​​​​Getting Started

Video trapping a coyote

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>