Trapping Raccoon’s with C-4KABOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Visions of barns, old trees and ringtails flying through the air everywhere! No, I am not talking about that kind of C-4 (so near and dear to action-adventure movie watchers). The C-4 I am talking about is more C to the 4th power (for you math geeks). It breaks down into this simple formula Coons + Cows + Corn + Coniboxes = C-4.
Before moving to Iowa I had limited experiences with body gripping traps in my native Pennsylvania. I like most trappers was worried about non target catches and public opinion. When I moved to Iowa I found MOST trappers here use conibears (yes I know that is a trademarked name get over it). I was still edgy about using them till I developed my own sort of system for them.
For the record I use mainly 160 conibears, with a few 220’s for the bigger, wider trails. The 160’s kill coons up to ad over 30 pounds every year on my trapline without trouble. You do have to neck down the trails a bit to make the raccoons go through them correctly, but if the trail is very wide I switch and use a 220. I have various brands depending on what I can afford. Most of my body grippers are Dukes. But I feel the BMI traps are far and away the strongest!
I first started using them in trails along the edges of corn fields where I found coon trails, but this seemed to be hit or miss and is only really good as long as the corn is standing, once it is cut, you may pick up a straggler or two but not very many. Another thing I found was trying to stabilize the traps was very hard, even when I stuck a stake alongside the trap it seemed to rock or get knocked down etc. Through research on trapping forums and talking to other trappers I learned what I was doing wrong.
First of all I needed to use some kind of stabilizer; I highly recommend the various H stand stabilizers. These make it very quick and easy to slip in a set on the trail, and also elevate the set up off the ground so the bottom jaws of the trap are 4 inches or so off the ground, this helps make the animals go through rather than over the trap.(Before I learned to elevate my coni’s they were often knocked over or spring by raccoons going over them.) I put the ring of the trap on the ground then firmly push the stabilizer into place with one of the legs of the H going through the ring. This will prevent the trapped animal from rolling your trap into sight of passersby or where you can’t find it. Also when I make a trail set I lay a stick over the top of the trap or make a rope of grass (grab two handfuls of the long ditch grass and roll between my hands to make a “rope” about 1-2 inches across and lay it over the top of the trap making it look more like a tunnel.
On trial set I also set my triggers a certain way, they are on the top jaws set all the way to the left, with one wire hanging down and the other wire at an almost right angle sort of an inverted L. This provides a wide opening for animals to enter and they seem to do so readily. It also lets some smaller animals like rabbits and squirrels get though without getting caught.
I have to give credit to Brian Roberts of LeRoy, IL for helping me learn to locate coon trails more easily. He said look for a denning areas, woodlots, old buildings, barns, etc., then look for a lone tree or telephone pole. Most often if the raccoons are using the fields to feed in the trial will go right beside the outstanding tree or pole. I find many trails this way and once you know what to look for they jump right out at you.
OK, here is where the cows come in. After the corn fields are all cut the coons need a different feed source. If you have any cattle farms in your areas try to gain permission on them. Cattle require a lot of feeding all year long, but especially in the winter. The cattle troughs get feed and grains put in them daily and a lot ends up on the ground or on the outside where the cattle can’t reach it. This is a perfect opportunity for raccoons to come in and reap the benefits. Also in some fields you may find a cattle waterer, these draw coons like magnets as they are often the only water source for a long ways. When trying to determine if the raccoons are using the waterer look for droppings on the pad most of these waters sit on.
On these farms you will usually find some older barns and outbuildings that are rarely used, you will also find hay bales of either the small or large square kind or the big round, one ton rolls. If there are raccoons on the farm (and I bet there are) you will find droppings on the tops of these bales. Now between where the hay is and the feeding areas are you should find trails. However you should also search along the fenceline between any woodlots and the feeding areas. Some of my best farm have trail beaten down to hard dirt leading from the woods to the feeding areas.
Another top spot for me is a dry or damp ditch leading from a large woodlot up to the feeding areas. You may not find any trails in these ditches to set however do to each raccoon taking its own particular path up the ditch. Another good spot to check is dry culvert under field roads leading to feeding and denning areas.
Now is where the coniboxes come into their own. As I mentioned in the damp and dry ditches there may be no trails to set up on. The trails from the denning areas to the feeding areas may well be on open pasture or otherwise scant cover unsuitable for hiding a trail set conibear. You can use snares on those trails is you wished I guess, but I hate snared coons. (I finish all my fur and the snare mark bugs ME!)
Let’s build a box real quick then talk about how to apply them to our trapline. I make my boxes from ½ to ¾ inch plywood, that I often salvage from construction dumpsters (check your local laws). My boxes are 7 ½ inches high by 9 ½ inches wide. This size lets you use 160 and 220’s in the same box. Some states have rules how big the opening can be. how far back the trap has to be, etc., so check your regulations carefully! If you cut the 7 ½” by 9 ½” strips from a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood you can get 3 sections per cut if you make the sections 16 inches long. So every two cuts of each size make 3 boxes.
Not we have out cut outs; I use 2 inch drywall screws to screw the whole box together. This may seem like overkill but these boxes should last many, many years if built this way. Now for the back of your box, for a long time I used whatever scrap wood I had handy to make the back. I made sure to drill 8-10 ¼ “ holes in the back of the box to allow air flow to go through and carry my lure and bait odors more easily. Now I use ¼ “to ½ inch hardware cloth on the back, depending on what I have laying around from NWCO work. I use either 9/16” staples or 1” drywall screws and small washers. I feel the hardware cloth back makes the animals go into the boxes more readily as they can see through the box, and the odors of the lure and bait flow freely. After you got your sides together and back on you need to cut notched for the spring arms and spring eyes. I usually lay an unset coni over the open end of box and mark where the springs touch. Then I mark up and down about ¾” and cut the notch 3-4 inches deep with a jigsaw.
The next thing to consider is the trigger set up. For years I just set them the way they came, inverted V in the middle, and I caught some raccoons and other things. Then I started moving the trigger to the side and using the inverted L like I do for trail sets. I caught more and bigger raccoons, but I also had bait stolen more often. So there has to be a better solution!
I tried using pans on my boxes and let me say this really increased the catch ratio and decreased the bait stolen. I tried using hardware cloth pans but didn’t like that so now I use pieces or 1 by 2 or even the cut outs I make for the springs on my boxes. I drill holes just big enough for the wires to go through then bend the pan back so it faces inward. THIs allows you to remove pan if you need a trail set. I do have some traps where I drilled out the rivet on the trigger and removed the wires and put a L bracket in and screwed it in place then screwed down a small piece of thin ply wood, and this works well, but it is for boxes only. It is good to have all 3 kinds of trigger setups, regular wire, wires with pan and straight pans, so you can cover all situations. I set the pans on the bottom facing in and the dog on outer lower jaw. You will catch some raccoons with both their arms and necks in the trap.
Another word of caution here, wire off all your conis to a tree, stake etc, just in case the raccoon is not killed instantly. Many of my boxes have ¼” hole drilled in the front above the cut out for a tie wire to be hooked to, so they act as a drag at the very least. Tying off will also help if setting in dry ditches or along streams and you get a big storm that may wash the boxes downstream ( I learned this the hard way).
The boxes can be set on any approach path to and from feeding areas. In the tall grass, dead leaves or even in the short pasture, doesn’t seem to matter! A few tips though. Try to raise the front of your box 2-3 inches off the ground so the coon can look down into the box no have to belly crawl into it. I use handy rocks or sticks or often just a hump in the grass. Having the front of the box elevated makes a big difference it seems.
I also like to make a trail of fish oil/honey from the trails right to the front of my boxes, sometimes I do this on trail sets too, I run a trail from 2 feet on either side of coni – through the H stand (the conibears removed to avoid it getting lure on it), so the coon can follow it.
Now on to baits and lure, I trap farms which means cats, sometimes a lot of cats. So early in the season (Early November) I use a lot of marshmallows, I prefer the mini ones, because the mice can’t pack them away as fast and I can leave some sprinkled on the ground outside the boxes for the raccoons to sample before committing. I also use bread from the bread store (I buy a “feeder” bag meant to be used for pigs or cows or chickens) and throw a handful in the box and some outside. I also use apples cut in half and tossed in the back of the boxes (my buddy has a small orchard and I get any apples that hit the ground). Early in the season I like sweet lures like Night Bandit or Hard Core coon lure, as it cools off I use Lenon’s Raccoon All Call or other gland type lures. As the temperature goes down (mid November) I start using ground fish with some additives, like castor, molasses, anise, and muskrat musk. I use a baseball sized gob throw in the back of the box with some mini marshmallows outside to sample. When it get COLD (Early to Mid December) I use RED MEAT – I prefer a beaver hind leg, head, front leg, ½ a muskrat, even the leftovers of rabbits I have cleaned (the fur adding some eye appeal) something with a lot of surface area, the raccoons late in the year love red meat. Don’t be afraid to try some red fox gland lure or mink lure in your boxes this time of year for added calling and curiosity appeal.
I use mostly coniboxes for many reasons, they are fast to set and even faster to check and on my short quick line every minute I have counts. I can just get a quick look from my driver’s seat or within 20 yards and see if there has been a catch. I can remake and rebait a box in about 2 minutes, with no torn up set, no blood, usually no mud, nice dry fluffy raccoons, and does that ever help in the fur shed. The other thing I love about the boxes is the ONLY thing that puts them out of commission is deep snow. It can rain cats and dogs and most boxes will never be affected (the ones in the ditches may be however). It can rain and freeze up and the traps stay effective and the baits and lures don’t wash away or wash out. Even in moderate snows (2-4 inches) the boxes remain large unaffected at all and can still produce raccoons.
Another good tip for using boxes is late winter (late December and January) watch the weather carefully. We get several weeks of below zero weather every year, but somewhere in there it will break and have 3-4 nights in the 20-30’s. After a prolonged cold snap this is like Tahiti to the raccoons. You can set up a preemptive strike with the boxes get them in place the day before the warm snap hits your line. Load them up with red meat and if you have any raccoon gland lure put that in there as well, as this is breeding season. Leave the boxes out only for the warm snap because once it is over the raccoons will hole up again.
Even though I have called this C-4 you should look for any dry/damp ditches that lead from woods or a larger stream to a restaurant, mall or shopping area. Raccoons know where the food is. I have a small creek behind work that runs down to the Skunk River and flows out from under a mini mall with 2 restaurants. I set it with two boxes each season and get 10-14 raccoons off it so keep an eye out for such location. This bring up another point when setting these boxes ALWAYS set at least two in a good trail and three might be good if well used. You will never get triples if you don’t have three sets there!
Some of you might say well that is great but I can’t use conis on land. Well, the coniboxes are nothing more than a manmade cubby. Look at any A.R. Harding book or old Hawbaker book on trapping; they all mention the use of cubbies. Why? Simple they work; you can replace the conis with foot holds out in front of the boxes with some guiding and do just as well. Plus using the box allows you to put the set where you want regardless of how stony, sandy, muddy, exposed or covered a location is.
Remember when you use C-4 – coons, cattle, corn and coniboxes equal a full fur shed.