Modern dog-proof traps, known as DPs, have revolutionized raccoon trapping. Their effectiveness and simplicity are hard to match. Their versatility is unparalleled. DPs allow you to quickly make sets in all types of terrain, and in the hands of a savvy trapper, they can put a lot of fur on the stretchers.
For the past ten years, I’ve used DPs almost exclusively for trapping raccoons. When I first started using them, though, I missed a lot of fur. Raccoons often walked right by my traps, leaving their footprints in the mud mere inches from the tube. Or they’d carry the trap a few feet away, steal the bait, and when I checked it the next morning, I’d find no raccoon and a DP that was somehow still set!
Well, raccoons are often referred to as masked bandits for a reason, and I guess even a trap as easy to use as a DP has a learning curve.
What are DPs, or Dog Proof Traps, and How to Use Them
Although they come in a variety of models, all dog-proof traps have the same basic characteristics. They have a tube-like body that raccoons must reach into in order to get the bait. As they get to the bottom of the tube, they push or pull a trigger mechanism, depending on the brand, that releases a spring around their wrist, fully encapsulating the foot inside the trap.
(Photo: The DP on the left is a Z-Trap which has a trigger that can be pushed or pulled to fire the trap. On the right, the Duke Trap has a trigger that can only be pulled.)
Most animals lack the dexterity of raccoons, and so they cannot trip the trigger at the bottom of the tube. If I’m trapping around a farmer’s barn where cats might be a problem, I use DPs with a one-way trigger that must be pulled in order to fire the trap. This virtually eliminates any non-target catches because a cat’s paw is too big to slip under and pull the trigger up.
Many times, if I encounter a farmer reluctant to grant me permission to trap, I show them a DP and explain how it works. Often, that’s enough to get the go-ahead to set up around their barns and silos where raccoons have been feasting on harvested crops. This is a major advantage over traditional foothold traps, and it has allowed me to get into areas that were previously off limits but have always harbored large populations of bandits.
I use three types of anchoring systems with my DPs. The first is a 6-foot chain with a two-prong grapple drag on the end. This works well when there’s enough structure nearby for a caught raccoon to tangle up, such as saplings and brush. Once caught, an animal’s first instinct is to head for cover. If I’m trapping near a roadway or anywhere that the catch could possibly be seen by passersby, the grapple drags allow the animal to get into cover and out of sight.
Another way that I anchor DPs is with a two-foot length of aircraft cable attached to the end of the trap chain. At the end of the cable, I use a double ferrule to create a loop big enough for the DP to pass through. Wrap the cable around a tree, slip the trap through the loop, pull it tight, and you’re good to go. The only drawback is that the best locations don’t always have something sturdy enough nearby to attach the cable to.
The third and perhaps most versatile way to anchor DPs is with a length of cable and earth anchor attached to the end of the trap chain. This is great for trapping around barns and old buildings where you don’t want the raccoon to move away from the site or there’s nowhere nearby for the animal to tangle up. The main disadvantage is that earth anchors take some time to pound into the ground when setting and then pry out when pulling the trap.
Any time spent anchoring or pulling traps, though, is quickly offset by the fact that DPs can be set so quickly. There’s no need to dig a hole for a pocket set along a waterway or make a dirthole set on dryland. Setting a DP is really as simple as shoving the stabilizing post on the bottom of the trap into the ground and baiting it.
Regardless of how you decide to anchor the DP, universal swivels are a must. Typically, DPs are sold with a swivel at the end of the trap chain, but if you’re using aircraft cable, for instance, which can bind, adding one or two extra swivels will ensure the trap will twist freely as the animal moves around at the catch site, therefore limiting any potential for loss.
The only other tool that sometimes comes in handy when using DPs is a screwdriver. Compressing the springs to set the traps can be a chore if you don’t have the hand strength, or if your hands get tired after setting a hundred of them in a single day. Simply use the screwdriver as a lever to compress the spring enough so that you can flip the latch over and set it.
Trails and Tales
As trappers – heck, as human beings! – we have a tendency to overcomplicate things, and dog-proof traps are no exception. Most of the raccoons I’ve missed with DPs have come when I’ve tried to get fancy, such as use a trailing scent to pull an animal off of its natural travel course to work my trap.
Yes, it’s possible to catch a raccoon by using a trailing scent, but I didn’t realize how many I was missing until I set up trail cameras set on video mode to monitor a few of my DPs. I’d hoped to gain insight into how raccoons actually worked the traps, and I have no doubt I’d have gotten some neat footage had any of them stopped long enough on their way through. At each location, I missed multiple animals before one finally decided to follow the trailing scent to the trap.
Most trappers don’t consider raccoons hard to catch. And while it’s true that they don’t display the caution of a coyote or the aloofness of a bobcat, raccoons are just like any other furbearer that doesn’t like to go out of its way to get food. So if you’re trying to pull the animal off of its normal path, you’re going to miss a lot of fur.
Raccoons often travel with their noses close to the ground. They may follow a scent trail to your trap, but consider how many other food smells they encounter along their path. The more abundant the surrounding food sources are, the less likely a raccoon is to veer from the trail to seek out your trap. This is especially true when setting in and around cornfields or berry patches where food is so accessible. The best way to get raccoons to stop and work your DP is to set it right in the middle of the trails so that they basically run into it on their way between denning and feeding areas.
When learning to use DPs, I also took for granted the importance of stabilizing the trap. After setting the trap, I push the stake or support on the bottom all the way in until the bottom of the tube is flush with the ground and then give the trap a slight twist. It doesn’t have to be rock solid, but it should be sturdy enough that it doesn’t just topple over when a raccoon touches it. Ideally, you want the trap to stay upright while the raccoon reaches into the tube for the bait. This will provide the most secure hold on the animal’s paw.
Keeping Out Mice and Squirrels
One of the pitfalls of DPs is that they have open tubes and the bait is exposed. Mice and other rodents can slip in and out and steal all your bait, so by the time a raccoon comes by, the trap is empty. There are ways to combat this, though, the first of which is just to use more bait than usual.
There are numerous commercially-made baits specifically designed to be used in DPs, and they’re all very good, but many trappers also opt for a handful of dog food, which is relatively inexpensive and can be bought in bulk. For trapping raccoons around barns and other structures where cats are a possibility, sweet baits such as marshmallows work just as well.
In areas with lots of field mice or squirrels, I fill the tube all the way to the top of the trap with whatever bait I’m using and even spill some onto the ground around the trap. Basically I’m putting down enough food to keep the bait-robbers happy while still having some leftover for when a raccoon comes by.
If I’m using a lure, I smear it on the lip of the trap as well as dribble some inside the tube, and I almost always use it in conjunction with bait. Also, I prefer a sweet lure that a raccoon will find tasty and want more of. If it tastes bitter or has a bad flavor, raccoons will be less likely to work the trap long enough to get caught.
Mice and rodents can be kept out of DPs by using white Styrofoam coffee cups, golf balls, or aluminum foil to cover the opening of the tube as well. I like the coffee cups most of all because of their eye appeal. Their white color seems to glow in the moonlight, and any time I’ve used two DPs side by side – one with a cup and one with no cup – the one with the cup has invariably produced the most catches.
(Photo: Styrofoam cups can keep mice and rodents from stealing bait inside your DP. The raccoon can easily flip the cup off of the trap, but they rarely chew the cup after being caught, and most of the time the cup is reusable for multiple catches.)
I use a 12 ounce white coffee cup and simply slide it on upside down over the trap. When a raccoon comes by, it will knock the cup off of the trap to get at the bait in the DP.
The important thing is to not use any lure on the cup, otherwise raccoons will chew it apart and you’ll have a mess to clean up. But 99% of the time, the cup will stay intact and you’ll be able to reuse it when remaking the set. If you’re worried about raccoons tearing apart the cup, golf balls or aluminum foil are great alternatives and accomplish the same thing, which is to make sure rodents don’t clean out the traps.
In truth, there’s no wrong way to use a dog-proof trap. They’re one of the most versatile and easy to use tools available today, and they’ve no doubt revolutionized the way we trap raccoons. And in the hands of an experienced trapper, they can help make sure a lot of those masked bandits end up in the fur shed.
In the DVD Boat 'Line Bandits, Rich Faler and Ralph Scherder discuss numerous techniques for using DPs (Dog Proof Traps) to catch raccoons in a variety of situations. Read more about this video in our online store.