Trappers are taught that eye appeal is everything. Yes, eye appeal at a set can grab the attention of a coyote, but it can also have the reverse effect, especially in areas that receive a lot of hunting or trapping pressure. Your catch may be good to start the season, but once coyotes start associating a big hole or a dirt pattern with danger, you’ll soon wonder where all those coyotes went off to. Truth is, they’re still there; they’re just avoiding your sets. That’s when it’s time to get sneaky and start blending your traps.
Blending sets is a simple process that makes your sets seemingly disappear to everything but the coyotes. These are natural-looking sets that will catch coyotes all season long.
Choosing a Backing
Blending traps all begins with the type of backing used to make the set. Most trappers, if they don’t find what they need in the exact place they want to make a set, import a rock, stick, or something else that has considerable eye appeal to use as a backing. In theory, a good backing will force a coyote to work the set from a certain direction, but that’s not always true. More often, a coyote approaches a set from a downwind direction. If they’re curious enough to work the set, they may move around to get at the source of the lure or bait.
For years, I’ve placed trail cameras at sets trying to get footage of how coyotes approach. I’ve even run cameras during the offseason, pointing them at a rock or stick with lure on it just to see how they work these items. What I’ve found is this: coyotes are neophobic critters. While it’s true that anything new can catch their attention, it’s not always in a good way.
The addition of “foreign” objects – in most cases, a rock or stick that I intentionally place somewhere for its eye appeal – sparks caution more often than curiosity. Time after time, coyotes will approach the object, sometimes circle it, muscles tense, and only after great consideration will they approach, work the object, and then move on. The time actually spent up close to the object and whatever lure I put on it is mere seconds.
However, when I use a backing that is already on-site, such as a small clump of grass, I’ve noticed coyotes approach it with confidence, and they’ll spend more time trying to get to the source of whatever lure or bait I placed at the set. The reason is because that clump of grass belongs in that field. It blends in with the surroundings. It’s natural.
Eye appeal is a relative term. Eye appeal can be as simple as overturned blades of grass or a dark area where the earth has been freshly dug or roughed up. These subtleties, usually unnoticed by us, are highly attractive to canines. Once I grasped this concept, I started looking at eye appeal at the set in a whole new light. I realized that the real appeal is the lure and bait, and with no visual distractions, those scents did their job better because the animal was now approaching the set much more relaxed and curious, rather than suspicious. In essence, that’s what blending is all about.
Keeping your work area small and clean is a major key to making your sets disappear. This begins with streamlining your equipment. Even though there are many different brands and sizes of traps available today, find one specific brand and style that you have confidence in and build your system around that particular trap. Once you get used to working with one trap, you’ll start to develop what professional trapper and lure maker Mark June calls “muscle memory.” In other words, you’ll inherently know exactly how big to make the trap bed, how to anchor and stabilize the trap, and how to blend it in without even having to think about it.
My set construction sequence is the same no matter where I’m trapping. Once I’ve decided on a location and found my backing, I start by digging a bed that is barely big enough to accommodate the trap. The less ground that’s disturbed during set construction, the easier it will be to blend the site back to a somewhat natural appearance.
Excavated dirt is placed in a metal sifter off to the side of the set and will be used to cover the trap. Sometimes, such as when trapping in sandy or soft soil, you don’t need any tools at all to dig and can just scoop out a sufficient amount of dirt for the bed with your hands. In these places, you don’t even need a sifter and can just pull the dirt toward you in a little pile.
Next, I place the trap in the bed with the loose jaw facing toward me. I then give the trap a slight turn in the bed and pack dirt around the jaws to stabilize it. If I’ve constructed the trap bed properly, very little packing will be necessary.
A neat little trick I learned from Mark June at his Predator Trapping Academy is to poke a tiny stick or weed in the ground up against the dog on the outside of the trap. This serves as a great marker so that you always know the position of the pan once you start blending in the set and adding lure and bait.
I sift just enough dirt to cover the trap and feather out the edges so there are no hard lines to indicate where I’ve bedded the trap. In dry, sandy soil, I simply push the little pile of dirt back over the trap and lightly tamp it down with my palms, careful to level out any bumps or tiny ridges. I also pick out any rocks or twigs that could clog the levers or prevent the jaws from closing completely. When the dirt pattern is clear, I then make a small hole with the end of a rebar stake or poker and apply lure and bait.
The direction in which you blend a set is very important. Most trappers have a tendency to start in the middle and work toward the fringes. However, you’ll pick up a few more of those extra shy coyotes by starting at the fringes of the set and working inward. A small, handheld brush comes in handy here and allows you to sweep some of the duff from the outer edges back toward the middle of the set, just enough to blend in some of the soil that was churned up during the set making process. This also gives the set a slightly weathered look that is very appealing to coyotes.
What I use to blend the set depends on the actual location. If it’s a grassy field, I’ll pluck a few blades of grass from around the set and sprinkle them over the dirt pattern. If I’m trapping the mountain country where there are lots of pines, I’ll use needles and other woods litter to help camouflage the set. Sometimes I even use my sifter as a grater and rub moss against it until I work loose enough particles to blend in the dirt pattern.
I often carry a container of waxed sand or dirt, depending on the type of soil I’m trapping in, to make and remake sets. This really makes blending easier in rocky country such as old strip mines. Once I’ve covered the trap with the waxed dirt or sand, I can quickly feather the edges to blend in the sets and use old leaves, grass, and other ground matter to make the set virtually disappear.
When I’m done with the set, I try to spruce up any of the grass I’ve flattened while kneeling at the site. Using a knee pad helps limit the amount of scent you leave on the ground when making the set and also comes in handy for brushing over the grass once you’re done and ready to move on.
When to Blend
Early in the season, before hunting and trapping pressure make coyotes more cautious, a distinct, visible dirt pattern can be very effective. It doesn’t take much to make them wise, though. It can be something as simple as an improperly bedded trap throwing dirt up into their faces as they approach a set, but it’s enough to make them steer away from dirt patterns after that. Many times, those coyotes can only be caught by switching to more subtle tactics. Personally, I’d rather not give coyotes a chance to get skittish, which is why I make sneaky, blended sets from the very beginning.
It can be difficult to “unlearn” techniques that have been ingrained in us from early on. Many trappers rely too much on eye appeal because they lack confidence in set location. They feel they must pull animals to their traps from a distance. However, if you’re relying on a visual attractor, rather than your lure or bait placed in a great location, to bring a coyote to your set, I guarantee you’re missing a lot of coyotes. Regardless of anything you use at a set, location will always be most important. The closer you make sets to where the coyotes are already traveling, the more coyotes you’ll catch. Period.
A common myth among trappers is that a set has to “age” a few days before it’ll catch a coyote. A major reason for that, I believe, can be traced back to a coyote’s neophobic personality. When they encounter a rock or log that wasn’t there last time they made their rounds, it’s as shocking as it is for us to walk into our living rooms and find the furniture rearranged. It can take a while for them to get used to the changes enough to want to work the set.
Blending helps take a little of that new shine off of a set and give it a more appealing, weathered look, and coyotes will be more willing to work it their first pass through the area.
In fact, the more I blend my sets, the more appeal they seem to have to coyotes. Making my sets invisible has resulted in higher catch rates and more consistent success all season long.
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