. Less time at the set equals less human scent at the set. When you combine that with a kneeling pad, using a container for lures and baits, and using a separate pair of gloves when handling scents, you’ll find that you’re making a very clean set that a coyote will work the way you want it to. Over the course of a season, this might add another five coyotes or foxes or bobcats to your tally, but again, that’s five more you wouldn’t have had.
4. Take Notes
Perhaps the most underrated little thing that most professional trappers do is take notes. They keep track of everything – the sets they made and where they made them, lure and bait combinations, wind direction, animal activity, and anything else that might help them be more successful. Especially during the learning process, taking notes is the best way to figure out what’s working and what is not.
Becoming a great trapper is a process that requires continual trial and error, accumulating knowledge and experience so that you have a solid foundation of skills to rely on. There’s no magic pill that will turn you into a top trapper in one night or even over the course of a single season, and there’s no one thing that’s going to help you achieve that goal.
Every new thing you learn, every improvement you make, might add a percentage point to the overall outcome. Ask any professional trapper and they’ll tell you the same. Success is a result of doing many little things right, and over time, those percentage points add up on the trapline.