If you find yourself in a survival situation, once you have taken care of water and shelter, you will want to find food. There are some effective ways to trap small animals such as squirrels, chipmunks, or rabbits, and these animals are generally very abundant. The methods to trap these animals do not require a great expenditure of effort, but you do need to know a few things to be successful.
It is good to understand the habits of the animals you are attempting to trap. All animals have certain behaviors, like where they like to feed, where they rest or sleep, and what types of things they do during the day, for example squirrels gathering nuts and pine cones in the fall. You need to be able to recognize signs of these animals, like their droppings, foot prints, signs of feeding activity (like chewed vegetation or pine cones that have been picked clean lying on the ground). Once you understand some of these basic animal activities, you then look for places where they might be going to and from in the wild to do these things.
First I always look for where the animals will sleep. Squirrels nests are pretty easy to see in trees from the ground. Rabbit holes are easy to identify, the hole won’t be too much bigger than the rabbit, and there will be dirt piled on the outside of the hole. If the dirt looks fresh, meaning recently dug out of the ground, this is a good sign of recent activity. Ground squirrels build mazes of tunnels under the ground, and in rocky areas many times you can see the mounds of earth above these tunnels that follow the path of the tunnel. For ground squirrels, look for the holes they go in and out of, and look to see if they are clear of pine needles and leaves, a sign of recent activity.
Once I find where an animal sleeps, I look for where he would go to find food and water, then look for runs the animal would use to get there. A run is different than a trail. Even in remote wilderness you will find game trails that all sorts of animals use, these are not places where you want to set a trap. You need to find a run that is used by a specific animal. A run is similar to a trail, only much smaller and more difficult to detect. Sometimes a run will simply be identified by grass that is permanently parted be repeated use.
When you set a trap or snare it is important that you don’t leave any human scent behind. This can be difficult, but there are ways to mask human scent. Mud, particularly from an area with vegetation rotting on the ground, is a good mask of human scent. Put mud on your hands before you set the trap, and then smear it on the pieces of the trap as you set it. If you are constructing a trap from wood, don’t use green or fresh wood as it will leak sap which can be alarming to the prey. If you build a trap from wood, if time allows, it is best to let the trap sit and weather a couple of days before you set it, and don’t touch it during this weathering period. If possible, always build your trap at a different location than you intend to set it. Once you have trapped an animal you can use fluid from its gall and urine bladders to mask human scent.
For trap material, guitar strings and piano wires are the best things you can have in your survival gear. Guitar strings have a piece of hollow brass at one end which makes creating a loop very easy. If you don’t have either of these, small twine will work if it is camouflaged adequately. Braided steel fishing leaders also work well for making a snare loop. A simple snare trap works from the animal running through it, and by the force of its movement it becomes stuck. Obviously you have to anchor the snare loop either in the ground or to a small tree.
Building traps is a very interesting topic, and an activity that I like to practice whenever I am out camping. I don’t always try to trap animals, but just knowing that I know how to if I had to is a confidence builder. One of my favorite traps to build is the Figure 4 Deadfall trap, which is the one Kyle is holding in the picture at the beginning of this post. I didn’t have the heart to tell him before I took that picture that he had the top piece wrong. In later posts I will get into details about building specific traps.