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Trapping is an ancient and traditional activity that has historically supplemented hunting and fishing to acquire food, fur, and other animal products for as long as humanity has existed.
Although full-time trappers seldom exist anymore, trapping maintains a vital role today, mainly as a wildlife management tool and, to a degree, for pest control.
Like hunting, trapping is an excellent way to keep the population of certain animals under control, helping preserve our natural resources.
If you’re interested in learning the art of trapping, you may want to learn all about the different types of hunting traps and how each of them works.
Trapping Laws and Regulations
In the United States, trapping is regulated mainly at the state level, much like hunting. As a result, every state has its own body of laws and regulations surrounding the use of hunting traps.
Always be informed of the trapping laws in your area by visiting your state government’s websites frequently, as they are subject to regular changes. For example, if you live in Maine, you will find your local hunting regulations on the Hunting & Trapping section of the maine.gov website.
Most states require a license for trapping, with regulations on the species you can catch and kill. For example, some states may impose bag limits, while others may regulate specific types of hunting traps or particular species.
List of Hunting Trap Types
Hunting traps come in various types, shapes, and sizes, and discerning between each may be confusing at first. However, once you have the basics down, telling one trap from another becomes relatively easy.
There are effectively four basic types of hunting traps: Footholds, body-grips, snares, and cages.
Foothold traps are one of the oldest types of hunting trap. Although many different styles and designs are available, they are all based on the same principle: a central pan or trigger connected to a pair of spring-loaded metal jaws. Depending on the model, these jaws may or may not feature teeth.
When the animal steps onto the trigger, the jaws are released, catching its leg and trapping the creature in place. Because such traps typically do not kill the animal, a trapper must return to the site later and dispatch it. An example of a foothold trap is the classic bear trap.
Used correctly and with the correct model, trappers can use foothold traps to capture an animal without wounding it. If the trap catches a non-target animal, the trapper may release it and reset the trap.
Foothold traps are typically employed to catch coyotes, foxes, and other medium-sized fur-bearing animals.
Body-grip traps are trapping devices designed to clamp down onto the animal’s body, more specifically, its midsection rather than one of its feet. Body-grip traps may also be known as Conibears, named after inventor and trapper Frank Conibear, who invented the original device in the 1950s.
Body-grips are the most common type of animal trap and the type that even people unfamiliar with hunting and trapping may know. If you’ve ever seen a mousetrap, it is effectively a body-grip trap for small rodents.
No matter the design, typical body-grip traps work on the same principle; two steel jaws connected to a set of springs. The design features an opening for the animal to enter, funneling it towards the springs. When the animal’s body presses on the spring, the jaws are released, closing shut onto the animal. Typically, body-grip traps instantly dispatch the animal upon closing, serving as a more humane alternative to footholds.
Most body-grip traps are used to catch rodents and small waterborne animals, such as beavers, muskrats, or minks. However, they must be placed far away from the beaten path, as their instant lethality can kill domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
Snares and cable traps
In appearance, the snare looks like the simplest device type, consisting of little more than metal cable. However, the sheer number of specifications (diameter, orientation, stops, lock types, swivels, strength, etc.) makes it one of the most complex and specialized hunting traps, infinitely customizable and configurable, not to mention highly effective.
The basic principle behind the snare is similar to that of a noose; they are metal loops intended to capture the animal around the neck (more rarely, the midsection).
A skilled trapper can use snares to catch just about any animal.
Once criticized for being needlessly cruel, modern snares employ various accessories and tools designed to catch the target animals as humanely as possible, without harming or killing non-targets.
For example, loop stops prevent deer from being caught in the snare, whereas breakaway devices allow larger animals such as mountain lions to simply force their way out of the lock and free themselves.
Cage and box traps
A cage trap employs a cage or box-shaped holding device, a spring-loaded door connected to a trigger, and bait (either food or a lure stuffed animal). The principle behind these traps is easy to understand; once placed, the bait lures the animal inside, causing it to step on the trigger. The trigger then releases and closes the door, activating a locking mechanism to prevent the animal from exiting.
Typical cage and box traps are relatively small devices intended to trap raccoons, opossums, and similarly-sized creatures.
Trapping remains a controversial activity, sometimes subjected to even more scrutiny than hunting. Trapping lets you catch and potentially injure and kill an animal without being physically present, including unintended targets. Therefore, you must be as responsible as possible and avoid these common mistakes:
Using the wrong trap
Always be aware of the environment when placing your traps. If there is a high possibility of capturing a non-target such as a domestic animal, you should adapt your traps accordingly. Avoid using types that cause instant death when triggered and make full use of loop stops, breakaway devices, and other safety systems.
Forgetting your traps
Inexperienced trappers tend to forget where they placed their traps or assume that if it hasn’t caught anything within a few days, it’s never going to catch anything.
Keep track of where your traps are, and check them regularly.
Ignoring property law
Above all, do not set traps on land where you don’t have permission to do so. Even if you have a trapping permit, always ask the landowners for permission first. In addition, you should never disturb or steal from other trappers. If you find another trap while scouting a location, leave it alone.
Be Informed, Be Responsible
Having the knowledge and applying it are the hallmarks of a skilled and responsible trapper. You are responsible for every trap you set; this is why knowing what each trap type can do and which animals each can catch (whether intentionally or not) is basic trapping education.