Winter Fox & Coyote Trapping by John S. Chagnon
Why am I writing a winter fox and coyote trapping article in October? Well because if you do not prepare for a late winter fox and coyote trapline by October, you may be cutting yourself short. So I’m going to share some tactics that have worked well for me over the years on making some late winter snow catches of prime fox and coyote. As a trapper I do not like to be putting out bait stations during November for December trapping time when I could be catching the cream of the crop in November. Plus I increase the odds with time of attracting in some additional fox and coyote.
October is great month once it starts cooling down to start pre baiting some areas for December forward fox and coyote trapping locations. Gathering venison for the pre bait has never been easier. Currently in the State of Michigan we can call law enforcement and keep road kill once we provide our information. In addition to road kill other guts and scraps from our fishing and hunting trips can be kept frozen during the year and placed at bait stations when it cools down in the fall. The problem is if you place the bait stations out any sooner in the summer or early fall everything will decompose and be gone.
To set up my bait locations, I pick locations that will be easily accessible during the winter snows. I set my bait locations 50 yards from where two or more travel ways meet. We will be setting the traps close to where two or move canine travel ways meet later when the snow comes and we see fox and coyote tracks. The area where we are going to plan on setting the traps should be fairly open. Where we place the bait in October can be thick or not but make sure it is within 50 yards of where you plan to set your winter sets. I prefer to bury most of the fox and coyote bait stations I place out in the woods. At a minimum cover the bait station over with weeds and branches anything to not allow crows and birds of prey to see the exposed bait. It is a main reason that we set the actual fox and coyotes trap sets 50 or more yards from the bait station so as to not catch non target species.
Many times the fox and coyote will circle the bait locations from a distance but opossum, skunk and raccoon go right on in for a Scooby snack. The nice thing is when we wait for it to snow to actually set our fox and coyote traps we will see exactly where the fox and coyote are traveling by the tracks left behind. Most but not all large bait locations will be checked out by fox and coyote. It helps if you are familiar with the area since if you see tracks in an area one winter chances are the fox and coyote will return again in the next winter. Some say raccoon and opossum carcasses will not be eaten by anything, but fox and coyote will still check them out. Now your muskrat and beaver carcasses are perfect to replace any of the baits hit during late October and November by coyotes and fox. Years ago I would get tripe or cow stomachs from the slaughter houses for bait stations.
I trap mostly on Federal and State Lands during October and November. I live on the out skirts of farm country and that is where I set up some of my bait stations for winter fox and coyote trapping. Not only are those locations close to my home during the bad winter weather for easy checking, that is the time of the year the land owners are done deer hunting and are ok with me checking traps. A lot of land owners do not want trappers on their property checking traps during deer season for the obvious reason we could spook the deer while they are deer hunting.
With most bait stations set up on private property it allows trappers to also set snares on the trails that the coyote and fox travel while checking out the bait stations. It is not legal to set cable restraints “Snares” on public land. The cable restraint regulations are detailed in the Michigan Hunting and Trapping Guide and should be followed. Non-lethal cable restraints may be used from Jan. 1 - Mar. 1 to take fox and coyotes with details of the cable restraints allowed in the regulations.
Personally I prefer to use foothold traps when trapping fox and coyote during the winter months. Depending on how much snow we have, I will use a combination of scent post sets, dirt hole or snow hole sets, hay sets and trail sets. Drags or grapples are what I use mostly during the winter to secure my foothold traps, note drags are not allowed when setting snares. Usually the ground is too frozen to drive in stakes. Just make sure there is some brush and such for the drags to hook up on around the location. With the snow on the ground the drag marks left are very easy to follow.
If you can find where the fox and coyote are following a trail to the bait station and deer are not following the same trail conceal a number two or three coilspring trap under one of the tracks. Wrap the trap in wax paper that you crumble so it is more quiet. I like to use about 5 foot of chain on my drags and will actually pick a spot in the trail were I can hook the drag to a sapling. Herb Lenon’s Classic Trapping Dvd shows the method. He used a wooden snow scoop with a long handle for winter trapping. Today a non stick frying pan attached to a long wood handle works fine. The tool is used to scoop snow and spread over our tracks and trap set so we leave the set location more natural. The method works best when we have a foot or more of snow and cold conditions so the snow is powdery.
Scent post sets lured with Lenon’s Fox or Coyote Nature Call Lure are extremely effective on a winter trapline. During the summer time, I will burn several posts out of 2 x 2 pine two feet tall for using on my winter line. One can also use high tuft of grass, wood stump or other natural protruding item for a scent post set. It gives a lot of eye appeal and when lured with Nature Call is extremely deadly. Conceal your trap same as in the trail set. Mating season occurs in late winter and marking of territory is in overdrive by fox and coyote.
If conditions are right sometimes you can make a dirt hole set. I have on several occasions made a snow hole set in the side of a drift. Place lure and bait, conceal the trap, and it worked. The hay set has worked well for me over the years. When making a hay set I like to use three traps spread a foot apart and place bait and lure between them. Using scissors, I then cover the traps with finely chopped hay and simply fluff it up in a big pile. I want the fluffed up hay to stick up at least two feet giving it major eye appeal for Mr. Fox and coyote. Sometimes mice get attracted to the fresh hay and it makes the set even more attractive.
A winter fox and coyote trapline can be very challenging with more snow than you want or thawing conditions making your traps freeze up. Making your sets when a light snow is in the forecast will increase your odds when mother nature covers your tracks with snow. Your own creativity at set locations is often necessary as conditions and territory can vary so much when winter trapping. Having dried peat moss or freeze proof dirt can also be an asset. Traps properly dyed and waxed is ever more important for scent control and to make sure your traps are fast acting and not clogging up with rust and dirt.
One thing is for sure if you place enough bait stations out in October and November you should have plenty of coyote and fox tracks to see and choose set locations during December and January. Nothing is more rewarding on the trapline then walking up on your fox or coyote caught in the middle of our Michigan winter wonderland. Those winter fox and coyote pelts will be the most prime of the year.
I thank everyone that took the time to attend one of the Seminars I did on trapping at the Woods Outdoor Show in September. For November I will be writing an article with some tips on catching mink and other water trapping furbearers. I welcome you to visit my websites at PcsOutdoors.com and LenonLures.com.