Shown is a successful Alaskan trapper. Trapping is an important part of the culture and economy. Photo is courtesy Togiak Nat. Wildlife Refuge/USFWS.
Marty Adams and Karla Hutchins form one of the most effective trapping teams in North America.
A pair of red fox pups looking for a quick snack are likely to fall to a well-set dirt trap. A bone or old scrap of hide doused with a scent can lure any curious fox.
MB-450 fox trap.
Get to know what coyote scat looks like. Where there’s scat and tracks, there are critters to nab.
Scout out and set traps along fencelines near chicken coops, along dirt roads, brush piles and the like. Pay strict attention to your scent when scouting and setting your traps.
3-inch Hole Set
Bone & Hide set
Beaver Dam Set
The first thing a fox trapper needs is a fox trap. The MB-450-Fox trap made by Minnesota Trapline Products may well be the best one made today. This is a pure fox trap designed around foxes, not coyotes, which need the larger 550 or 650 trap. It gives excellent results.
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The trap’s outside jaw spread is 5 inches and its inside spread is 4.375 inches. It has smooth 0.31-inch-thick cast jaws that hold a fox firmly without seriously injuring it so unwanted animals can be released with just a sore paw using your choke stick. The trap has a Paws-I-Trip pan, heavy levers, a 0.125-inch-diameter music wire springs, #2 chain, three crunch-proof swivels and a two-piece gusseted frame for strength. This is a high-quality trap. That’s important because a poor-quality trap can cause you to lose your fox fast.
Prep Your Traps
Since foxes won’t come to your trap if it smells like humans, and because you don’t want your traps to rust out on you, you need to boil them in trap dye and then wax them. Wear plastic gloves during all this because you don’t want any of your scent to come in contact with the traps. You must never have any direct contact with your traps unless you have gloves on because foxes are members of the dog family and they can smell you quick.
Commercial trap dyes are available at the trapper’s supply houses, but simply boiling walnut shells down to extract the tannic acid and then boiling the traps in this brown liquid for 30 minutes or more worked in pioneer days just fine. The South American logwood tree is related to the walnut, and you can buy dried logwood dye crystals from the various trapper supply houses and just add water.
The acid bath forms a rust-resistant finish on the traps like bluing on a gun, but you still need to wax them to keep them from rusting. Either Beeswax or paraffin can be used. Put the pot of wax the traps will be set in inside a double boiler. Let the water come to a boil in the first pot, but do not let it boil dry because this keeps the wax from getting hot enough to catch fire. Put the traps in the wax and let them stay long enough to heat up to the temperature of the melted wax. When this occurs, the whitish cooled wax on the outside of the metal turns clear on the immersed traps. Now take them out and let any excess drip back in the pot.
Keep the traps from touching anything that could get human scent on them and make sure you wear rubber gloves and rubber boots when trapping. Again, leave scent and you’ll leave plenty of foxes in the woods.
Where To Set
Now that the traps are ready, the next question is where to set them. Foxes like to have easy travel routes, so check for scat and tracks along roadsides, fence lines, dams, the edges of fields, fence gaps and any route that offers fast, easy passage. Put any scat you find in a plastic bag for a lure and keep those from different locations separate.
Nothing demands a member of the dog family’s investigation more than an interloper leaving markers on his territory. This has to be investigated thoroughly and carefully sniffed out. Like wolves and coyotes, the fox patrols a regular route, so if you see sign, he will eventually be back there. That’s why old sign can be better than fresh because it means it’s time for the regular fox patrol. Other good sites are food and water sources.
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If you can find cover where a fox’s potential prey dwells, you can be sure that foxes will be coming around there. Brush piles and even your chicken coop are sure to draw them. You have to learn to think like a hunting, patrolling fox. Don’t waste time on areas with no tracks or scat. You can’t trap something that’s not there.
Without A Trace
Once you have found a good area, you need to set your trap. Carefully dig out a hole just big enough for the trap to set in, with the jaws just below the surface. Your earth anchor should be attached to your trap chain by a cable and swivel. Use a hammer to drive it about a foot or so into the ground by using the earth anchor driver made by Minnesota Trapline Products. Once it is at the proper depth, give the cable a quick jerk—the anchor’s foot will pivot like a toggle-head harpoon locking everything in place until you dig it out.
Make sure the trap is level on firm, packed ground and that there is no dirt under the pan to keep it from depressing under the weight of the fox’s paw. If the fox feels movement under his feet when he comes to the trap he will back off, so a proper firm placement is critical to your success. Don’t put anything on the trap that will interfere with the jaws closing.
In good weather, lightly cover the trap with dirt from a sifter so that it doesn’t show. In the winter, lay a piece of paper over the trap and lightly cover with snow. The paper helps to keep the snow from freezing the trap shut as the temperatures fluctuate. In areas of deep snow, have a marker so you can find your trap before the spring thaw. It is important that the area over and around the trap looks like you were never there. Foxes have eyes as well as noses, and we didn’t coin all the phrases about foxes being smart because they are stupid.
Taking The Bait
Now that we have the trap, you have to increase the odds of the fox putting his foot in it. To do that you can funnel his path towards it with natural obstacles, so long as they are (or at least appear to be) naturally occurring. Something to attract his interest is a staple in trapping. This can be either items to attract his curiosity, such as bones or scraps of hide, or it can be more overt, such as bait or scent markings.
To bait a fox, you should put some rotten meat in a hole like something has died there. Roadkill is a natural for this, especially if it is something that is the fox’s natural prey. An auger can quickly drill a 3-inch-diameter, 2-foot-deep hole at a 45-degree angle that will look like an animal’s burrow to the fox. Place the trap 7 inches in front of the hole and 3 inches to the side to catch his foot as he comes sniffing at the entrance. You can also simply place it 5.5 inches straight in front of the hole. This sort of trap is especially good inside a fox’s territory.
Nothing gets a member of the dog family’s attention faster than a stranger marking territory inside his territory. Fox scat from another area guarantees it will be a stranger, and this must be checked out. If you cannot find a tree or stump that the fox is using to mark territory on, then make one by adding fox pee or scent from the glands on the fox’s legs. You can get these from a trapper’s supply house, but if you ever get fox pee spilled where it doesn’t belong, you had better have some Naturasil All-Purpose Enzyme Cleaner from Nature’s Innovation. This stuff works better than anything else on all types of urine and scents. Remember that the odor of fox pee and glands is supposed to stay on a tree trunk outdoors in all kinds of weather as a calling card to other foxes. It’s not coming off easily.
Once you have your scent marker prepared and smelling like an old goat, place your trap 7 inches in front of it and 3 inches to the side, or just 5.5 inches in front to catch Mr. Fox when he comes in to inspect it.
Watch And Wait
Check your traps daily. Aside from it being a legal requirement in most states, it is inhumane not to. Do not get any closer than you have to in order to see if there is anything in them, lest your scent cause a trap-shy fox to vamoose. Use your choke stick to release any unwanted animals. Don’t assume a cat is feral since there is usually no way to know what is wild and what is someone’s pet. People react very badly to the loss of their pets so be sure to get them free.
The proper way to deal with a fox in a trap that you do not wish to take alive is to put a .22 bullet in its brain. Use the new CCI Quiet-.22 Segmented Hollow Point in your gun since it has the same low noise levels as a good suppressor offers and you aren’t having to worry about complying with the NFA of 1934. Do not use the lead, round-nose Quiet-.22 as it lacks killing power and is inhumane to the point of animal cruelty to use it on head shots.
Proper skinning and care of the fox pelts is an article in itself and beyond the scope of this article. To not learn all the tricks of preparing a prime winter pelt is to cheat yourself out of the full price when you go to sell it.
Like any other highly skilled profession, trapping requires a lot of practice to translate the basics into a livable income as a trapper. Just remember that brain surgery can also be made to look this easy in an article. That doesn’t make it easy though. For more information, visit minntrapprod.com or call 320-599-4176.
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Editor’s Tip: Want to snare even more trapping tidbits? Go to trappersworld.com. Subscribe to Trapper’s World magazine and enjoy informative trapline stories, trappers’ nostalgia pieces, how-to articles, the latest fur-market reports, product reviews and much more.
This article was originally published in the AMERICAN FRONTIERSMAN™ Winter 2016 issue #205. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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