Coyotes pose a perennial problem for ranchers, particularly in calving season. At the Coyote Trapping School in Caney, Kansas, Charlie Lee, Kansas State University wildlife damage control specialist, shared his insight and experience after years of successful trapping.
Location, Location, Location
For Lee, location scouting and selection is the first step to successful trapping. Studying aerial maps for possible hot spots and observing travel patterns can be key.
“When scouting for coyotes you have macro locations and micro locations,” Lee said. “The macro locations are which places in that section are ideal where coyotes are likely to run and micro locations are where are the 2 inches where a coyote will put its foot.”
In open country or farmland, coyotes will typically pick high ground to travel — wanting to be able to make a small elevation change and drop out of sight should they be spotted by humans. In these areas, terrace tops, saddles, high hills and ridges are likely to be travel corridors for coyotes.
“Coyotes are somewhat like us — they’re lazy,” Lee said. “They want to run where it’s easiest and those are the kinds of macro locations you pick.”
In pasture land, coyotes will continue to be drawn to high ground but will also be likely to follow livestock travel patterns through the field and turn up at livestock-heavy areas. Pond dams, livestock trails pasture roads and salt or mineral feeders can become coyote hot spots.
“Cattle are good attractors for coyotes,” Lee said. “They come up around there and while they may never cause a problem, they are attracted to livestock areas.”
Afterbirth, first droppings from newborn calves and even leftover range cubes can become good, natural attractants for coyotes in pastures. Observing coyote patterns is the first key to capturing animals renowned for their intelligence and elusive behavior.
“Spend your time looking for the right location,” Lee said. “Find the tracks and then set the trap.”
Open, flat areas are Lee’s preferred setup with consideration to wind direction and any natural attractants in the area.
“You want to set the trap upwind of the coyote so whatever attractant you have — as far as lure or scent — is going to drift in a cone-shaped pattern over that coyote when he walks by,” Lee said. “Then make sure you do a good job of setting and bedding the trap.”
Fast, simple traps with nose and eye appeal are Lee’s recommended method of trapping. For a somewhat natural looking setup, he ensures the trap is securely underground with no part visible on the surface.
“I like to place my traps slightly below ground level,” Lee said. “I think a coyote is more likely to step down into a little bit of a low spot than he is to step up to a high spot.”
Securing the trap is an important part of trap setup, both for securing the coyote once it has triggered the trap and for ensuring it triggers the trap properly. Lee suggests using two stakes rather than one to secure traps until the trapper is familiar with the surrounding soil. In situations where a coyote is trapped by a front paw in wet or loose soil, it becomes possible for the animal to “jump” the stake a few inches at a time until it is free.
Securing the ground around the trap is also important because a change in soil texture could trigger hunting instincts and cause the coyote to approach or trigger the trap differently than intended.
“Most of the time coyotes are hunting mice so when they get to an area that suddenly collapses or is real loose under their foot they think it could possibly be a mouse hole,” Lee said. “As soon as they feel a different soil consistency under their foot, they are more likely to paw.”
In frozen soil conditions, Lee has used a variety of soil alternatives to cover his traps — including peat moss, a salt and sand mixture, and soil mixed with wax, dried in the sun and stored. Regardless of material, secure soil and a well-hidden trap are key in any trapping conditions.
Lee prefers attracting coyotes to his chosen location with a combination of three kinds of attractants — a visual attractant like a hole, mound or clump, a urine smell and either a gland or lure attractant. Locating an attractant where coyotes have naturally been communicating is an even more ideal situation where backing — the hole or mound part of the attractant equation — wouldn’t be necessary.
“Coyotes are very social animals just like your dog,” Lee said. “If you take your dog for a walk around the block, there are certain places they will stop to pee every time — it’s how they communicate and it’s the same for coyotes.”
Scouting trap locations with a dog helps trappers locate those natural communication locations and doesn’t harm the efficacy of site.
Big baits — like dead cattle, pigs or goats — are not necessary for successful trapping, Lee said. In the case of the availability of a deceased animal, Lee said he would happily use it as bait but would not place the trap directly against the carcass.
Coyotes often circle the highest ground in a perimeter around a large bait like a deceased cow before coming in to investigate. Lee suggested setting a trap 20 to 30 feet away on the high ground in those situations to make the best use of the bait and location.
Two traps topped Lee’s primary recommendations, an older double long spring trap with cast iron jaws and a newer version of a similar trap using a coil spring. The long spring trap has been widely used for over 70 years and is a very accessible trap, while the coil spring version comes with some advantages.
The coil spring version takes a smaller hole, making it easier to place in frozen weather or rocky conditions, but it doesn’t set as solidly as the long spring trap, making it take a little longer to bed down properly.
Lee said he prefers at least 18 inches of chain on his traps and at least three swivels, with adequate swivels being one of the most important aspects of a coyote trap.
“What holds a coyote isn’t the speed and the tension of that spring,” Lee said. “It’s really how high these spring levers come up on the jaws — that’s a little more important than the speed of the springs in keeping the coyote attached.”
In Lee’s experience his trapping method is also safe around roaming dogs. The traps rarely cause any damage to legs or paws, especially of larger dogs, and make them safe to use in areas where dogs may be a concern.