Dirt Hole Set - Ticket to Canine Success 20 Years Later By John S. Chagnon

Dirt Hole Set - Ticket to Canine Success 20 Years Later By John S. Chagnon

I first wrote an article 20 years ago with this title.  The Dirt Hole Set still remains my favorite and most productive set when trapping any land furbearing animal.  In fact, besides mentioning some new variations that have worked well for me over the years, I cannot stress the fact that no set, no lure, no trap will catch fox or coyote if you have not located the fox, coyote or whatever furbearing animal you are targeting.

The dirt hole set has probably caught more fox and coyote than all other sets combined. A properly made dirt hole set can catch every canine that passes, but the secret is learning how to make a good one.

Hopefully you have read the previous three articles I have wrote in Michigan Woods – N – Water News on preparing for trapping season and how to properly dye and wax your traps.  I would also highly recommend reading the information on Herb Lenon’s Methods on How to Trap Fox and Coyote Trapping Information on www.LenonLures.com.  Asa Lenon clearly summarized the five best trapping information pages ever comprised based on his father’s methods.  The article covers cleanliness, trap care, natural looking set, be very careful, location, wind direction, visibility and eye appeal, proper lures and much more that will make every trapper a better trapper.

The first step is to put your set location in an area inhabited by fox or coyote. In wooded areas, look for your set location near trails that cross. In farm country, locate where fence rows meet, near rock piles and old farms. Anywhere mice and other rodents are abundant or an open area nearby will work also. The set location should be in an area that's open at least 20 or 30 yards in all directions and relatively flat. Gray fox don't mind sets in thickets, but red fox and coyote are too suspicious if the set is not in the open.  For example, a trail through the hardwoods is as open as a hay field when it comes to trapping fox and coyote.

Fox and Coyote season usually starts October 15 in Michigan every year, please check the current regulations.  I usually start most of my canine trapping in November after a few heavy frosts, they seem to travel more then and begin to prime up.

Clean equipment is a necessity. At a very minimum, clean traps and equipment free of factory oil, rust and dirt. Preferably, dye and wax your traps and understand it's best to get your traps out before the deep freezes and heavy snows.  But still reserve some time for the challenge of trapping a few canines in the snow.

Have two pairs of gloves with you in case one gets contaminated. Wear rubber boots as they do not hold odors and can be rinsed off. Keep baits and lures away from traps and tools, either in a coat pocket or strapped to your packbasket.


I’m going to describe a dirt hole set in this article, it is important to note that I suggest you set three sets in close proximity while trapping canines “say 20 feet apart”.   Canines often travel in groups and there is no better time to catch a second fox or coyote then when you have a live decoy in one of your sets.  Also skunk and opossum find a way to get into our canine sets so having a couple extra working traps when you catch incidentals is a good thing. To reduce the amount of incidental catches I usually use no bait and a good lure.  My favorite is Lenon’s Fox Super Range All Call.  Use Lenon’s Coyote Super Range All Call if your target is coyote; however, from years of experience using and now making Lenon Lures I assure you either lure will make any fox or coyote commit to that final step.


The following dirt hole set described is targeted for fox and coyote, but it can and will catch raccoon, skunk, opossum, bobcat, etc. If coyote are your target use larger traps with coyote scent. Place the trap several inches from the dirt hole. Under normal conditions the 1-1/2 Coilspring trap works fine; however, in Michigan during fox season, we have plenty of rain, freezing weather and snow, so I use a lot of 1-3/4 and 2 coilspring traps. The larger traps have the strength needed to push through ground under adverse conditions.

Set your trap before moving to the set location and take large steps so the area is disturbed as little as possible. Place a 3' x 3' piece of canvas or tarp to one side and your packbasket on the other. Using your trowel, cut out your trap bed approximately 1" larger than your trap. Place the sod and dirt removed on the canvas. Dig the trap bed approximately 4 or 5 inches deep. Dig a hole 1" in front of the trap bed, 3 to 6 inches in diameter approximately 8 to 10 inches deep at a 45 degree angle. I vary the size of the dirt hole I make from a mouse size to gopher sized hole.  I prefer a larger hole but if ground is hard or rocky and hard to dig I don’t fight it, I just make a smaller hole.  You’re making a natural set no matter what size your dirt hole is and canines will want to investigate.

Decide if you want to use a stake or drag to fasten the trap.  It is very important to make sure you are using a staking or drag system that will hold any Coyote that you might catch.  It is not a good feeling to visit a set location and find an empty circle with no trap or coyote.  For stakes use re-rod between 15 and 24 inches depending on the soil with a short 6" chain to the trap. With the increase in coyotes in Michigan it is highly recommend to use a double stake swivel and two rebar stakes when using rebar stakes.  Today cable trap stakes are a choice of many, and I prefer AuSable Brand Trap Cable Anchor Stakes.  They are extremely affordable, lightweight and do the job of holding the biggest meanest coyote.  Basically which ever stake system you are using make sure you cannot pull it out of the ground.  If you can pull out of ground so will Mr. Coyote, so use a drag under those circumstances.  If you use a drag make sure to have 4 to 6 feet of chain, plus dig your trap bed deeper to accommodate the drag in the bed. Sift 1" of dirt over the stake or drag. Push the trap firmly into the sifted dirt and pack sifted dirt all around the jaws and springs. Having the trap firmly bedded is one of the most important steps to a good dirt hole set. It will be less likely to tip or spring when the animal steps on the outer area of the trap bed. The trap should spring only when the fox or coyote steps on the trap pan.

Place a trap cover over the trap either wax paper or fiberglass pan cover and sift 1/2" of dirt over the entire trap and trap bed area. Be careful to make sure there are no small rocks or other debris that could get stuck in the trap jaws when the trap springs. The covering over your trap should be flush to slightly elevated compared to the surrounding ground.  During freezing temperatures use trap antifreeze, dry peat moss or wax proofed dirt. 

The final step is placing the lure, bait and urine. I perform this step last so as not to get any odors on the trap or bedding material which would cause the canine to dig and scratch at the trap resulting in a sprung and empty trap. 

A good gland lure is a must. Put several drops on some fur or piece of sheep wool and deposit in the bottom of the hole. Place a natural backing about 4 to 6 inches high behind the dirt hole and spray urine over backing. Use anything from the natural surroundings, such as a piece of wood or rock. If you use bait try to use something slightly tainted, as rotten bait seems to attract more possum and skunks.

Your set is ready and only needs to have lure added weekly or after rains. Try making several sets in one location, especially if a lot of sign is present. When you catch a canine, be sure to remake the set even if the area is all torn up. Just use a different clean trap and bedding material. As soon as the weather starts freezing, mix trap anti-freeze with your dirt or use dry dirt that you saved during the dry summer months.

The last several winters have been pretty mild, which has provided us with some excellent weather for canine trapping. Be patient if your line gets covered with snow, because having sets out during a thaw is one of the most productive times and could result in your best catch of the season.

The 2017 Northern Great Lakes Fur Harvesters Annual Trappers Convention will be September 22 – 23rd, at Kinross Chippewa Country Fairgrounds.  My favorite trapping show of the year great demos and trappers supply companies attend every year.

I welcome you to visit my website at www.LenonLures.com. 

More reading on the art of trapping ...


  • Beaver and Otter Trapping
  • Mink and Muskrat Trapping
  • Raccoon, Opossum, Skunk and Weasel Trapping
  • Herb Lenon Trapper's Hall of Fame Article
  • Herb Lenon 1947 Full Page Ad
  • How To Trap Fox & Coyote - Herb Lenon
  • Mink Trapping by Herb Lenon Article 1946
  • Trapper's Bible of Trapline Secrets, Sets and Knowledge by Herb Lenon
  • Monthly Tips on How To Trap by John Chagnon & historical writings Herb and Asa Lenon of Lenon Lures

     Lenon's Coyote Super All Call - Coyote Lure / Scent Available in 1 oz Jar or 4 oz Jar

    Bobcat Nature's Call Lure - Bobcat Super All Call Lure - Bobcat Urine

    Coyote Nature's Call Lure - Coyote Super All Call Lure - Coyote Super Range All Call Lure - Coyote Urine

    Fisher Super All Call Lure - 

    Fox Nature's Call Lure - Fox Super All Call Lure - Fox Super Range All Call Lure - Red Fox Urine 

    Wolf Nature's Call Lure 

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