Students of an Advanced Class at the Pathfinder School being taught how to construct a dip net.

Survival Traps To understand survival trapping we must understand animal behavior to some degree. All animals need the same things we do. They need shelter, water and food. If we understand the routes animals use to obtain and move from one to the other, we can recognize good places for trap- ping them. Without a doubt, the water’s edge is the best place to secure meat sources the majority of the time. The next thing we have to realize is that meat sources and trapping do not always have to involve four-legged, furry critters. Some of the easiest meat we can obtain is from animals that actually live the majority of their lives in or near water, like fish, turtles, frogs, snakes and crayfish.

Let’s first look at trapping these lower- food-chain meats that can also be used as bait. This is a key concept because a baited trap has a much higher percentage chance of success than a blind set. If we work our way up the food chain, we will fill our bellies as we go and improve the foods we can eat along the way.

Water Traps

Catching or trapping animals that live in the water can be accomplished in several ways, so let’s look at the types of meat one at a time. Fish can be captured without bait by use of nets or improvised seining devices like a T-shirt. If you are carrying a large roll of Mariner tarred twine (bank line), which I highly recommend, nets can be easily fash- ioned with overhand knots on a main line. The diameter of the holes or meshes will dictate the size of the pray you can catch. Dip nets are easily fashioned in this manner, and are very handy for catching smaller fish as well as other water critters. A gill net that stretches across a water- way can be made if enough line is available, but dip nets and fishing traps are a better use of cordage.

FISH FOOD: Fish can be caught with snare-type devices by using either an available hook, bent safety pin, or a carved, gorge-type hook. Bait is easily obtained for fishing by turning over logs until worms or grubs are found. A simple trigger system will work very good for bottom fishing and setting the hook when the fish takes the bait. Some type of alarm system, like an old can that’s partially filled with rocks, is a good bet for any trap that will catch an animal live so that you can immediately react.

TURTLE TIME: Turtles can be captured on the same spring-type traps as fish, but both can also be secured on simple drop lines or bank lines as well. M-shaped bank traps that will allow a turtle to climb onto the bank for bait but not allow return to the water are good traps for the overnight hours while you are asleep. Dip nets can work for smaller turtles, but larger turtles not so much. Remember that most turtles that flip into the water during the day will simply swim under the log they were sunning on to seek cover. PLAY FROGGER: Frogs are fairly easy to stun with any flexible stick, if hunted at night with a headlight to freeze them in place. This technique will work whether the frog is on land or on the top of the water. A simple hook with any red fabric chard will attract frogs to a hook and line. Dip nets are also useful for frogging.

GET CRAY-CRAY: Crayfish will come to any meat source lying on the bottom of a water source, so a simple circular dip net without the han- dle can be laid on the bottom with bait in the center; if lift lines are attached to the net frame, simply lifting it out of the water will capture all the cray- fish on the bait. This technique works best at night. You can also make a simple tube trap from any pop can. By placing skewers into the can at an inward angle, you allow the animal to come in but not back out when it goes in to test the bait.

PIN DOWN A SNAKE: Snakes can be found in the water, or on the edge of it, espe- cially at night when frogs are present. They can be dispatched as easily as a frog by using a flexible stick or by pinning one down with a Y-shaped branch. Actually trapping a snake is tough, however, as they are masters of escape.

Land-Based Traps Once you have secured one or more low- er-food-chain meat sources as I call them, you can now use the leftover material for baiting traps to capture larger animals. DEAD-FALL ’EM: Small mammals like mice, rats, chipmunks and ground squirrels are about the largest animals that can easily be taken by deadfall traps. They are often too small to set off more complicated, spring-type traps. Deadfalls are complicated and time consum- ing. It’s better to use a simpler mechanism, like a split-stick- type trigger for a deadfall setup that has a baited trip wire made from small-diameter cordage. Remember that any deadfall device must be five-times heavier than the target animal, and having the bait as far back in the trap as possible will decrease the margin of error.

CAGE A BIRD: Small birds should be trapped in a clearing where visibility of bait is optimal. They can also be taken by a similar trigger system using a cage-type trap built in log-cabin fashion. Most of the time, brightly colored berries or fruit will be most attractive to birds as bait. Remember to alarm the trap if possible, as the bird will be captured alive. Larger birds can be taken with nets, especially at night. During nesting season, most water birds like geese or ducks will defend a nest to the point of becoming vul- nerable to dispatch, allowing for the opportunity of eggs as well.

CATCH A COON: Medium-size mammals like opossums and raccoons are about the largest animals you will want to tackle in a short-term situation. They can be processed and consumed easily without having lots of meat lying around camp to attract larger predators or scavengers. When trap- ping these animals, you will want to set traps just off the trail going to or from a water source so a non-target animal (like a deer) does not trip over it and set it off. SNARE SENSE: Spring snares can be devised to capture medium-size animals. Note that the spring-loaded snaring device must pick the animal completely off the ground and suspend its weight, as we cannot guarantee a neck catch. If not, the animal will surely chew its way out unless wire or cable-type snares are used. Spring-loaded snares should always be alarmed for immediate reaction to reduce the suffering of the animal and minimize its chances of escape. All spring snares will require an engine or catalyst to bring the snare close around the animal. Many things can be used for this, from a simple bent sapling to a counter- weight like a heavy log. Items from your kit can also make great engines, including bungee cords or slingshot-type latex bands.

Blind snares can be set on small game trails and should be suspended according to the animal’s height when walking. We are always striving for a neck catch when snaring, and for opossum and raccoon, if you can place a balled fist inside the snare, then that will be pretty close. You want the opening of the snare for these animals about 1.5-times larger than your fist’s diameter.

Many styles of spring-type traps can be used, but I find that simpler trap designs better employ a simple trigger system with a pressure-release toggle, which can be adapt- able to several applications. The majority of components for this can be easily carved in camp. In an extreme emergency, toggle- type traps can be constructed easily with no tools at all.

Alarming your traps is key, and minding the location of your traps in relation to your camp is also necessary. Try to keep all traps within a 50- to 100-yard perimeter so that they can be easily tended to in the middle of the night if you catch something. Scavenger- type animals like opossums and raccoons are not shy of humans for long, and scent control is not a worry with them. You may, however, at some point capture a non-target animal. If it is a large animal, it will most likely escape. If it is a skunk, you are one step away from a few days of smelling like one, but so goes life. In an emergency scenario, just do your best to free the animal, and watch its back end!

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