Coyote Trapping 201

Lots of lessons learned during the author's first crack at trapping.

Brad Gill | August 3, 2014

Sometimes I just have to get a little dirt under my fingernails…

I’ve heard from a good number of folks who read my “Save A Fawn, Trap A Yote” feature in the May issue. I couldn’t have written such a step-by-step article without Ben Poole, of Social Circle. Ben explained in great depth what folks needed to do in order to successfully take the plunge and begin trapping coyotes.

After writing that article, I knew I wanted to trap on my own. I went to and invested $350 in six MB 550 traps and all the equipment I needed to get started. See page 19 of the May issue for a list of all the trapping supplies I purchased.

From May 24-June 9, I had six traps in the ground on my hunting club in Putnam County. How many coyotes did I catch? One, and it was as exciting as killing my first deer when I rounded the corner of the road that morning and saw that young male caught in the trap. However, my first coyote is not the reason for this story. I am writing to share with you all the lessons and trial-and-error episodes I had before catching that coyote.

Please understand that I am far from being an expert at trapping. However, I have learned a lot since the first day my traps went into the ground, and I write with confidence that I can share things with first-time trappers that will bring them up the learning curve much quicker than I climbed.

This article won’t make sense to you if you haven’t read my trapping story in the May issue. That story is also on When I was researching that story, I spent a day with Ben, but we were only able to scratch the surface of what all is involved with coyote trapping. However, he certainly provided the information needed to get started and to successfully trap a yote. I proved that! However, as I discovered, there was still lots to learn about trapping the wily coyote. And for me, the best way to learn those lessons is to get a little dirt under my fingernails.

Boiling, Dying & Waxing

As stated, I put my traps in the ground on May 24. Legally I had to check my traps every 24 hours. When I checked my traps on May 28, the dirt around three of them had been disturbed. Not knowing any better at the time, I reburied my three traps, went home and spent a few hours watching YouTube videos and reading articles.

It turns out that digging can be done by rats, chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and a host of other critters. After speaking with Ben about this, he believed the digging likely occurred because I did not properly boil, dye and/or wax my traps before putting them in the ground. If not prepared properly, animals with exceptional noses will smell traps and dig them up.

As I researched, I began to make a list of different ways to prepare traps. When it comes to preparing traps, there are a lot of options and plenty of opinions out there. I will share with you what I learned and like the best.

Before I do, fast forward to the end of June. My neighbor Greg Malcom ordered six traps to begin his own trapping adventures. I shared with him what I had since learned about preparing traps, and he followed my instructions. When we set his traps in early July, we caught a yote the very first night, so my confidence level rose in my new way to prepare traps. Here they are:

Boiling: When you get brand-new traps, they will have grease on them. They must be boiled to get rid of the grease. A lot of trappers will add degreaser to their water and then boil them for one hour. This initial boiling only needs to be done when you get new traps. When the boiling is done, hang them outside for a week or two.

The period between the boiling and dying is important. You must allow enough time for a light coat of rust to build up on your traps. Ben shared this in the article, but I honestly didn’t follow his advice very well. I had very little rust on my traps when I first dyed them. Big mistake! The rust must be present on the traps in order for the dye to “stick” to the trap.

It can easily take two weeks hanging outside to obtain the proper rust. I’ve read that some folks dip their traps in fresh water every few days or spray them with white vinegar to speed up the rusting process. I haven’t tried these.

Some trappers will take their new traps (after the grease has been removed) and put them in the dishwasher and run them through a cycle (with no detergent). If you do this, leave the dishwasher closed overnight, and you’ll have a good coat of rust on your traps the next day.

Greg tried this trick, and it worked to perfection. He ran them through the dishwasher, allowed them to sit overnight and then repeated the entire process the second day. He dyed them the same day he took them from the dishwasher after the second run.

Dying: A lot of the Georgia trappers I’ve been reading about prefer to dye and wax their traps every time they pull them out of ground and before they use them in a new area. Their reasoning is that scent from other critters get on traps, along with the thought that clean, waxed traps function better.

Since my traps weren’t properly coated with enough rust, the dye didn’t do what it was suppose to do, which is coat the traps for protection while removing all scent. Yes, I did catch one yote, but I feel like I missed an opportunity at several more because my traps kept getting smelled and dug up.

Boil traps (with anchor system attached) in the dye for one hour, pull them out and hang them outside to completely dry. I like to use Logwood Trap Dye, and when you use this, the traps should come out looking black.

I take a stout piece of wire and hang three traps on the wire while dying. Just dip the traps in the dye, and pull them out after an hour. I like to boil a total of six traps at a time in the same pot.

Proper waxing makes traps scent free and also speeds it up when it’s triggered. Since wax is very flammable, make sure your traps are totally dry before waxing.

With your heat on low, make sure the wax is completely melted before adding traps. I dip my traps (still on the wire) when there is just a hint of a slow boil. Waxing times vary depending on who you ask, but average times seem to be between one and 10 minutes. When we did Greg’s traps, we allowed them to stay in the wax completely submerged for about two minutes. They came out very shiny.

When you pull traps out of the wax, they will be dripping like you pulled them out of water. They will be hot, so wear a glove. Shake the traps to remove the excess wax, and hang them outside (it’s OK if they get rained on) for one to two weeks. After this, the traps are ready to go in the ground.

The Pot

I am in the market for two new pots. For my dying and waxing, I used two different 5-gallon fish cookers. For dying, I’m looking for something 15-20 gallons in size that I can boil six traps at one time using a propane-fueled burner.

I’m going to get another pot the same size for waxing, although since traps just take a couple of minutes to wax, you can get by with a smaller pot and just wax one trap one at a time.

Trap Depth

On May 29, I made a discovery that caused my heart to sink. I noticed some pretty serious claw marks around one of my bait holes, but the trap had not been tripped. So I took my hammer and wanted to see how sensitive my trap was as it sat below the surface.

My light taps on top of the dirt where the trap’s pan was turned into some pretty severe pounding. I’m not sure an elephant could have sprung the trap. As it turned out, I had too much dirt and peat moss on top of my trap that it created a sponge that kept the trap from springing. My traps were simply too deep.

In addition to the issues with dying and waxing, this may also explain why some of my traps were dug up. I’ve learned that if an animal feels shaky, loose ground, they will avoid stepping in the area and may start digging.

I fixed all my traps.

The Trap Pan

Two days later, on May 31, one of my traps was again dug up. After looking at my trap bed, I noticed that it had been messed with so much that the trap was actually lying in the dirt upside down. However, the trap had not sprung. I thought it was strange that something had fooled with the trap so much, but it didn’t go off.

I took my trap and turned it back over and looked it over. Then, using my hammer, I began to slowly push down on the trap’s pan just to see when it would spring. When the pan got about level, I heard a soft click. Huh, I thought.

Back at home on the Internet I discovered that the “dogs” on the MB 550 traps are latched. You are suppose to push the trap pan down until it catches in that latch, and at that point the trap is ready to set in the ground and takes very little pressure to snap. I’m sure this is common sense to most beginners, but I sure didn’t know. That was a pretty big Duh moment for me.

I had to reset all my traps.

The morning of June 6 (Day 13) was when I was rewarded with a 1-year-old male yote in a trap. It was a victory! However, even with the success, I was still learning lessons.

Pan Covers

On June 8, one day before pulling my traps, one of my traps was again dug up. Even with the pan set correctly (flat), the trap didn’t fire.

Now what? I thought.

Once again I took my hammer and began applying pressure to the pan. It did snap, but I felt like it took way more pressure than it should have.

After looking at the trap, I noticed that over the period of two weeks, some red clay and peat moss had collected and become hard under the pan, making it pretty difficult for the pan to go down and for the trap to snap.

The answer is “pan covers.” I didn’t know it at the time, but pan covers are designed to go over the trap and keep any dirt from getting under the pan. You can find several types of pan covers at

Some trappers make their own pan covers from a roll of screen. Greg heard about a guy who used coffee filters for pan covers. We actually went that route on his first trap line, and obviously it worked, at least well enough to catch one coyote. I’m going to keep experimenting using the coffee filters. Just place a filter over top of the trap and cover with peat moss and dirt.

Soft Dirt

Soft dirt around a trap bed is a no-no. When I put my first six traps in the ground, I was paying no attention to the size of the trap bed. All this did was allow more of an opportunity for critters to detect freshly dug ground and start digging.

In a perfect set, trap beds should only be the size of the trap. In addition, as you add dirt back around the trap, push with your fingers and even punch the dirt to compact the bed. Traps need to be solidly fitted just under the surface and surrounded by hard ground.

My goal with this article was to share what I’ve learned as a beginner and help those who are brand new to trapping. I learned some hard lessons and educated a few coyotes I’m sure, but hopefully you’ve come up the learning curve a little bit now.

I’m told that August is a good time to trap since the coyote pups are now rambling around. They may look cute, but they will be eating next year’s crop of fawns and poults. I’m certainly ready to get my six 550s back out and get a little more dirt under my fingernails.

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