By Jim Spencer
Some trappers use urine at every set they make. Other trappers never use it at all. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
It was a classic good news/bad news situation. The first set — the best set, in my opinion — was a baited dirthole at the V where two woods roads diverged in a brushy area, and it was dug up in typical canine fashion.
The right side of the pan and most of the right jaw were exposed, the dirt covering pulled away in a fan-shaped pattern, and the bait hole had been dug out from the right side.
The second set, the backup set I’d made in case a pair of animals came through or in case another critter found the primary set first, was a blended-in flat set in front of a cantaloupe-sized rock. It was 40 feet up the right-hand woods road from the V.
I’d doused the rock with a good dose of red fox urine, but hadn’t used any other bait or lure. The backup set had also been worked, but this time the sign was a little different. Instead of sitting there looking silly, with its pan and jaw bared to the elements, this trap had a firm grip on the right front pad of a big dog coyote.
I remade both sets, using only red fox urine at both, and two days later, caught a female coyote in the set at the V. Two days after that, the backup set connected with still another female. It wasn’t a record-setting accomplishment, but it wasn’t bad for two sets at one location. I’d gladly settle for that kind of catch ratio at every stop on my predator line, wouldn’t you?
That episode is a prime example of why I use urine at most of the sets on my upland predator line. I doubt I’d have caught any of those three coyotes if I hadn’t had my backup urine post set in place the first night.
When a coyote works a set and either digs up the trap or fires it without getting caught, it doesn’t come back. I’m not sure the animal that dug up my bait-hole set was the one I caught the first night, but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make any difference. That first one was the dominant member of the pack, and the others kept coming back until I picked off some of them, too.
The Urine Equation
If you’re an upland trapper and you’re not using urine on at least some of your sets, I believe it is costing you fur. Urine is the finishing touch that can turn a good set into a very good set, and add a little bit to your catch ratio.
Even if using urine at sets only increases your catch by 1 percent, that’s an extra catch for every 100 trap nights. Do the math: 20 sets for five nights is 100 trap nights, so if you trap three weeks with 20 sets out, a 1 percent increase in effectiveness translates into four extra catches. If those catches are gray foxes, that’s an $100 bucks or more worth of fur. Not a bad trade-off for $6 or $7 worth of pee, I’d say.
And I’m a firm believer the judicious and proper use of urine at predator sets increases my effectiveness a lot more than 1 percent. That percentage increase is anybody’s guess, but if you pressed me, I’d say in the neighborhood of 10 percent.
For Upland Predators Only
A canine or feline uses its urine the same way a teen-aged boy uses spray paint on a water tower: as a way of telling the world, “Hey, everybody, I was here.”
Urine is a territorial marker, but not in same manner as a “Posted, Keep Out” sign is used in the human world. Territories of canines and felines overlap, and while coyote packs, fox pairs and individual bobcats or lynx avoid each other, they still are interested in keeping up with each other.
Using urine makes sense when you make sets for canines or felines. For mink, raccoons, otters, weasels, muskrats and beavers, forget it. Beavers use castor to mark their territory, of course, but that’s a behavior unique to the species and doesn’t belong in this discussion. Urine is attractive to upland predators, and upland predators only.
Except for squirrels and other small rodents, and also rabbits. And deer. And cows. All of these animals are attracted to urine because it contains salts and trace minerals, so using urine where these animals are plentiful can decrease your trap-night ratio, because many sets will be put out of commission by the unwanted animals working them to get at the urine.
Urine Won’t Mask Sloppy Sets
Used properly, urine is a very good attractor. Used wrong, it can cost you a lot of fur — or at best, fail to give you any extra catches.
Many trappers believe urine is a suspicion remover, and maybe that’s true. However, that doesn’t mean it will cause a suspicious or reluctant animal to work a set well enough to get caught. It’s always been my belief that when a furbearer is suspicious of a set or an area, it simply leaves. It doesn’t hang around, trying to decide whether to come on in or not. It just goes away to another part of its territory, and maybe it returns on another day. Or maybe it doesn’t. Not while your sets are there, at least.
In other words, using urine at your sets is not going to compensate for making sets off your target animal’s travelway, using contaminated traps and other equipment, not bedding your traps well or committing any of a dozen other common trapline sins. Pee won’t wash away sloppy trapping techniques.
What pee will do, though, is maybe make the animal stick around a few extra seconds when it works your set. Maybe the critter will want to add a little of its own urine to the squirt you’ve already placed there, and in so doing, it shifts its feet and increases its vulnerability to getting caught in your trap.
Where to Squirt
First, notice the verb. Squirt. Not mist, but squirt. If you’ve ever watched a dog water a tree or fire hydrant, you know he doesn’t excrete a fine mist, but rather a concentrated spurt. That’s how you should be applying the stuff out of your applicator bottle.
Next, if you’re using lure or bait, the urine should be applied slightly above and slightly behind the primary attractor, not directly on it. Again, use the urine as an incentive for the critter to stick around an extra second or two.
Do not spray any urine on the trap bed itself. This is a common mistake, done in the belief that it will mask any residual odor. What it really does, though, is focus the furbearer’s attention where you want it least — on the dirt covering your trap. Keep the smells of lure, bait and urine beyond the trap, where you want the furbearer’s attention to be. Likewise, don’t spray urine on your shovel, trowel, sifter or other trapline tools.
If you’re not using any other attractor except the urine, being right on the travelway is crucial to your success. Coyotes, foxes and bobcats don’t go out of their way to anoint a signpost, and if you try to pull one off their route with a squirt of urine, you’re almost always going to fail. If you’re not absolutely sure of the animal’s line of travel, use lure or bait as well, or use the urine post set as a back-up set with a lured or baited set nearby, as illustrated in the sets at the beginning of this article.
Because urine is attractive to both male and female bobcats and canines, and because the method of evacuation is different (for the canines, at least) it is usually better to have a fairly low backing for the set — a cantaloupe-sized rock, for example, or a wood chunk or the end of a log. However, don’t pass up a larger or taller backing if you’re sure it is on the travelway.
Most inexperienced trappers set the trap too far from the backing. Six or seven inches from pan to backing works best for me on all of my target predator species — coyotes, bobcat, gray fox and red fox.
Urine Pecking Order
Most predator sets are attractive to all four of the above species, as well as raccoons, skunks, opossums and others. However, there’s a definite pecking order in the world of upland predators, and in most parts of the country, coyotes are at the top. Bobcats come next, then gray foxes, then red foxes. Therefore, your choice of urine depends on what animals you desire to catch.
If you’re trapping strictly for coyotes, by all means, use coyote urine. You’ll also catch some of the other three species as well, but some individuals of these subdominant species will shy from sets where coyote urine is used. If you want strictly bobcats, use bobcat urine. It’s more attractive to bobcats than the urine of other species.
But if you’re like most of us, you want to catch whatever’s there — except possibly skunks and opossums. In that case, I believe the best choice is red fox urine. It’s reasonably attractive to the other three furbearers, especially when it’s right on the travelway, and it doesn’t intimidate reds into refusing your sets.
It’s possible to use too much lure, especially call lures with a strong, skunky base. Bobcats don’t seem to exhibit any adverse behaviors, but if you use too much of a strong-smelling lure at your sets, you’re going to have problems with canines that come into the set shoulder-first, rolling and spring your trap with their back or the scruff of their neck.
It might be possible to use too much urine, but unless you’re hauling it around in a slop bucket, I doubt it.
What you can do, though, is use much more of it than you need. Neither bobcats nor canines are in the habit of emptying their entire bladder contents on one spot. They squirt a little here, and a little down there somewhere. That’s the way you should apply the stuff, too. One or two healthy squirts with your applicator bottle is plenty.
Freshen Your Sets
I usually leave predator sets in place for six to seven days, rarely longer. The initial application of lure is sufficient for that whole time span, but if the set hasn’t made a catch by the third check, I usually freshen it up with a new shot of urine.
My records show an increase in catches on the fourth and fifth checks after I add urine. I also usually re-apply urine to all of my sets after a rain.
For Use as Needed
It just makes good sense that fresh urine is more attractive to furbearers than old stuff. I’m not a chemist or lure expert, but I have no doubt some of the more volatile ingredients in fresh urine decompose, age or dissipate over time.
Some might disappear within minutes. No doubt that’s true, but I’ve never been able to detect any difference in catch rate with fresh or old urine. I’ve had good results with urine more than two years old.
Anyway, unless you’re going to carry a live red fox around with you and squeeze it every time you make a set, there’s really not much you can do about the problem.
Because of obvious logistical problems with the live-fox solution, the next best thing is to not get too far ahead on your urine supply. Don’t let it get contaminated, keep it in a cool place, and save your worrying for things over which you have some control.
Jim Spencer of Calico Rock, Ark., is the executive editor of T&PC.