Buggin' Out: Trapping and Survival.

Buggin' Out:

Trapping & Survival.

First, it is important to understand that some of the views and scenarios described in this article are being presented for hypothetical situations. Trapping laws and types of traps legal to use vary from state to state and region to region. It is important that you familiarize yourself with your state’s Fish and Game regulations before setting traps for wildlife. Enrolling in a trapper’s education course is an excellent way to introduce and familiarize yourself with the world of modern wildlife trapping.

When I find myself checking traps during the annual fur trapping season here in the backcountry of the Northeast, the weather and elements often leave me daydreaming of a nice hot shower or the comfort of a warm truck cab when I get done hiking the terrain. As such, I also find myself thinking about how I would fare if these luxuries were no longer existent. How would things pan out if there was no warm truck or home to return to after checking my furbearer traps? Fur trapping, or rather the idea and motivation behind trapping did, of course, originate out of necessity for Native Americans and new-world settlers prior to the founding and establishment of this country. Mountain men of old times were certainly in a minimalist survival atmosphere when they left behind established towns and outposts and ventured into the hills and backcountry during the region’s harshest weather conditions in search of sought after animal pelts to pay their way in an ever expanding country. Many lost their lives in the pursuit, and many more never returned to civilization, except to trade fur pelts for goods and supplies before returning to a life of solitude in the mountains.

These common associations with the early days of animal hunting and trapping as a means of survival shouldn’t necessarily come as any surprise; and even today there are many portions of the world where people still heavily rely on these practices to live. I think it’s well established that the ideas behind hunting and trapping are the true definition of survival as any member of society would imagine. However, the purpose of this article wasn’t intended to discuss what is already commonly known and understood, but more so to take the ideas of trapping to the next level.

I’m not a “prepper” by any means. You won’t find a bomb shelter buried in my backyard, nor will you find a hundred years’ worth of canned goods and batteries in my basement. I have no use for gas masks, biohazard suits, or stockpiles of semi-automatic weapons. I do practice minimal efforts of self-reliance, which includes harvesting my own meat from the natural resources around me, growing an extensive garden with organic and naturally grown goods, and future plans to install a root cellar on the property for stock-piling goods during the harsh winter months. Quite frankly, if some epic disaster strikes and I can “head for the hills”, I think I would fare just fine with my skills and experience in the outdoors of the region. However if something more cataclysmic were to happen; say, something that involved the need for bomb shelters and gas masks, I think I would rather succumb to that disaster rather than trying to survive through it – who the hell wants to live in a barren wasteland anyway? Frankly, if I can’t live off the land and resources around me, there really isn’t any point to living. That being said, with the headlines the way they’ve been lately, the idea of social and economic collapse really doesn’t seem that far off, and in a survival situation where you are forced to return to more primitive ways of living – trapping skills may come in handy when the flora and fauna around you is all you have to rely on. Let’s paint a hypothetical scenario: whatever the cause (use your imagination), basic amenities you’ve taken for granted are no longer available. No deliveries or transportation, which in turn means no supermarkets, food, fuel, or water. If a situation like this were to arise, and based on recent current events, you can bet that rioting and looting would take place; leaving anything that was left over in the stores completely gone. Because of this, money is obviously rendered useless. You’re left to fend for yourself with what you have, and what’s around you.

I’ve always had an interest in the integral role wildlife trapping would play in a survival situation. Self-reliance and sustainability was a primary motivation for me to pursue a role in the trapping trade over a decade ago. Many “bug-out preppers” focus on bomb shelters, growing sustainable food and stocking up on 50 years’ worth of canned goods; but very rarely is trapping even considered in a “doom’s day” prepper’s itinerary. While stocking up on firearms and ammo may be a sufficient short-term benefit, what happens when the ammo runs out and primitive skills have a need to take hold? Sure, the creation of bow and arrows, arrowheads and spears will certainly suffice in the hunting of wild game; but many don’t realize that modern trapping tools can play a big part in the harvest of food and clothing. Dead falls, spring snares, and fish traps are excellent primitive trapping techniques; but even Conibear traps, cable/wire snares, and modern snap traps can be very effective. Additionally, these modern tools are compact, efficient, and can conserve much needed energy, effort and resources.

Like the traps themselves, the knowledge of how and where to place them is also a key component in successful trapping. Blind sets are ideal for the survivalist. Blind sets are trap setups made without the aid of bait or lure. It is the most simple, but also the most mentally complex aspect of trapping. As its name implies, a blind set is a trap that is set “blind”, in a trail, runway, or den entrance. The blind set relies on the animal’s travel habits to be caught; sometimes the signs of these trails are painfully obvious and other times they are faint; and it takes skill, a well trained eye and complete understanding of your target to decipher these subtle clues and hints left by the animal. From a survival frame of mind, the blind set is preferred because potential food sources do not need to be wasted or divided for baiting. Your query is also less likely to be suspicious or avoid traps associated with scents from baits and lures. The main goal with a blind trap set is to camouflage your trap as a normal element of the environment, and appear as “business as usual” to your target critter. Below is an image of a muskrat caught with a 110 Conibear-style trap. A small trail was created in the snow caused by muskrats traveling from one body of water to another, and after a “pinch-point” was located along the trail (in this case a few fallen branches acting as a funnel), the trap was placed, secured, and lightly camouflaged with surrounding debris.

Body-Gripping Traps.

Muskrat caught with a 110 Body-Gripping trap. 

Muskrat caught with a 110 Body-Gripping trap. 

The 110 and 160 sized Conibear-style or body-gripping traps come to mind when thinking about modern traps that would aid in a “bug-out” survival situation. They are lightweight, compact, and provide a quick and efficient kill of your target animal when properly used. When not in use, the springs can be folded in, leaving you with a small square of metal that can be slipped into a pocket or pack. They can be anchored down with cordage or wire, and typically come with a certain length of chain. These traps will take all sorts of game; from raccoons and woodchucks (160 size), to muskrats, rabbits, and squirrels (110 size). Not only are these critters good eating, but they also provide essential fur insulation and warmth for clothing. The guard hair of many species are used in the making of fishing lures as well. Smaller sized foothold traps such as the #1 long spring and coil spring can also be compact and beneficial for catching small game when properly anchored. I leave larger traps for beaver and coyote out of this article, for the simple fact that they take up much more space, weigh more, and more hardware is needed to securely hold the larger animals.

The standard 110 body-gripping "Conibear" trap. 

The standard 110 body-gripping "Conibear" trap. 

Cable Restrains and Snares.

Wire and cable snares can also be essential to catching game in a survival situation. Cable snares that utilize cams and locks can be constructed ahead of time in mass quantities, rolled up and stored in a “bug-out” bag or survival kit for future use. They can also be effectively secured with wire or cordage. They can be wrapped around a large fallen tree limb and placed under water or thick ice for beaver trapping. Beaver are an excellent food source; their fur is thick and waterproof – a huge plus for protecting against the elements.

The most important aspect of snares is that they can be made out of just about anything – wire, cable, cordage, plant fibers and even vines can serve as ideal snare material, and your loop size can allow the catching of virtually any sized animal imaginable (depending on what kind of snare material you’re utilizing).

Cable restraint designed for beaver.

Cable restraint designed for beaver.

Rat Snaps.

Another efficient and compact modern trap is the snap-trap. Utilized primarily by the homeowner and pest control industry, the snap-trap, especially the larger “rat sized” snap trap is very effective at catching chipmunks, squirrels, and a variety of smaller game. The snap-trap’s small, compact size makes it ideal for tucking in a pocket or pack, and it also fits into tight burrows and root systems where smaller game may reside. Much like the Conibear, when used correctly, it can even be used in a “blind set” format along a trail or burrow entrance. I use these traps primarily for weasel trapping – and it is very effective at taking weasel when used inside of a special “weasel box”.

Standard rat-size snap trap. 

Standard rat-size snap trap. 

As a reminder, it’s important to remember that although these traps are designed to kill, one should always secure traps by tying off to a durable tree trunk or root system, to ensure that your catch remains right where your trap was set. You should plan accordingly for the size and pulling strength of the animal you are targeting.

Packs & Axes. 

Efficiency is a key factor for me while out on the trap line, which is also a primary component of wilderness survival. I have since traded in my old pack basket for an Alice Pack. Alice Packs can be found regularly at Army/Navy surplus stores, and come equipped with multiple pockets and efficient compartments. Draw-strings and sewn-in straps provide the additional benefit of having extra cordage and the ability to add or remove pockets and smaller packs. The nylon construction material is weather proof and lightweight, and the pack conforms to my back and body for hours of comfort while traversing the bush.

The most important tool I own when entering the woods is a good, sharp axe. Whether trapping in my backyard, or hiking miles of mountainous terrain across my southern New Hampshire trapline, my axe comes with me. The axe serves as a tool for de-limbing trees for trap set construction, or taking off limbs for building shelters and fire materials. The backside of the axe head also doubles as a hammer for driving in stakes or breaking up rock and soil. My axe is also used to break holes in thick pond ice to access beaver lodges or drinking water. I can’t even begin to stress the importance of an axe or hatchet for the long-line trapper.

Axe with custom handcrafted handle and accents.

Axe with custom handcrafted handle and accents.

Like the axe, light to medium gauge wire is like duct-tape to the trapper. Wire is used to anchor small to medium sized traps, tie down cubby boxes and pine boughs for camoflouge, and even temporarily hold or mend broken parts. I have used wire in a pinch on the trapline in ways that would make MacGyver jealous! Talk to any seasoned trapper about the importance of wire and get ready for an earful. In the event that you don’t have wire cutters or a sharp axe, lighter gauge wire can be cut by rapidly bending a piece back and forth until it heats up and breaks. It can also be reused multiple times in many applications before getting brittle. Wire can be found in any hardware store in many sizes and thicknesses, and usually comes in the form of a convenient, compact roll – excellent for tucking into a pack or pocket.

The materials and tools of the trade listed above are not just beneficial to the “bug-out” prepper. Many of these items can be stored in a backpack during hiking, snowshoeing or camping trips. You never know when a simple day-long hike into the woods can turn into a survival situation.

Keep in mind that success with modern trapping tools and techniques relies solely on individual understanding and application. Practice produces experience, and the only true way to understand the skills of wildlife trapping is to step away from the computer screen and get out in the woods. Unfortunately, trapping practices nation-wide are under constant attack, primarily from animal rights groups and members of the general public who have an “outdated” perception of fur trapping. Even if you decide to trap simply as a hobby or for survival preparedness, rather than a full time trade, it is imperative that you join and support your local and national trapping organizations to ensure that your “bug-out prep” trapping activities are always legal, encouraged, and available for when you wish to partake in them.

This article has been developed merely as an introduction. I have only begun to scratch the surface of all the key components that encompass fur trapping. Continue to subscribe and check back at this blog regularly for more in-depth tutorials on all kinds of trapping techniques and individual animal characteristics. Good luck; and I hope I have inspired you to consider another aspect of off-grid living and self-reliance.