For catching coons, DP traps are perfect for beginners and experts alike
By Jason Houser
For many years all trappers had to catch raccoons were foothold, body-grip and cage traps. These traps have caught millions of coons, and will continue to catch millions of coons for trappers all over the country.
However, the latest type of trap that targets coons are variations of dog-proof (DP) traps. The objective of this trap is to completely enclose the tapered foot of the coon, preventing the raccoon from being able to reach its foot and biting it. With a dog-proof trap, the coon sticks its foot in the hole of the trap as it is searching for the bait. These traps can be used at any set, including pocket sets and dirt holes.
The advantage with a dog-proof trap is that they will only catch raccoons or possums, not your neighbor’s cat or dog. On occasion they will catch a skunk, but that is not common. These traps are a good choice for beginners, as well for trappers in suburban areas that run the risk of catching a domestic animal.
There are no less than a dozen different enclosed, dog-proof traps on the market today, but the DP Trap Company of Talmage, California is most often credited with the first modern version. Jack Isborn, a California trapper and inventor, began selling what he called the “DP Conversion Kit – Lift Up Trigger” sometime in 1982.
The kit made an existing No. 1-1/2 or No. 2 coil-spring trap dog-proof by replacing the standard pan and trigger with a forked trigger that fired when lifted, not when depressed like the standard pan.
To make a dog-proof set, the trap was set in a bed dug deeply enough to bury the entire trap (approximately three and a half inches). Bait was impaled on the forked trigger. A foot-square piece of plywood with a 1-1/4-inch diameter round hole in the center was then placed over the set trap, with the hole directly over the forked trigger. A plug went in the hole, and the trapper then covered the plywood with dirt, sod, or whatever else was natural to the location.
When the plug was pulled, a perfectly round, baited “dirt-hole” set was produced. When a raccoon reached in and pulled up on the baited trigger, the coilspring trap fired, catching the animal’s paw. Opossums, skunks and sometimes an occasional grey fox might also be caught. To avoid house cats, a sweet bait like peanut butter, honey or grape jelly could be used, as cats are not fond of such sweets.
In 1984, Isborn patented a fully enclosed rectangular 16-gauge metal version. It came with a wood setting plug, sold for $11.95, and carried a two-year warranty. Metal end caps were removed to bait and set the trap. A special setting tool was offered for $6.95. It was recommended that the entire trap be staked and buried, leaving just the round opening for the raccoon to reach in through.
Many manufacturers of traps have joined the dog-proof trap revolution. I will be the first to say that these types of traps are not cheap, but I will also be the first to tell you they catch coon.
The newest dog proof trap on the market is the Freedom Brand DP Trap. Trappers have not had a full season to try this trap out yet, but hopes are high that this trap will do all it promises. I had the opportunity to work with this trap recently at the Illinois Trappers Association’s annual convention. When the company says that it is fast, comfortable and easy to set, they were not joking. This is by far the easiest coon trap to set of any style out there. The only way this trap would be easier to set is if someone else did it for you. The trigger on this trap allows it to fire when either pulled or pushed.
I have been using the Duke DP Trap and have had no complaints. You can ask any trapper what their favorite DP is and surprisingly a good portion will say Duke, no matter what their thoughts are of their other traps they have on the market. This trap has powerful coil springs, sensitive trigger system and the straight spade stake makes it easy to set anywhere. These traps are a bit harder to set. After setting a few you will have sore palms. I recommend purchasing a setter that makes the task of setting this trap easier and quicker.
The last trap I want to mention is the Sterling Grizz Trap. This trap is super strong (the strongest in the DP field). A large mud ejection window for the restraining bar improves results in the worst conditions, and the twist-loc anchor system works great in ground that is soft.
Baiting & Setting
I pre-set and bait the traps before leaving home. This saves time on the trapline when the conditions might not be the best. It is easier to complete this task in the warmth of the house than in freezing weather conditions.
For bait, I simply use a marshmallow with half tablespoon of coon bait added to the top of the marshmallow. The coon bait I use most is called Big Pile Fish DP Coon Bait made by Jeff Dunlap. Besides commercial bait, many trappers use dry dog food drizzled with bacon grease, commercial grade fish food sprinkled with cherry or strawberry Kool-Aid, sardines, orange slices and marshmallow covered in pancake syrup. Remember that the coons cannot see the bait; the scent is what pulls them in. Add some fish oil as a trailing scent and the set is complete.
A lot of discussion has been whether to set the trap straight up and down, or to set it at an angle. I prefer to set my traps straight up and down. When a coon reaches into the trap, he will be sitting on his haunches, and with the trap sitting straight up this will cause him to exert more power quickly becoming caught.
When buying a new DP there is not a lot of work to be done to get them field ready. Some trappers like to file down the dog to help make it fire quicker, others like to paint them white or even dye them. I do neither and my catch is as good as anybody around me. I learnt quickly that painting a trap is a waste of time. After you catch one coon the trap will look brand new. All that needs to be done is wash the grease off, bait it, set it and go.
Use as a Sales Tool
I have been granted to trap land that otherwise would not have been able to because the landowner had the fear of me catching the family pet. After I showed the trap, and explained how it worked and that there would be no risk of catching “fluffy”, the family cat, I was allowed to trap, and this led to more trapping opportunities like coyote, beaver and muskrat.