Gary Bonnot from Bonnots Mill, Missouri, with a pair of his innovative, dog-proof raccoon traps.
Three prototype Lil’ Grizz traps. The first ones, shown at far left, were made from PVC pipe. Using PVC pipe to hold the bait for a conventional leg-hold trap gave Gary the idea for the new design.
Raccoon caught by a Lil’ Grizz Get’rz dog-proof trap developed by Gary Bonnot.
A close-up of the front foot of a raccoon in a Lil’ Grizz trap.
While other people might be working on designing a better mousetrap, Gary Bonnot from Bonnots Mill, Missouri, came up with a better raccoon trap. It’s called the Lil’ Grizz Get’rz. Gary’s new trap design is not only quicker and easier to set than conventional traps, but more effective than older-style traps and dog-proof.
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The fact that the new traps are dog-proof is a major advantage, making it possible to use them in locations where the odds of Fido stumbling upon sets are high. Catching dogs instead of fur is not only counterproductive, it’s bad public relations with dog owners. Those problems are eliminated with Lil’ Grizz traps.
“Bait ’em! Set ’em! Get ’em!” is printed on each box of a dozen of the new-style traps below an image of a raccoon. That’s not just a catch phrase to try to sell the product; their effectiveness has been proven.
Bonnot was 50 years old when I talked to him at the National Trappers Convention in Escanaba, Michigan. His first attempts at marketing the trap were in 2001, so he started working on the new design when in his thirties.
The use of pieces of 8-inch PVC pipe for trapping raccoons along rivers is what eventually led Bonnot to the revelation that revolutionized raccoon trapping. He would push a piece of PVC pipe into the banks along rivers, put ground-up fish in the tube as bait and set leg-hold traps under the baited tube to catch ’coons attracted to the bait. One day he ended up with a 3-foot-piece of PVC pipe to make his last set.
Bonnot pushed the pipe into the bank until there was only 8 or 9 inches sticking out, and put bait inside. He then set a #11 double-spring trap in front of the tube where he thought a coon would stand to reach the bait. The next day, the bait he put in the tube was gone but the trap was still set. So Bonnot pulled the tube out further and rebaited it.
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Results were the same each day Bonnot checked that set, and he kept pulling the PVC pipe out further until 2.5 feet of it protruded from the bank. He kept adjusting the position of his trap, too, in an effort to catch the cagey ’coon. The pipe had been pulled down the next day and the bait was gone again. That’s when it dawned on Bonnot that the pipe should have been the trap.
The smart raccoon had been reaching in the pipe with a front foot to get the bait every day while avoiding the leg-hold. If there were some way to catch a coon by the front foot that it stuck in a tube for bait, he could catch that animal. Experimentation with that concept is what led to development of the Lil’ Grizz Get’rz. Bonnot started by measuring the front feet of raccoons and then designing something that would catch and hold coons by their front foot.
“I eventually figured out the right depth to make the tube,” Bonnot said. “Through trial and error, I found out that if you make the tube too deep or too shallow it wouldn’t work.”
The original Lil’ Grizz traps were made with PVC pipe and metal. That was in 1998 when Bonnot was 34 years old.
“I made seven of them,” Bonnot explained. “I used shrimp heads for bait. In seven nights I caught 47 coons with them. When skinning the coons I caught with those traps, I noticed that there was very little, if any, damage to the feet. That’s when I started to wonder if it would be feasible to make money selling the traps.”
By 1999, Bonnot had switched to all-metal construction so his traps would be more durable. He also experimented with different triggers in the device. He developed two types of pointed, notched triggers designed for either putting bait on or under them. Bait such as pieces of fish could be impaled on pointed ends of triggers. Short-notched triggers are designed to fire quicker than the standard notch. A circular or pull-ring trigger was also developed for use with pelletized bait, which goes under the trigger.
The design of the trap is simple. There’s a metal spring on the outside of the tube, which is attached to a metal loop that fits in a notch inside the tube near the top or opening of the tube. That metal loop is what grips and holds a raccoon’s front foot inside the tube when the trap is sprung. The trap’s release mechanism, or dog, is attached to the top of the tube, on the outside.
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To set the trap, the metal spring is squeezed toward the tube, which moves the metal loop under the top of the tube. The dog is then slipped into the notch on the trigger. Traps can be baited either before or after they are set.
Raccoons trip the trap when reaching inside the tube to get bait. Their foot is then firmly held inside the tube as the metal loop grips their wrist. A stake is attached to the base of each trap that is sunk into the ground to position the traps where you want them. Most trappers put the traps along trails or trail intersections that raccoons routinely use. Trap chains are either staked in place or attached to trees with a cable, so coons that are caught can’t go anywhere.
It’s important to cover trap chains with leaves or dirt. If the chains are visible, raccoons may pull on them, dislodging the trap. If that happens, the animals are less likely to be caught.
Sales of the new trap were slow at first. The dog-proof design was the first major innovation in foot or leg-hold traps in years. The fact that Lil’ Grizz traps were more expensive than traditional traps added to the resistance. Trappers would buy one or two at a time to see how they would work. It didn’t take long for Bonnot to start hearing positive results, though. Two brothers who bought one trap each, for instance, managed to trap 50 ’coons in a short period of time on their farm with just those two traps.
Setting The Standard
Bonnot soon realized he needed to get the help of an “independent tester,” a professional trapper to field test the traps that other trappers would listen to about the effectiveness of the traps. Even though Bonnot knew how good the new traps were and told as many people as possible, he quickly found out many trappers remained suspicious, figuring he was overstating the value of the traps to sell as many as possible.
In order to get a professional trapper to agree to try his product, Bonnot offered to pay the tester’s expenses—if the traps didn’t catch ’coons. But the professional trapper wasn’t willing to totally abandon the traditional traps he normally used to catch raccoon. In fact, he made most of his sets using traditional traps. During 11 days of trapping, he used an average of 15 of Bonnot’s traps each day.
The field tester caught a total of 314 coons during those 11 days, 104 of which were caught in Lil’ Grizz traps. The success rate was much higher with the dog-proof traps and they could be set much faster.
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“The tester told me that if he would have had 100 Grizzs out, he would have caught 500 to 600 ’coons,” Bonnot said.
Bonnot told me that a trapper caught more than 1,000 raccoons during 2014, and 681 of them were secured with his dog-proof traps. Another professional trapper collected more than 1,500 raccoons recently with Lil’ Grizz traps. The word has finally gotten out about the new trap, and they now sell them a dozen at a time. Bonnot said it’s common for trappers who are doing it part-time to catch 150 to 200 coons while trapping with his traps.
“Indians used to call racoons ‘wash bear,’” Bonnot said. “Raccoons are related to bears. That’s why I chose that name.”
His trap design has proven so effective and popular that a number of other models with minor differences are now on the market. Bonnot said he’s flattered by the attempts to copy his innovative trap. He’s even taken advantage of the trend by making some of the parts of his traps interchangeable with those that are similar. By July of 2014, he said he had sold over 300,000 of his dog-proof traps. They can be obtained from most trapping supply businesses. The email address for Gary’s business is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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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