Trap Covers for Extreme Conditions
I was sick. Looking at the set in front of me I could clearly see a wolf had stepped right on the pan. Unseasonably warm weather had melted the snow under the trap and then refroze. My trap was uselessly frozen in solid. It wouldn’t have been so bad if this was an isolated occurrence. It wasn’t. This was the seventh trap of the day with wolf tracks on the pan. A big pack of wolves had followed my trail for 10-miles and visited every set along the way. The freeze/ thaw conditions had rendered my sets useless. Good trap covers for leg hold traps were obviously needed.
It’s been 15-years now since that pack of wolves got a free pass through my trapline. I learned a lot that day, and it changed the way I set leg-hold traps. Wolf trapping is a lot of hard work. They are also one of the smartest, if not the smartest furbearer on the planet. The longer you can leave sets undisturbed, the better your chances of success.
Most of the time when a leghold fails it is because it either froze down, or snow, dirt or other debris built up under the pan. Traps are prone to freeze down whenever there is a large fluctuation in temperatures. The traps themselves draw heat from the sun. When the trap warms, two things happen. Condensation will build up, and the warm trap will melt into the surface it is sitting on. Even dirt. Once it cools off, this whole mess freezes up again. If it is severe enough, it can cause even the best traps to fail. Of course the longer traps are left, the greater the chances become that they will freeze in.
Dirt trappers will use a trap antifreeze like glycol, or flake wax to keep their sets operational. While I don’t have any experience with these antifreezes, I don’t think they would work in snow, and I’m sure wolves would pick up on them. Waxing leghold traps is always a good idea, but is really important in northern climates. Waxed traps are faster, and will withstand freeze thaw conditions much better.
Snow build-up under the pan is usually caused by an inadequate trap cover. Here in the far north, a small pan cover is not enough. You need to cover the trap from jaw to jaw. Through a lot of trial and error, I developed a system that keeps my traps working in the worst conditions I am likely to encounter.
One of the most important lessons I have learned is to use good traps. For wolves this means the big #9s. The Koro and the Alaskan are the best wolf traps ever designed. If you’re serious about wolves, you can’t go wrong with either trap.
There are a lot of good lynx traps on the market these days but the Victor #3 Softcatch with four coil springs has proven to be a good strong trap that works in tough conditions. I prefer this trap for a few reasons. Like its name implies the Victor #3 is a gentle trap. This is a real benefit when you’re targeting the taxidermy market like I do. Foot damage is never a problem with this trap. Don’t let that fool you though, this trap has holding power. It has been known to hold wolves, and I have held a few wolverines in them over the years. Victor also makes a #3 Softcatch with only two coil springs, so you have to be careful when ordering.
Dyeing leg-holds white makes a huge difference in snowy conditions. White traps not only blend in better, they don’t draw heat from the sun like a dark trap will. This is especially important out in open areas that get lots of sunlight. I have seen dark colored traps draw enough heat to melt the snow covering them in one warm afternoon. Since I am always trapping in snow, I dye or paint all my legholds white.
Years ago an old trapper showed me how to use plastic bags for weatherproof trap covers. He used scent free disposable garbage bags. A set trap is slid into the bag and presto you’re ready to make your set. This method protects the trap well, especially in freeze thaw conditions. The downside is the plastic. It’s not stiff enough to bridge the trap. When you cover the set, the snow will push the plastic down filling the cavity inside the trap. It works well in moderate conditions but it can cause problems when the snow pack starts to build up.
My favorite trap covers are made from thin foam underlay. I use the stuff that goes under click flooring. It’s cheap and most hardware/home supply centers carry it. I got the idea one fall while we were doing some renovations on one of our cabins. We installed some click flooring and while working with the underlay, I started wondering how it would work as a trap cover. I saved some and tried it the next winter.
I liked it immediately. The white foam covers helped camouflage my traps, and I found it bridged better than anything I had used in the past. This makes it possible for me to effectively hide a trap with little snow cover. The foam is a great insulator too. A trap bedded on foam will rarely freeze down. That first winter I caught wolves in traps that had been set as long as eight weeks previously. In our harsh environment that is a real testament to the trap and the weather proofing.
Making the covers is simple. Just lay a piece of the foam on the floor and use a set trap for a template. I make my trap covers about ¼-inch larger than the trap. Once you have a template, you can quickly make as many covers as you need.
Wolves, wolverine, and lynx are considered by many to be the holy grail of all the north American furbearers to catch. Even though I get to chase all three species every season, I don’t take it for granted. Experience has taught me that you might only get one chance at a particular animal all season, so you have to make it count. Using good traps, and then weatherproofing them well, has helped me put a lot of fur on the stretchers. Even then, just when you think you have it figured out, it will throw you a curve ball. Still, I sleep easier at night knowing my traps are as weatherproofed as I can make them. Now if those wolves would just come down the trail again!