Flat Sets For Coyotes

Bryan Rooks has learned over the years that adding some flat sets to his trap line helps up the odds.

Brad Gill | December 28, 2023

I looked down in the sand and there was exactly what I was looking for—a coyote track. The location of the track had the brainbox smoking. It was made along a hunt-club road at the end of a blowdown that had fallen across most of the road. There was no where for that song dog to travel up and down that road except for that single, narrow lane.

I’d heard of flat sets but never put one in. The particular flat set I was thinking about installing is what is referred to by Georgia Trappers Association Director Bryan Rooks as a “blind set.” I’d be using no lure, no bait and no flash to stop the yote and make him investigate the area. My plan was to put a foot-hold trap in that travel spot and hope he stepped right on the pan during his nightly travels.

The next morning I rode my 4-wheeler over there and the trap was tripped and standing straight up in the bed with no signs of struggle. Stinking deer… I reset it and left. The next morning as I rounded the corner, there he was dancing. The coyote had eaten his last deer, turkey, rabbit…

Since that first flat-set coyote, I’ve wanted to learn more about flat sets and the variations of them. That’s where Bryan Rooks came into the picture. I got to know Bryan at last year’s Georgia Trappers Association Youth Field Trials. This guy has a heart for kids and passing down the tradition of trapping. Bryan lives in Monroe County and is a full-time trapper with his business, Central Georgia Wildlife Control, LLC. He’ll trap everything from coyotes to coons, beavers and even wild hogs. He’s hosted recent trapping seminars at the GON Outdoor Blast and at the 2023 NTA Southeast Regional Convention in Crossville, Tenn.

“You could write an entire book just on flat sets,” said Bryan.

Bryan Rooks is a director for the Georgia Trappers Association and says he really likes adding flat sets to his trap lines to help up his odds. They can work especially well on older coyotes that are sometimes hesitant to work a flashy, dirt-hole set.

I’d quickly learn why that statement was true as I went into sponge mode while we rode together on a trap line in Meriwether County a few weeks ago. On this particular property, it was his fourth trapping session over a three-year period, and he’s now caught 56 coyotes from it. During his latest trapping session—the one I was on—he only caught four coyotes, a true testament that trapping is really working. The landowner is seeing more fawns, and the turkeys are making a comeback. His latest maintenance on the land netted four coyotes, three bobcats, 20 coons and 18 possums.

While Bryan’s go-to trapping method during the winter months is the popular dirt-hole set, adding flat sets to his trap line has yielded more coyotes on the tailgate during his trap sessions.

“A flat set is a set that is not flashy, it looks like it is natural,” said Bryan. “If I can’t blend it in really good and make it look like it isn’t there, usually I don’t put them in.”

As we began to ride through a series of cow pastures, I saw that Bryan’s dirt-hole sets were noticeable, not hidden or blended into the surrounding dirt. For this property, he was using mostly trench-style or step-down sets that had traps sitting several inches below the surface. He said this step-down style generally keeps the cows from stepping in them. When a trap bed is obvious and has the appearance that something is going on at that spot, Bryan defines it as “flashy.”

“Typically when I am running a place on the first day, I am concentrating on numbers on traps in the ground,” said Bryan. “I’ll put in as many dirt holes as I can, and on Day 2 when I am checking traps, I’m starting to put in my flat sets.

“The dirt holes are going to catch a lot of young coyotes. Now they will catch older coyotes, too, but after you have been on a place for a week or so, the flat sets really start to shine, especially if you have been catching a bunch of animals. Let’s say you’ve caught five coyotes in dirt holes, and it really starts to slow down. Then let’s say you have a couple of flat sets in a place where you’ve caught coyotes in dirt holes. Maybe that coyote comes through that saw his buddy caught in a dirt hole. If you’re still using that same bait/lure in the dirt hole, maybe he is associating that smell with danger. That flat set is going to be a different smell that he might not know.”

One of Bryan’s favorite flat-set variations this time of year is something he calls a “walk-through set,” and he generally uses attractants not used in his dirt-hole sets, at least not in dirt holes in the same area. The attractants can be smeared on rocks, a clump of grass, cow chips, cow skulls, a charred piece of wood, a t-bone with no more than 8 inches sticking out of the ground and a host of other things if you want to experiment and get creative.

“A lot of times I use both a curiosity lure and gland lure on flat sets, and I save most of my food lures for dirt holes,” said Bryan.

One of Bryan’s favorite varieties of the walk-through set is to place two softball-sized rocks on each side of the trap, which is buried just under the surface and essentially even with the top of the ground. To figure out rock placement, Bryan will stretch out both hands. He’ll then touch his thumbs over the center of his buried trap pan and then separate his thumbs 1 inch. At the ends of both pinky fingers is where he’ll place each rock. The lures go on the insides of the rocks and face the covered trap.

To figure out rock placement, Bryan will stretch out both hands. He’ll then touch his thumbs over the center of his buried trap pan and then separate his thumbs 1 inch. At the ends of both pinky fingers is where he’ll place each rock.

“The purpose of the gland lure is to make him try and investigate it,” said Bryan. “He may come up and want to pee on the gland lure to mark that area and claim it as his territory. One way they communicate is through their smells, their pee and droppings.

“On flat sets, I am not a big fan of using skunky or loud lures because an animal will want to roll on it. If you’re setting on sign, he is coming through anyway, so why run the risk of him trying to roll it?”

Usually in January, Bryan prefers a coyote gland lure smeared on one of the rocks at his flat sets. He really likes two gland lures made by Wayne Derrick, an old government trapper who lives in New Mexico.

“His G.MAN 1 Coyote and Defender are really good,” said Bryan. “The Defender is very, very strong, it only takes a drop or two at a set. The G.MAN is not as strong, but it’s still very strong for a gland.

“Caven’s Yodel Dog Lure is not quite as intense as G.MAN or Defender. It’s a little milder smell, but it’s a very good gland lure.

“Down South Trappers has a gland lure called Confederate Grey, and I really like it. It’s gray fox gland lure, and that is one animal that coyotes absolutely hate.

“However, if I am going to mainly be going after coyotes, I like the G.MAN or Defender or some other coyote gland lure on the market.”

Bryan uses a butter knife to smear Derrick’s G.MAN 1 Coyote gland lure on a rock that sits to one side of a buried foot-hold trap.

Just to offer some variety to some of his flat sets, Bryan may use a coyote gland lure on one rock and a red fox (like Caven’s Minnesota Red) or gray fox gland lure on the other rock. However, more times than not, he is likely adding a curiosity lure on the second rock.

“The curiosity lure will catch his attention and may make him work that set a little more, make him step a few more times,” said Bryan. “These animals are sometimes in a feeding mode and want to eat. The next time he may have a full belly or carrying a piece of rabbit in his mouth and he’s not hungry but wants to mark his territory. Then you may get an adolescent animal that may not want to pee on something that has a real strong coyote gland smell because he has had his butt whooped by older animals, but that’s where that curiosity lure comes in.”

Bryan’s goal with the curiosity lure is to try and confuse the coyote.

“He’s not sure what that smell is, he has never smelled it before or he hasn’t smelled it very often, so he doesn’t know if he wants to rub on it or pee on it or does he want to lick it and eat it? He just doesn’t know,” said Bryan. “By using a curiosity lure, it’s getting his foot to move around. You may miss him that first time, but he may come back several times that night trying to figure out what that smell is.”

Don’t be scared to try some different stuff here. Bryan mentioned mink and beaver castor curiosity lures to try.

“Curiosity lures are focused toward other animals,” said Bryan. “One of my go-to curiosity lures is actually a lure that Fox Hollow puts out called Torpedo, and it’s an otter lure. I’ll use it in the middle of a cow pasture. Some of those ingredients I’m sure they have smelled before, but they don’t associate it up in a cow pasture, but maybe it’s something they associate near water.”

If Bryan uses urine on a flat set, it’s mostly going to be from a coyote.

“I’ll use coyote urine in an area that doesn’t have a high deer density,” said Bryan. “Something about the salt in that urine the deer are attracted to it, and they will set off traps left and right. That is one of the main reasons I got away from using so much urine a few years ago.”

When installing flat sets, Bryan focuses on the same areas he would dirt hole sets—travel areas. He parked his truck in the middle of a cow pasture and pointed a few things out to me. There was a well-worn cattle trail just off the road.

“Coyotes love to travel cattle trails,” said Bryan. “I can make a flat set and blend it back in and make it look like there’s been no disturbance there at all. I may go 2 to 3 feet on each side of the trap bed, and I’ll scrape that top layer of dirt off and sift it 2 to 3 feet on each side of that cow trail. I don’t want to only have freshly dug dirt over top of the trap. I want a bigger stretch of sifted dirt so once he gets there, he is already on fresh dirt before smells it.”

Here’s an example of a walk-through flat set placed directly in the middle of a woods road. Notice the two rocks, which hold gland lure and curiosity lure, and the 3 feet of dirt on each side of the buried trap, which sits between the two rocks.

Continuing through the cow pasture, he spotted a rock already laying in a cattle trail.

“I’d put a flat set right there because that rock is already there,” said Bryan. “That coyote has walked by that rock 100 times. He knows it’s there. The only thing that is new is the lure that I’ll add.”

However, Bryan still adds new rocks to many of his flat sets.

“Putting a new rock in is something different that he has not seen in a particular spot,” said Bryan. “If there is any curiosity to him, he may check it out. But if he’s not curious, that may deter him, too.”

That’s more assurance to me that no two flat sets are alike, which is probably a good thing when considering the different levels of curiosities, maturity and overall spookiness of different coyotes.

“Some coyotes are very spooky by their nature,” said Bryan. “Others are curious. Spooky ones can cause you a headache trying to figure out how to catch them.”

Easing down the road, Bryan stopped again to show me where he’d place a flat set in a roadbed.

“I’d go right in the center of the road between the two tracks,” said Bryan. “That way no matter which way he’s going up or down the road, he’ll see it and hopefully work the set.”

Bryan trapped this bobcat in a flat set during a ride along with the author. The flat set had only been in the ground one night.

This article is not to convert you to an entire flat-set coyote trapper. Instead, it’s to hopefully encourage you to add some flat sets to your current trap lines. After all, as stated, each coyote is different and may need a different approach to catch them.

“To catch more coyotes, trappers need to be versatile in their lines,” said Bryan. “A flashy type set is going to pull those young and dumb ones in because they have never seen them. You’ll catch some of the older coyotes in those flashy sets, but for the most part those older ones have been around a few years because they didn’t work that flashy stuff.”

It’s for this very reason Bryan will keep flat sets in his arsenal. He does caution those trying flat sets for the first time not to get frustrated.

“You will miss more coyotes on flat sets than you do dirt holes,” said Bryan. “It’s not like a dirt-hole set where you can guide them in. He’s going to have the opportunity to work that set in a number of ways, and depending on which way the wind is blowing will determine which way he is going to work it.

“You are going to catch a good many by the back foot versus the front foot since they will a lot of times come up to that spot and try to pee on it, especially if you use gland lure or urine and are trying to mark it. They may miss that trap.”

So we’ve talked about flat sets, but really only the walk-through variety. There’s so much more to write about. I do believe a guy could write an entire book on the subject.

Hire Bryan For Predator Control

Bryan is a full-time trapper and would be a good one to consider when looking for a trapper on your property. He runs Central Georgia Wildlife Control, LLC and can be reached at 478.973.1838.

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