Words From The Past

Woodland Sets for Canine and Coon

by Charles L. Dobbins

(This article was published in the May 1988 issue of The Trapper and Predator Caller)

    In some parts of the country, there are more acres of woodland than there are open farmland.  The wild canine trappers that pass up setting traps in this woodland type cover are missing a lot of fur.  We all know the coyote and fox hunt the woodlands, especially late in the season.
     I know that most wild canine trappers prefer the open farmland type terrain when after the fox or coyote.  Unlike farmland, the hardest thing to learn in woodland is the proper location of sets.  I can pass along a few pointers for finding the locations in woodland habitat.
     When a person is traveling through the woods, his eyes are five feet above the ground.  This gives a view for quite some distance ahead. The fox, coon or coyote eyes are only about a foot above the ground, so they can't see very far in front of them.  How do these animals actually find and negotiate their way through the woods without the aid of a defined trail?  Especially when they've hunted all summer and fall in the more open areas, then move to woodland habitat for a more abundant winter food supply?
     For example, let's take a woods that you are familiar with.  Maybe you have hunted squirrels there on several occasions, or maybe grouse.  For whatever the reason, you are familiar with it.  Even in the dark, you could find your way through this woods without the aid of any kind of an artificial light.  You may not actually see the fallen small limbs, sprouts, a jutting stone or other small things that may trip you.  However, you know that you must go to the right of that big leaning oak that is silhouetted against the night sky.  The reason you had to go to the right of this oak was there is a deep gully just to the left of this tree.  Once past the oak you can see silhouetted against the dark sky the top of a grapevine covered elm.  You know to keep to the left of this tree to avoid a patch of multiflora rose that is to the right of this tree.  At this elm tree you can see a leafy white oak about 40 yards away.  You know there is an uprooted tree laying on the ground to the left of this leafy oak, so you steer to the right of this oak which will bring you out on a small ridgetop.  This ridgetop will lead you to your destination in the woods.
     How did you negotiate your way through the woods?  You went from one prominent landmark to another prominent landmark.  A long time ago, I noticed that gray foxes did this in heavy cover.  They go from a blown down tree to a large boulder to a large rotting log to a big burnt stump to a jumble of briars and grapevines to a pile of rotting logs to another uprooted tree.  They are picking their way through cover by going from one prominent landmark to another.  In the hilly terrain of woodlands, the set locations are easier to find than in the flat, level woodlands.  Gullies, ridges and ravines help pinpoint the exact set locations.  Deep ravines and steep-sided gullies are, in most cases, avoided by the wild canines.  Sure, they can cross these ravines or gullies, but they would rather go around on the downwind side.  That way, if there is anything there that is food for them, their nose will alert them to the situation.
     Ridges in woodland habitat are followed because this gives the predators a sense of direction as well as being high to lighten or pick up any promising smells coming up from lower elevations.
     Raccoon will investigate any large standing tree and it doesn't have to be hollow.  Any large log laying on the ground will attract raccoon, also.  Have you ever noticed the piles of raccoon droppings on certain logs and at the base of some large trees in an area?  On big stumps, too. The raccoon are somewhat different when it comes to gullies, ravines or dry washes.  They prefer to travel the bottom of these.  Small streams are another route the raccoon like to follow from point A to point B.
     I make sets for the wild canines and raccoon somewhat different in the woodlands than I do in the more open terrain.  I have already named the locations, so close to these places is where I make my sets.  The common dirthole will work.  But in the woodlands, blowing leaves can be very bothersome when using the dirthole.  Most times, the dirthole will be packed full of blowing leaves.
     I may locate a set close to a large stump or log.  Near this, I will scrape away all the leaves in a rough circle of about six to eight feet in diameter.  Any small sprouts are dug up or cut off flush with the ground.  Now I have a cleared off area and there are many things that I can do to attract the wild canines to this place.
     The trapper can bed, cover and blend in his trap in this cleared circle.  Bits of bait that are attractive to the wild canines are placed just under the rotted leaf mold of this circle.  I try to keep all smells at least a foot away from the trap.  A gob of call lure placed 1O to 12 feet up on a tree or branch seems to help
.     This cleared area, in most cases, will remain free of blowing leaves.  To those of you that have trees growing in your yards, have you ever noticed how the fallen leaves will gather around small bushes, weeds and long grass?  Now look at the surface of the driveway, the sidewalks or paths that are smooth. There are no leaves on these smooth surfaces. The air currents will keep smooth surfaces swept clear of leaves.  This same thing works out in the woodlands
.     A rotted stump can be leveled, or the end of a rotted log can be dug away and this pulverized material spread around in a level circle of about five to seven feet in diameter.  Once the leaves are removed from this circle and the pulverized material spread around, I will use my booted feet to compress this material down in this cleared place.
     The upwind side of a boulder or large stone jutting from the ground is another good place for one of these sets, if this stone or boulder is on location.  Why not on the downwind side of the stone or boulder?  Drifting snow will gather on the downwind side of objects, so will blowing leaves.  I won't attempt to make a set where the leaves are over three inches deep.  A quick look around the immediate area will, in most cases, locate a place where the leaves cover the ground to a lesser degree.
     A chunk of rotten decaying wood about the size of a quart jar to the size of a shoe box can be placed at the edge of this cleared area.  A food type lure or bait can be used under the edge of this piece of wood, with the trap bedded and blended in where the animal's feet will be when it investigates this food smell.  A stone of this size can be used instead of the piece of weathered wood.
     Another way is to use two flat stones about the size of a lid from a shoe box.  One stone is laid on the ground.  Some absorbent material such as wool, feathers, fur, or a cotton ball is placed at one edge on top of this stone.  The other flat stone is laid on top of the first stone with part of this absorbent material exposed.  A trap is bedded and blended in, about four to six inches back, so the investigating animal will step on the trap when working this set.  Use a food type bait or lure.  This second stone laid over the material that contains the good smells will protect them somewhat from the elements.  Also, this second stone will cause the animal to do much moving around to dislodge the attractive smell from between the stones.  This moving around of the animal increases the chances of it stepping on the trap.
     Another thing I use sometimes is a mound of fine rotted wood.  This can be found inside of hollow logs or in the base of a hollow tree.  This material is lightweight.  I prefer to make the mound at the edge of the cleared circle with the trap about four to six inches back from the bottom edge of this small mound.  How big is this mound?  About two heaping sifters full will do.  On the side of this mound next to where the trap is hidden, I like to poke a piece of fur, wool or feathers.  I put a food type lure or a liquid bait on this eye-appeal material.  Sometimes I will place this smelly material at the base of the mound and some more about halfway up on the mound.
     Since this mound is made up of a fine-grained material, it will not collect blowing leaves.  A clump of grass or other rough material will stop and collect the blowing leaves.  A chunk of wood won't collect blowing leaves and neither will flat stones.
     Notice that the smells I use at these sets are all a food type of lure.  Chunk bait or a liquid bait will also work.  I will, at times, use a call lure if I think that I am not exactly on location.  Why not use a gland type of lure at these sets?  Since these sets work better in the dead of winter when food is in short supply, I will give the animals just what they are looking for.  I'm not saying if a gland type of lure or even urine was used at these sets that they wouldn't catch any animals.  Through time and experience, I have found that the natural type food smells will work best for me under these conditions.     I do use gland lures and urines in the woodlands, but it is used on or very near a well-defined trail or roadway - sometimes right in the middle of the roadway.
     These cleared off circles can be made ahead of season, and all the materials such as stones or chunks of wood can be put in position at this time.  If the area has been cleared off, the blowing leaves will not collect here and the area has time to weather in and take on a more natural took.
     When the streams of all sizes are frozen over, this affords a new travelway for the wild canines through heavy cover.  They will also travel on lakes and ponds of all sizes, especially beaver ponds and flowages.  When the water was open, these animals could only stand at the edges of the open water and smell the tantalizing smells coming from across this open water.  Now they can travel on top of it, and things that could only be seen from shore before can now be inspected at close quarters.  Protruding above the ice are muskrat houses, beaver lodges, stumps of all descriptions, and other things that will attract the wild canines. Sets made near or close to these things will be on location.
     There is another old and reliable set that shouldn't be overlooked when operating in the woodlands.  That is the water set for the wild canines. It has been described many times in good fox trapping manuals.  In most woodlands, open water can be found in the way of small spring runs and seepages that won't freeze.  It takes but little work on the part of the trapper to put one of these places into order to make this set.
     When the snows cover the woodlands for a few days, go out there and follow the tracks of the fox or coyote through this type of an area.  Their tracks will show you what they are attracted to in a woodland habitat.  Even after the season is out, a person can still follow these tracks and gain knowledge to use at a later date. 

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