Deadly Coyote Sets
OUTFOX ONE OF NATURE’S CRAFTIEST PREDATORS
Outfox one of nature’s craftiest predators
I’ve always contended that following an apocalypse only cockroaches and coyotes would remain. Coyotes, especially, are the consummate survivors, capable of learning from experience.
As a young and inexperienced trapper, I easily caught scads of gray foxes, as they readily succumbed to my sloppy efforts. I even caught the occasional bobcat, despite the fact they were rare where I lived as a youngster. Yet, it took years to catch my first coyote, which was disconcerting considering they were the most abundant predator around. Once I refined my approach, coyotes constituted most of my catch in those early days right out of high school when I was trapping and guiding for a living. I often caught 150-plus coyotes per winter.
Catching coyotes regularly, especially tricking educated ’yotes with assuredness, is in the details.
All parts of a coyote-trapping program, from the smallest details to the largest parts, must be rendered scent-free. This includes anything or any part of you that touches the ground at or near the set.
All trap assemblies must be boiled clean. I use a 55-gallon barrel, cut in half and cleaned thoroughly, set over cinder blocks so a fire can be built underneath. After filling the pot with water, I add about 5 pounds of logwood crystals (I’ve also used handfuls of leaves, cedar branches and oak bark). After the water boils, add 5-10 pounds of trap wax. Boiling sterilizes the works, dye (or tannin-filled debris) turns the trap deep black—camouflage of sorts, but it also retards rust—and sealing wax renders traps rust resistant (oxidation includes distinctive odors coyotes will smell) and less prone to freezing.
Once your pot comes to a hard boil, trap/ chain bundles are dropped in, the pot is allowed to return to a boil, and traps are “cooked” 10 minutes to allow the dye to attach and the metal to warm so the wax adheres evenly during removal. While removing traps, avoid pulling them through smoke. Pile them directly into scent-free trap boxes (mine are normally raw lumber, thoroughly seasoned with leaves and cedar branches) or on top of clean grass or leaves.
Once the traps are prepared—and the wax exhausted—i drop in or dunk trapping tools:
hammers/digging tool, shifter, trap wire, thick rubber gloves, ground cloth, rubber boots and woven-wood trap basket. I once used pan covers (waxed paper or boiled canvas swatches), but long ago switched to pink fiberglass insulation cut with scissors to fit neatly beneath the pan. The insulation holds no odors and occupies space beneath the pan to prevent clogging, but gives way when the pan is depressed.
When constructing sets, scent control is equally important. I use knee-high rubber boots stored in trap boxes and not worn unless walking over uncontaminated ground (though I’ll intentionally step in cow flop as cover scent in cattle country).
While driving, skinning or doing anything else that could introduce alerting odors, I wear a second pair of slip-on boots. In the past, I used a boiled canvas ground cloth, tossing it down to kneel on while constructing sets. This is still a viable approach, especially if old joints make squatting painful. I’ve since learned to squat, nothing but boot soles touching the
ground. I also wear boiled rubber gloves start to finish (except when handling lures or baits).
Once the sets are constructed, I return my rubber gloves to the trap basket and don a pair of surgical gloves (stored in a zip-top bag) while depositing lures, baits and urines. Hand oils and sweat are easily detected by savvy predators such as coyotes (and red foxes), so even handling a small stick dipped in a lure bottle can transfer human odors. Like I said, tiny details—especially when dealing with educated coyotes—make the difference.
“All parts of the coyote-trapping program, from the smallest details to the largest parts, must be rendered scent-free.”
The Basic Set
The real key to catching more coyotes is getting visiting predators to step on the trap pan every time the first time they visit. Each time a coyote visits a set without getting caught, especially if they step on a jaw and dislodge a trap or accidently dig it up, you’ve created a problem animal that will prove extremely difficult to catch.
My basic coyote set is a three-rock dirt hole. I choose a small backstop (coyotes don’t like being hemmed in, so this is something they must be able to see over easily), a bush or rock, and create a classic dirt hole (resembling a rodent burrow) at its base. The trap pan center is offset about 2-3 inches (consider prevailing wind and which direction coyotes will most likely approach from) and 8-9 inches back (distance between outstretched pinkie and thumb). The dog/trigger is pointed to the outside edge of the offset with the jaws closing parallel to the angle of approach, so a jaw/dog doesn’t throw a coyote’s paw clear after tripping. These spaces depend largely on whether you’re dealing with smaller desert or larger mountain or northern coyotes.
The first rock (or pine cone or branch end), about fist size, is set outside the trap jaws, to the rear and farthest away from the dirt hole, at about 10/2 o’clock, with the dirt hole sitting at about 11/1. Another rock, slightly smaller, is set on the opposite rear corner (the one closer to the dirt hole) at about 2/10 o’clock, a third rock on the same side as the largest rock, but at the front 8/4 o’clock corner—all dependant on the angle of approach being encouraged, which is based on how prevailing winds direct scent flow.
The works are sifted over, leaving rocks protruding naturally. The trap bed is constructed so the pan is set ever so slightly below ground level, and a stick is used to smooth a slight depression directly over the pan’s center. Small pebbles, twigs, cactus-spine clusters or similar material are strategically placed outside the trap jaws to funnel a coyote’s foot into that soft, clean pan depression. The coyote’s foot will instinctively gravitate to that soft, clean spot. To further funnel an arriving coyote’s movements, standard bait is pushed down the dirt hole, lure is added to the wider outside corner of the offset, and urine is carefully sprinkled to each
side of the dirt hole instead of randomly over the entire backstop.
When addressing known travel-ways like sand washes, farm roads and game trails, for example, the walk-through set gives you more of an advantage. This is a standard for bobcats, but for coyotes, funneling materials must be subtler because boxing them in will generally stir suspicion. In desert country, cactus joints or pads always work well because no animal will step on them. Funneling sticks or lines of rocks also work well. No material should be higher than a foot or so to avoid arousing suspicion.
The trap is placed in a center gap, slightly offset (coyote’s legs are situated to each side of their body), jaw hinges/main frame parallel to the line of travel, the trigger pointing outside the offset. Instead of using three rocks or objects, the walk-through employs four, one at each corner of the trap jaws, set at 2, 4, 8 and 10 o’clock, the same clean, smooth depression created over the pan’s center, and “stepping sticks” placed at each end. Now, the miniature landscaping begins. There is a fine line between subtle funneling with strategically placed pebbles, sticks and such, and obvious blocking.
A dirt hole is placed at one outside corner of the set, say 10 o’clock, a lure at the opposite corner, say 4 o’clock, and urine is sprinkled outside the offset at 3 or 9 o’clock. The coyote approaches one or the other of these scents, investigates, moves forward to sniff the second and gets caught.
The walk-through is especially useful for difficult coyotes, such as habitual diggers. I’ve caught smart, repeat diggers by creating walkthrough sets along obvious trails leading into the set. But, instead of adding bait and lure, I might only add the smallest hint of fox or bobcat urine (a different batch than used at the set they’ve been digging), which only distracts them slightly.
The Best Coyote Trap
I started trapping when #3 long-springs were considered standard. They certainly worked, but that’s a lot of trap to bed and cover. In 1983, I discovered the #1 ¾ or #1.75 coil spring. They’re much easier to conceal, especially in rocky or frozen soil, more reliable in freeze/ thaw conditions, and hold like a vise (I’ve caught and held two cougars with them, a testament to their compact power). Some of my favorites include the #1.75 Victor Oneida and #1 ¾ Sleepy Creek; Bridger and Duke also making fine coil-spring traps. I always use offset jaws because they discourage chewing. In conditions where moisture is a problem, I choose four-coil versions because they break through frozen ground more reliably.
Heed these guidelines, and you’ll more successfully trap wise, old coyotes.
“Coyotes … are the consummate survivors, capable of learning from experience.”
(below) The author once used a ground cloth to kneel on while making coyote sets to minimize deposited scent. He now wears sterilized, rubber knee boots and simply squats, never allowing anything but boot soles to touch the ground at a set. PHOTOS BY PATRICK MEITIN
(top) Like the three-rock set, how you place bait is highly important for funneling a coyote. Of course, the walk-through can be used as a blind set for coyotes approaching a set they have taken to digging habitually.