Words From The Past

Bedding Traps at Water Sets

by Charles L. Dobbins

(This article was published in the January 1991 issue of The Trapper and Predator Caller)

      When I place a trap underwater at a set location, I make sure the trap is bedded as solidly as possible.  This underwater trap may be at the base of a muskrat slide, or at the mouth of a pocket.  The trap could be in a shallow water trail, or at a castor mound set made for beaver.
      When I place a trap underwater, I rarely cover it.  If the set was made for mink or otter, I sometimes will place a few water-soaked leaves or other decaying vegetation over the trap, but just enough to break up its outline.  If the trap was placed on bottom without digging a bed for it, this would be like placing a trap in front of a dirt hole without digging a bed for it.
      If the trap was placed in front of a dirt hole, and there was no bed dug so the trap would be level, or slightly below the level of the surrounding area, this would leave the hump of sifted dirt over the trap.  (Can you just see a wild canine "pussy footin" around a hump of sifted dirt that contains a trap in front of a dirt hole?)
      Why do I dig a bed for my traps when they are underwater, even though the bottom at most locations has mud, silt, decaying leaves and usually an unstable bottom?  There are several reasons for this.
      1.  It will get the trap down level or slightly below level of its immediate surroundings.
      2.  If the set was made for beaver or otter, there is less chance of the animal's chest making contact with the trap and the trap grabbing onto just chest hair and skin, especially in shallow water where the trap might be less than four or five inches underwater.
      3.  If the trap is not in a bed, the animal could put its weight on the loose jaw, spring lever or on the end of the cross frame where the dog is attached, and the trap can tip and fire without getting a hold of the animal.  With the trap placed in the dug out bed, the animal can put its weight on the loose jaw or other part of the trap, and most of the animal's foot will be on the more solid area outside of the trap bed.  Since the trap is level or slightly lower than its surroundings, the trap will not be tipped over or fired when I check it.
      4.  The raccoon has a habit that causes it to fire traps.  The raccoon does not do this because it knows this is a trap, but it is one of the many habits of the coon.  I am sure we all have had a trap set at a shallow underwater trail, or in the water where these animals were going around an obstruction close to shore, and the trap was fired or moved a few inches from its original position.  Raccoons do this, not because they know it was a trap, but when they stepped on some part of the trap other than the pan, the tap moved.
      It is a known fact that raccoons eat crawdads, salamanders, small fish and snails which hide under flat loose stones, a waterlogged piece of bark or other underwater objects.  When the unbedded trap moved beneath the raccoon's foot, the animal assumed there could be a morsel of food beneath this object. the raccoon will slip its paw under the trap to search.  In doing so the raccoon turned the trap over or moved it aside a few inches.
      It can be seen that a trap which is bedded properly has a better chance of catching any animal.  It is just as important for the trap set in the water to be stable, as it is for the trap at the dirt hole to be bedded solid.
      There can be exceptions to this, such as a #3 or #4 trap and a mink or muskrat steps on some part of the unbedded trap other than the pan.  These smaller animals probably wouldn't tip these larger size traps.  However, if the trap is a #1, #1 1/2 and some #2's, this tipping could result in a fired trap.
      Beaver and raccoons are the greatest at firing unbedded traps.  It isn't that these animals know what they are doing, it is their physical makeup that causes fired traps in some instances.  Both of these animals have large back feet.  For the beaver, I prefer my foot holds to have a jaw spread greater than six and one half inches.  Another animal that can inadvertently fire unbedded traps is the nutria.  This animal also has large back feet
.      For the animals with large rear feet use a trap with a jaw spread wide enough to accommodate the back feet of these animals.  Above all else, be sure the underwater trap is bedded solid.  A bed for the smaller traps can be made with the heel of a boot in most situations.  With the larger traps, I use a small shovel to dig the trap beds. 

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