Tanning your hide

As trappers we are usually a hard headed, do it yourself bunch.  We can do it, so why would we pay someone else to do it.  Doesn’t matter what “it” is, we can do “it” ourselves.  I have fallen into this trap many times myself, and several of those times have involved tanning.


You hang around a group of trappers very long and tanning is likely to get brought up.  There are plenty of “easy” one step solutions made for “self tanning.”  The very first bobcat I caught I tried one of these one step tanning solutions.  And I guess overall it did get the job done, I had a couple bald spots but that was my fault for letting the hide overlap on itself.  The biggest problem was you could hold that hide straight out and it wouldn’t fall to the ground, it was as stiff as a board.  I tried breaking it and oiling it but never had much luck.


The next time around I decided to get serious.  I did some research beforehand and learned all about salting, pickling, neutralizing, and I found a multi-step process that was supposed to be what the professionals use, and I had rigged up a tumbler out of an old dryer.  It was more intensive for sure, but I was confident this was going to produce a professional tan.  It did do the job, but I still didn’t get the professional tan I was looking for.  The fur side of the hide was nice, but the flesh side still wasn’t what I was looking for.  I tried more rounds in the tumber, a rope, a board, anything I could to try and break that hide to get is soft and supple.


I probably tanned 40-50 hides like this, trying to get the to turn out nice and soft.  My ultimate conclusion was that I needed to let a professional do it because they know what they are doing.


I did learn a bit about the tanning process, which is all chemistry, thus there are certain steps to go through to get certain results.  I think I had a good tanning process down, but where I think I was going wrong was that I needed to be able to thin the hide down.  During pickling the hide swells, and so it needs to be shaved down by small fractions of an inch, to get it back to or less than its original thickness.


There are machines that do this very well, but they run over five hundred dollars for a good used one.  And of course that is no guarantee that it will turn out the result I’m looking for.  So short of an in depth tour of a tanning facility (which I would love) I’ve decided to let the pro’s do what they are pro’s for and I’ll just worry about catching animals.


If you want to try some home tanning give it a whirl, just be prepared to not have a soft supple hide when you get done.  And I’d recommend if you get very serious, to send your furs off to have them tanned.  It will be less headache and better results.


Happy trapping!

Getting what you pay for

For someone looking to get started trapping it can be a tough decision deciding which traps to purchase.  Traps can get pretty pricey, up to $20+ for a single trap.   As the old saying goes, most of the time “you get what you pay for.”


I started as a young trapper buying whatever traps I could get my hands on, many times this meant used traps.  I had some old double longsprings my uncle gave me, and bought some used 1 1/2 coilsprings and some used 220 and 330 conibears.  These traps served their purpose and caught game, but they weren’t always the best choice for the job.


If you watch any of my videos, you’ll see I’m very specific about which traps I use, although I almost always point out that a trapper should use whatever they feel most comfortable with.  For me when it comes to conibears I’m most comfortable with Belisles.  I caught animals with those first used traps I bought (I didn’t even know what brand they were), but I also had my share of snapped and empty traps.  It was frustrating enough that I was missing, and possibly educating animals, but what really frustrated me was doing a paid beaver job and having a snapped empty trap.  I lost money, and likely made that beaver twice as hard to catch now.  As soon as I had the ability, I bought Belisle traps and haven’t looked back.  I’ve caught beavers by the feet and even tail in Belisles, and I know that if I were using any other trap that would have been a snapped, empty trap.


Like I said, the other brands work, they will definitely catch animals, but Belisles are more effective in my opinion.


As for predator trapping, I am a huge fan of Minnesota Brand traps, the MB 550 in particular.  I think this is the best out of the box trap on the market.  I started out predator trapping with modified Victor 1 3/4 traps.  These traps worked great, but I did alot of adjusting before I was ready to set them, I changed out the trap chain, filed the dog and pan, bend the ends of the jaws to ensure they didn’t pop out.  The MB 550 comes with good chain and swivels(although I do shorten the chain, I’m a big fan of short chains), it also comes with a heavy duty dog that is night latched.  Like I said, to me this is a fantastic trap that is virtually ready to set right out of the box.


When it comes to cheap traps people always mention Duke traps, as they are usually the cheapest trap you can find.  Duke traps will catch game, and there are some people that are die hard Duke fans.  I’m a huge fan of the Duke Dog Proof traps, they are very similar to the Lil Grizz traps, but nearly half the price, and they work great.  I also like Duke 1 1/2 traps for coon trapping.  Brand new 1 1/2 coilsprings are very strong and capable traps.  I’m hesitant to rely on Duke’s for anything larger though.  There’s just too much at risk when you’ve got a nice big coyote or bobcat caught.  I will tell you I caught my first coyote in a Duke #2, but I’ve come to learn that there are more appropriate and ready to use traps on the market.


While we are discussing cheap trapping, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention snaring.  The only real snaring experience I have is with beavers, but snares are cheap and can be super effective.  By cheap I mean $15/dozen, you can’t get a single beaver trap for that price.  (for more on beaver snaring check out my snaring page)  Snares for other game are just as cheap, but you’ve really got to know what you are doing when you are setting snares on land.  There is alot of opportunity to make nontarget catches, and with snares you can’t always turn that animal loose, so I wouldn’t advise someone new to trapping to get out and start setting land snares without some guidance.


Whatever you decide, Dukes or Belisles, conibears or snares, the bottom line is get out there and set some traps.  You won’t learn unless you try it.  Find someone who can give you some guidance, check out my Youtube Channel for trapping videos and tips and tricks.  And if you’ve got any questions be sure to let us know, we’re here to help.  Set some traps and catch some game.  Happy Trapping!

Drowning Rods vs Drowning Cables

People who have never used drowning rods seem to always be curious about them.  I guess that cables are easier to buy, so that is what most people use.  That was my case when I started beaver trapping.  It was probably 6-7 years before I rigged up some drowning rods to try for myself.

This video walks you through the pros and cons of drowning cables versus rods for beaver trapping.


I love footholds for beaver and otter.  That’s probably my favorite way to water trap, with footholds on drowners.  And cables get the job done.


If you’re not familiar, drowning cables are usually a 10′ section of 1/8th inch cable, with a loop on each end and a slide lock in between.  The lock is just an L shaped lock that slides freely when going down the cable, but when it is pulled up it catches and will not slide.  You attach your trap to the lock, and anchor off both ends.  Usually the top end can be anchored with a T bar stake, or wired to a tree.  The deep end can be staked, although that presents issues when you are retrieving the trap once its gone down the wire.  My go to anchor is a cinder block, they generally hold good and can be handled easy enough.


It is possible for beavers to pull the anchor up.  This doesn’t happen all the time, but will happen on occasion.  When that happens they will twist and kink the cable, rendering it useless, and may even be able to escape.


I switched to rods because of that issue and the fact that carrying a cinder block around for every foothold set can be cumbersome and inconvenient.


I’m a big believer in drowning rods now for beaver trapping.  The rods can still be pulled up, but not as often as with cables, and the rods don’t kink like cable.  I find them easier to manage as well.  It takes some getting used to dealing with a 10′ section of rebar, but that is alot lighter than cinder blocks.


Rods have a lock usually fashioned out of square tubing, with a spur coming off the bottom to act as the locking lever.  I weld a fender washer on the top end, and on the bottom end I slide on a fender washer and a 5/8″ nut.  This nut fits snug on 1/2″ rebar.  I slide the washer and nut up about 10-12″ and weld them in place.  This gives you some room to shove the rebar into the mud and keep mud from possibly fouling up the stopper (washer and nut).


There are bolt on kits for drowning rods, so if you don’t have access to a welding machine you can go with the bolt on kits.  I’ve never used them but they look very convenient.  The bolt on kits are called Bauer’s No Weld Drowning System.  Minnesota Trapline Products sells them.  The lock I use is part of that system, I just purchase the lock individually.  There are other locks as well, the Death Diamond locks look very effective for drowning rods.


The bottom line is, figure out what works best for you and use it.  You want you’re trapping set up to be the most efficient for you, to increase your production.  Try some of these new things, but don’t get caught up in every new gismo that comes out.


Happy Trapping!

Setting Beaver Lodges

Beaver lodges can be a very productive location for catching game. Almost all animals are attracted to beaver lodges. Of course you’ve got the beavers that live in them, but other animals use them too. Nutria, muskrats, mink, and otters will use the lodges as a place to get out of the water and groom or mark territory. I have grown especially fond of setting traps at the lodges for otters.


When setting around the lodge for beavers you can set conibears in the channels or entrances of the lodge, but there is also usually a slide that the beavers use to work on the lodge or just loaf. I really like to set a #5 Bridger on these slides. Its a great place to catch beavers, but if there are otters using the lodge that a killer spot to pick them up as well.


Even if the lodge isn’t active, otters are naturally attracted to those locations. There are lots of holes and nooks and crannies for them to explore and possibly find food.


In this video you’ll see how different animals (especially otters) use beaver lodges.

It should be noted that when you are setting traps around a lodge, it does increase the likelihood that you’ll catch juvenile beavers.  So that is an option that you should weigh when deciding whether to set traps on a lodge or not.  Of course if you keep track of you’re catches you can monitor and know if you should move your traps.


This is typically my approach, since these are such hot locations.  Unless I’m doing nuisance work my goal isn’t to catch all of the beavers in an area, so once I catch several I move on to the next location.  Especially if I catch a couple of young beavers right off the bat, I’ll pull out to ensure that I leave seed for next year.


Water animals aren’t the only critters attracted to beaver lodges.  Predators love the smell, and taste, of beavers.  If there is a bank den, or lodge very close to the bank, you can bet coyotes and bobcats are checking it out and it could be a killer location to diversify your water trapline.


Along those same lines, beaver dams can be real game highways, especially if there isn’t a good crossing anywhere close.  Everything from squirrels to furbearers to deer will use beaver dams to cross bodies of water.  This means these locations can be great locations not only for water animals but predators as well.


Then if you’ve got a beaver dam close to a bank den, you’ve got a very prime fur location that would definitely be worth putting some traps at.


And therein lies one of my favorite parts of trapping, learning an animal’s habits and behaviors so that I can predict where they are and what they are doing.  Then trying to convince them to step on a two inch pan when they’ve got thousands of acres they could walk on instead.  Its a great challenge, frustrating at times, but very rewarding.