Friday, April 1, 2011

Traps - The Large Game Pitfall


Safety first – place orange flags or ribbons around the tree line circling the designated area as well as another stick with a flag attached near the pitfall site to aware other hikers. If you have a permanent marker in your supply bag then write the words CAUTION – PITFALL TRAP IN PLACE. If you leave an area, dismantle the trap including the wooden spikes, remove the brush cover from the top of the trap, and fill in the hole to the best of your ability. You may leave the flags up to still ensure others yield caution to avoid from breaking a leg or twisting an ankle due to a partially covered hole.  NEVER leave a pitfall trap intact when you permanently leave an area! PERIOD! They can kill or severely injure other people including rescuers who may be trying to find you.

Setup – When trying to find an effective area for a pitfall trap try to locate active animal trails. These are trails where the grass or ground is noticeably trampled, small tree limbs have been broken over, or brush has been moved to the side or tampered with. Lots of these trails lead to open grazing areas or sources for water and are used by a vast array of different sized animals.

1)      After locating an active trail, start digging a large circular hole directly in the animal path. Circular shaped trap holes generate less footing potential for prey than a square shaped hole and will decrease the opportunity for escape. For smaller prey, a hole with a 3 to 4 foot diameter with equal depth is adequate. For larger prey, you may want to build a trap 5 to 7 foot in diameter with equal depth as well or possibly even larger depending on the overall size of the targeted animal. Like any intensive activity especially during the hotter months of the year, begin the task of digging early in the morning to avoid any additional dehydration or fatigue. If you’re with a group, take turns digging to help share the workload.

2)      Once the hole is completed, remove all the dirt around the hole to ensure that it is level on all sides to create a natural landscape and avoid making the potential prey detour around the trap. You can also use brush or some of the dirt to put on both sides of the pitfall trap in order to funnel the wildlife directly into the trap to help increase the traps success rate.

3)      Once the hole is completed, start collecting long branches or sticks that are straight, sturdy, and about ½” to 1” in diameter. You want the main spears to be about 1/3 as long as the depth of your pitfall but also include an additional 8” to 12” to put into the ground at the bottom of the pitfall to ensure the spears are properly supported for strength. You’ll also want to collect smaller spears about ¼ as long as the depth of your pitfall but again include an additional 8” to 12” to put into the ground at the bottom of the pitfall to ensure the spears are properly supported for strength. Now that the spears are collected, sharpen the spears at an angle that will ensure two things.  One that it’s not too pointed as to offer a weak or easily broken tip at the hide of tougher game like wild hogs. And two, that it is not too broad of a pointed tip which will have the advantage of being stronger but will cause less damage and may not kill the prey upon falling into the trap.

4)      Once all the spears are sharpened, then it is time to start placing them within the bottom of the trap. Push the longer spears into the ground in an equal fashion leaving about 8” between them, followed with the smaller spears in-between the larger ones. The idea between the two different heights is to ensure a staggered trap that will strike a more critical blow to prey given that the spears are further apart putting more of the animal’s weight into each spear creating more penetration. At the same time, the shorter spears will ensure that you’re not giving up any surface area for smaller game.

5)      The next step is to cover and camouflage the hole. The rule of thumb here is less is more. You want to develop just enough structure to hold leafs, grass, and light dirt but not enough to support the weight of a small/medium/large animal. Try to locate long and very thin branches or sticks in order to use as your core structure for holding up leafs and foliage to help hide the hole. Small leafy branches or weed straw work very well too. Sometimes it’s helpful to mock up several different types of coverings to the side of the actual hole or suspended on a large branch first to see which combination of branches, grass, or other materials supplies the lightest structure but still effectively covers and hides the hole. Once a method is discovered, transfer it to the pitfall to cover the hole. Sprinkle small amounts of dirt or crumbled up leaves to best make the cover match the surrounds as to not hint to the prey that it has been tampered. The better it matches the environment, the greater your potential of success.

6)      Notes – Be extremely careful entering or exiting the pitfall. Given that you’ll have to enter the trap to secure the spears it is sometimes helpful to leave a designated spot spear less to ensure a safer means of entering and exiting. Other forms of support as giving someone a hand, spotting them in and out of the hole, tying a rope or some other form of support to a neighboring tree, or making a homemade latter can all ensure better safety in and around the hole.

7)      When game is discovered inside the hole, try to use a large branch or stick that has a curve at the end to help pull smaller game out of the hole as well as to nudge them to ensure they are not still alive. Larger game may require two people pulling it out of the hole or throwing a rope over a tree creating a pulley system to lasso around the limbs of the animal and hoist it out of the pitfall. Take EXTREME caution when removing animals from the trap to ensure they are not still alive, that you yourself do not fall into the trap, or that the sides of the trap do not cave in which could also cause you to fall into it yourself.

8)      If smaller animals are the main potential candidates or when your pitfall is not successful, it may be necessary to bait the trap. The best way is to suspend the bait using fishing line or cordage about 2 to 3 feet above the center of the trap helping to lure prey in and encouraging them to jump which just further increases the success of the trap.


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