Tips for Snaring Predators in the Snow
[Reprinted from original]
Snares may be one of the oldest methods for catching game and furbearing animals. But today’s snares look nothing like the ones used by our early ancestors to procure food and clothing. Snares these days are made of galvanized aircraft cable and have fool-proof locking mechanisms that securely hold the caught animal and, if the trapper prefers, it will dispatch them quickly.
I began experimenting with snares in the early 1970s. At that time, the snares were crude and lacked effectiveness. By about 1980, I was manufacturing my own snares and soon I making a living snaring raccoon, beaver and fox. During the fur boom of the 1980s a guy who had a system and a good understanding of the animals’ habits could really make some serious money. I got up before dawn and hustled until after dark during a three-week window of trapping season and average about $1,000 per day in furs. I was living in Iowa at the time, and I eventually wrote several books on snaring and catching furbearing critters. Nearly all of my experience was in catching critters before the winter snows hit.
In 2001, I moved to Minnesota and discovered that I could add coyotes and bobcats to my list of targets, but I had a learning curve; the best time to catch those critters was during the dead of winter when their secretive movements were given away by the snow-covered landscape.
I met Rick Hines, who helped me shorten the learning curve and adapt what I knew from open land snaring to snaring in the snow. These days, Rick and I are making our own snares once again. We use 5/64-inch cable and mini-cams for locks. We also use a system of tying off to a nearby object with soft, annealed wire so the animals tangle up and succumb quickly.
Not having the animals alive when I come to check the snare is an advantage in that I don’t have to shoot them and deal with the associated blood. One of the biggest keys to the effectiveness of a snare is the element of surprise. The target animal just walks through it and before it realizes something’s wrong, it’s too late. Any blood at the site makes it difficult to make a second catch at the location because the next animal along may be distracted by the smell of blood.
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Trapping and snaring have a lot of appeal despite current low fur prices. In some areas, studies have shown that coyotes kill up to 80 percent of the deer fawns annually. Plus, it’s good exercise and there is a great deal of satisfaction that comes from learning an animal’s habits and outsmarting it on its own turf.
Critters move about in the forest in predictable patterns. In the winter, trails develop in the snow. The deeper the snow, the more the animals will travel the path of least resistance, which means the trails become even more distinct. Some animals use trails more than others. Fox, both reds and grays, are quite likely to travel the same path each time they go through an area. Coyotes, not so much, because they have longer legs.
Bobcats cruise about more at random, but they do have predictable areas they love to visit. A bobcat will rustle about in an area of thick cover looking for grouse, small mammals and rabbits, but they tend to enter and exit the thicket at the same place each time. That’s their main vulnerability to the snareman. Additionally, bobcats love beaver ponds. They will use a beaver slide to enter the pond and walk around the edges where the walking is easy on the ice. Once again, they tend to enter and exit at the same place each time. Find the tracks and set it with a snare. It may be a week before the bobcat returns, but the snare is patient and the cat is predictable.
Because fox travel trails, it’s an easy set. Find the trails with fox tracks and set them up anywhere there is a necked down area with something to tie off to. Unlike bobcats, fox may use the same trail most every night. If there is a maze of trails, choose areas where they intersect to increase your odds.
One of the best ways to catch coyotes is to create a bait station. Coyotes return often to a place they find free food. The leftovers of your deer hunting will attract them. I get beef scraps from a local supermarket and dump them out. Once the coyotes find the bait station, trails will develop around it like the spokes of a wheel. Bait stations can be established a couple weeks before trapping to get the coyotes coming regularly.
There are a few key factors in successful snaring. Most importantly, the snare must close quickly and smoothly. The predators we are targeting have incredibly fast reflexes. If the snare hangs up at all, the critter may put on the brakes and back out. Cam locks are smooth and they close very quickly, which means that you cannot put them at the top of the loop. If your snare looks like a teardrop with the lock at the top, it may fall down with a little wind or be brushed aside by some non-target animal. Put the lock off-center so it remains in place until the time is right.
For coyotes and bobcats, I like a loop about 10 inches in diameter, about 8 to 10 inches off the ground. This should put their nose right into the middle of it. Make sure you take into account the depth of the snow as you place the snare, because in soft snow their feet will sink in.
For foxes, both red and gray, a smaller loop, about eight inches in diameter, and about 5 inches from the ground is about right. I wish there was a way to set a snare that will consistently catch all three furbearers, but if you put your loop high enough to consistently catch bobcats and coyotes, some fox will go right under it.
I dye my snares dark gray to get the shine off them, which makes them blend in much better than the natural silver color of the cable. Still, if they are right out in the open, the animal may refuse it. Not much in nature looks round and it may tip them off that something is wrong. Choose an area with some brush on the sides of the trail to blend the snare in a little.
Many times you will find furbearers are following deer trails. Deer can get in your snares and make a mess of the set, plus a deer with a cable on its leg is not good for the deer or the image of trappers. I avoid setting deer trails unless I can use an obstruction to avoid catching a deer. A “jump stick” right above the snare will cause most all deer to step right over the snare. It’s an essential component of any snare set where a deer might travel.
Related: Long-Range Shooting for Coyotes
Fastening is the biggest key to making sure your snare closes quickly. The snare must be rigid in place right above the loop. This way, the only thing that moves is the lock travelling down the cable, tightening quickly around the animal. If your snare is properly placed, the snare closes around the neck and the animal quickly wraps up and expires.
I use 11-gauge annealed wire, which is easy to twist with a pliers. I always have a roll of it with me, so I can cut off the length I need. I like to tie the snare off high, so the animal wraps up more easily without the snare hanging up on anything lying on the ground. Remember that less disturbance made by a caught animal, the more likely you can use the site again.
Tie the end of the snare off tight to a sapling. Do not rely on the wire alone to hold any animal. They can twist it off much faster than you can imagine. You want them pulling on the cable not on the wire. Your wire is used first to secure the cable tightly, then to support the snare in place.
The best way to get good at snaring is to get out there and do it. Spend your time following trails and examining where predators go and where they come from. That helps you understand their daily movements. You will begin seeing areas that look good for a set. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to catching furbearers. Don’t get frustrated if you have little success right away. As with most trappers, I spent a lot of time without catching much before things began to click.
In my early days, I was thrilled just to snare any furbearer on any given day. Eventually, I was catching 40 to 60 per day. I attribute it all to experience and duplication. Once I figured out what worked and where to set snares, I just started multiplying it and hung snares in dozens of locations.
Related: Review: The 22 Creedmoor on Coyotes
The days of making a good living trapping furbearers are gone for most of us who have families and mortgages, but snaring in the snow will get you outdoors where you can learn about the animals’ habits in a way few people understand. And it might provide you will some gas money and the cash to put a few more presents under the Christmas tree.