To bait or not to bait


12.20.2022 - To bait or not to bait

Author: Philip J. Nichols

Physically capturing a creature is a necessary task for most NWCO's, and the devil is in the details. So down we go into the rabbit hole of one of those details... to bait or not to bait? A typical customer in this age of information, "knows" all there is to know about trapping, traps, and baits for traps, thanks to Dr. Google. So he gets a Home Depot cage trap and puts it in the attic baited with peanut butter. The trap, then:

A- catches nothing

B-catches something other than the target or

C- catches the target, only to find there are more than one, or many more than one target. And

D- catches the target or something else and he does not know how to handle or dispose of it.

Then you are called to fix a problem that may involve an animal that has been "educated to traps with bait.

Trappers can either use bait or not use bait. Those not using bait belong to the "blind set" school of trappers, who are the minority among trappers who have the skill set to catch an intended target without bait, relying on knowing the exact spot where the animal is going to place a foot, a place that the trapper knows the animal travels regularly. How does he know this very precise spot? It is easy to see in snow the paths taken by animals, where the foot is placed, how it avoids obstacles by going under or around, and where it runs, lopes, jumps or hesitates. In snow-less climes, it is more can go out after a rain looking for tracks, but the learning curve is longer. Without snow, tracks will show in mud or sand, and the majority of animal trails will follow the path of least resistance, and be close to an "edge."

The utility of not using bait is that a particular creature can be targeted for harvest without having to deal with non-targets, and the convenience of not having to deal with the logistics of making\buying, storing, hauling and using bait. Non-targets can be worth less (or worthless), out of season, illegal to harvest, or otherwise detrimental to the plan.

The place for a blind set will often be a "pinch point." Pinch point to a fur trapper means a location where a species of animal is consistently funneled through a location. One example of a pinch point is where different geographical features meet - e.g. a hedgerow or woods along a cultivated field, bordering a stream, with a tractor path going along the field and going through the stream.


The NWCO's plan can be similarly affected by a non-target catch. Not using bait in certain situations will keep from having undesired results. Not using bait means using the evidence and clues presented by the target animal in that immediate environment to select where to put the "correct" trap for that situation. NWCO's can imagine a situation and in this day and age of instant gratification, there probably is a "correct" trap that fits. *Nuisance situations vary a great deal, and getting a trap for each case will, over time, result in an accumulation of differing traps, some of which may never be used again!

To a NWCO, pinch point has a broader meaning since the NWCO is paid to capture a specific animal and is not interested in what all the rest of the species is doing. If the target animal is "trap educated" or just not interested in bait, a blind set is warranted. A simple example of pinch point to a NWCO would be where a predator crawls under a fence to raid livestock or poultry. The correct trap here is a cable restraint that needs no bait and will capture the target.

What if a non-target uses the crawl under in the fence situation you may ask? Here is where the correctly placed non-lethal cable restraint (snare) will capture the intended target. Correct placement for predators (fox, coyote, wolf) is with the snare loop off the ground by at least 6-8 inches, allowing for smaller non-target animals (possums, skunks, rabbits, groundhogs, etc.) to pass under the loop.



Here is shown the relation between the animal (fox) and the cable restraint loop size and how high the loop must be from the ground to account for leg length. As shown, the fox will be restrained (leashed) perfectly when the loop closes. Again, this is a live capture set up and must be checked every day. A lethal setup is done differently.


Another example of a nuisance wildlife pinch point is where a raccoon accesses an attic by climbing up to the roof, then going down the un-capped chimney. The correct trap in this case is a "chimney trap." It is set over the chimney in the line of travel. It requires going up a ladder carrying the bulky trap along with tools, balancing in a high place while working, then doing the same in reverse but with a large and ornery raccoon in the trap.

If the NWCO does not want to do ladder work, a baited cage trap on the ground is certainly easier. The vertical path to the roof taken by the raccoon will be marked with scratch marks, muddy paw prints and hair caught on things. The baited cage is set on the ground close to this point. If attic dwellers are the targets, they may be less inclined to go for bait if they have a litter of young in the soffit/attic.

Having an arsenal of traps along with "proven" (commercial baits from reputable bait makers) baits may be costly and a pain in the neck logistically, but is the way a modern NWCO can handle new and different problems without reinventing the wheel or having to come up with something outside the box. Knowledge is the key to putting it all together. Combine modern methods with lessons from the old trappers of yesteryear, to become more efficient, increase profitability, and add to the bottom line.

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