Survival Trapping 101 – Trapping Small Game in a Survival Situation

There are many survival scenarios; some take only a few days, others might run into weeks, months or even years. The longer the time, the more critical food supply becomes. Even for the best-stocked bug-out location, a long period under survival conditions will strain the food reserves, and the need for fresh food will increase. That’s why most long-term survival plans include food gathering (mainly plants), hunting, and trapping.

Why trap for survival

Even assuming that you have ample stocks of dehydrated food it’s beneficial to supplement with fresh foods – plants with fresh vitamins, meats with fresh protein and fats. Gathering edible plants is obvious, although often time consuming and not necessarily easy for larger quantities. Likewise hunting for larger animals, generally deer, is obvious.

Why trap for survival?The payoff from taking a larger animal is great, although success is not guaranteed, nor is the ability to preserve the meat. Trapping – the use of various kinds of traps – to take smaller mammals (rabbits, squirrels), birds and fish for food – does not guarantee success but it is a numbers game. Put out more traps in the right places and the likelihood of success goes up.

Most of the game taken by trapping is for immediate consumption (within a few days), but the idea is to achieve a regular supply.

There is a valid argument that hunting with a rifle or bow can do anything that can be done by trapping, and it’s a lot more familiar to most people. On the other hand, when hunting, the need for concentration means you aren’t going to be doing anything else. For sport hunting, that’s great. It’s exactly the experience you want. In a survival situation, the hours spent hunting aren’t available to do a thousand other things that need doing. With trapping, once the traps are set, you’re free to do other things, even sleep, until you need to check the traps again.

One other thing, which may or may not be important depending on the situation – hunting with a firearm is noisy and uses ammunition. Trapping is silent.

Observation skills of Tapping

If there’s one thing necessary for success in trapping for survival, it’s observation skills. To put it succinctly, you won’t trap what you don’t know about. That means observing the environment – methodically – to learn what species are available (fish, birds or mammals), how abundant they are, and where they are located. For the most part, these are the same skills as a naturalist, only with a different purpose – acquiring food.

As expert trappers will tell you, the cornerstones of successful trapping are knowing where and how you place the traps. To know where to place traps, you need to observe where the animals feed and move about – their trails, food sources, watering holes, defecation sites, nests and gathering places. There’s a lot more to it than that, as you’ll see in Survivalist 101 Tutorial: Survival Trapping – What and Where to Trap, but it all starts with gaining knowledge about the potential animals for trapping.

The experience factor of Trapping

The knowledge of animals and their behavior doesn’t arrive through osmosis. Likewise, the knowledge of traps, how to use them, and the skills needed for successful trapping mostly come from experience. Yes, it helps to read about it.The experience factor of Trapping

A lot of information about animals and to a certain extent about trapping can be found online and in printed material; but there is no substitute for building a trap device, studying the available animals, picking a location for a trap, setting the trap and seeing what happens.

When nothing happens, you try to identify mistakes and learn from them. As the saying goes, “An expert is somebody who has made all the usual mistakes.”

Despite the inherent violence of trapping, it’s a subtle process – some people would call it an art. This is another way of saying that in some ways trapping may be more difficult, at least for some people, than pointing a gun and shooting something. On the other hand, for many people, it’s the challenge of trapping that makes it interesting – above and beyond putting fresh food on the table.

The legality and ethics of trapping

The thing to keep in mind is the articles in this tutorial are about survival in potential life and death situations. It’s about one way to provide food when there is an emergency. Most of the time, however, there is no emergency and trapping is mainly a commercial activity concerned with gathering skins and pelts or with reducing the population of unwanted animals.

That’s why trapping is an activity that has long been tightly regulated and hedged with laws. These laws vary from state to state in the same way laws vary for hunting. For example, in many states it’s illegal to use nets for freshwater fishing except (if at all) in specific locations, during specific times, for specific species of fish, for example catching smelt with dip nets in the Great Lakes (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and Michigan).

In practical terms, this means unless there is an actual survival emergency, gaining experience in trapping should follow laws and regulations. This may exclude techniques that will be necessary in a survival situation. It’s also possible that licenses or certification will be required to trap certain species. In any case, telling a game warden, “I’m learning my survival skills” won’t save you from a fine. It’s up to you to know the regs in the area where you intend to practice survival trapping.

There’s also the matter of trapping ethics. This is a big, touchy subject. It involves potential cruelty to animals. It involves potential over-trapping or poaching. It may involve rare or endangered species (traps are not very discriminating).

In fact, it might also involve potential harm to people, as some traps can be physically damaging or even lethal. While some of these considerations change in an emergency, they don’t all go away.  If you think about it, these are pretty much the same issues for hunting. How you feel about them should be about the same.

Hopefully, these will provide a useful overview of survival trapping, but they can hardly cover everything – and they are definitely not a substitute for gaining experience by doing. Perhaps you might be one of those people who discover that trapping – especially learning to read the environment from a food trapper’s perspective and building your own traps – makes a great hobby. At the least, you will understand that survival trapping is a good way to provide food if you know enough about how to do it.

Leghold Traps

Have been used for centuries, the steel-jaw leghold trap is the most commonly used trap in the United States by commercial and recreational fur trappers. Triggered by a pan-tension device, the weight of an animal stepping between the jaws of the trap causes the jaws to slam shut on the victim’s leg, or other body part, in a vice-like grip. Most animals react to the instant pain by frantically pulling against the trap in a desperate attempt to free themselves, enduring fractures, ripped tendons, edema, blood loss, amputations, tooth and mouth damage (from chewing and biting at the trap), and starvation.

On land, leghold traps are most frequently set for coyote, bobcat, fox, raccoon, skunk and other furbearing animals. However, leghold traps are inherently indiscriminate and will trap any unsuspecting animal, including dogs and cats, threatened and endangered species, and even humans.

Snare Traps

Snares are categorized as either body/neck or foot snares. They are generally made of light wire cable looped through a locking device or of a small nylon cord tied so that it will tighten as the animal pulls against it. The more a snared animal struggles, the tighter the noose becomes, the tighter the noose, the greater the animal’s struggle and suffering. The body snare is used primarily on coyotes and often is set where animals crawl under a fence or some other narrow passageway. It is designed to kill by strangulation or crushing of vital organs. However, snares do not discriminate and will capture any animal by any body part. Because they are cheap and easy to set, trappers often will saturate an area with dozens of snares to catch as many animals as possible.

Conibear Traps

The Conibear trap consists of two metal rectangles hinged together midway on the long side to open and close like scissors. One jaw has a trigger that can be baited. The opposite jaw has a catch or “dog” that holds the trap open.

Originally intended to be an “instant killing” device, the Conibear trap is designed to snap shut in a scissor-like fashion on an animal’s spinal column at the base of the skull. However, because it is impossible to control the size, species and direction of the animal entering the trap, most animals do not die quickly in the trap, instead enduring prolonged suffering.

Manufactured in three standard sizes, Conibear traps are frequently used in water sets to trap muskrat and beaver. In addition, they are used on land to trap raccoon, pine marten, opossum, and other furbearers. Numerous research studies have shown that this trap does not kill instantly.

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