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
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
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
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
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.