Avoid the Reach

Coon 5X5 2.jpgRaccoon trappers in some states are restricted to #120 bodygrip traps — no larger than 5-inch jawspreads — which will catch many raccoons on the neck just behind the skull if set properly in front of a container.

A hit just behind the skull is an excellent strike, causing almost instant death. But standard #120s are a bit small to do it consistently. Sometimes, the jaw hits on the top of the raccoon’s head, allowing the animal to pull out.

The average inside jawspread of a #120 is 4.5 inches high, but only 3.5 inches wide, measured from the inside end of one spring eye to the other.
When considering bodygrip trap jawspread, what really matters is the inside jawspread, the actual opening the animal has to pass through.

Therefore, width should not be measured from rivet to rivet on the frame, rather, it should be measured from the end of one spring eye to the other.

The 3.5-inch inside width of the #120 is too tight for the large head of some mature raccoons, and I’m sure it also discourages mid-sized raccoons from working the set.

Wider Jaws Required
Trappers had a need for a bodygrip trap larger than the #120, but still legal.

In response, Bill Crum of Custom Trap Manufacturing designed the CTM 5×5 — in essence a larger #120 with heavier construction and modified #160 springs. The CTM 5×5 has an inside jawspread of 5 inches high and 5 inches wide from rivet to rivet, making it legal. However the inside width is actually 4.25 inches, measuring from the end of one spring eye to the other.

This slightly larger, sturdier, stronger trap catches raccoons much more consistently than #120 bodygrip traps, and currently many thousands are in use.

Deep Boxes Eliminate Reach
However, some trappers have reported one problem with the CTM 5×5: They are catching some raccoons by a front foot or leg.

The problem results from particular behaviors of raccoons, and it is easily avoided.

Raccoons use their front feet to feel for food such as worms and crawfish. They habitually reach into holes.

Most furbearers grab food with their mouths. Raccoons often grab it with their feet. It’s their nature to reach.

I learned early in my trapping career that they’d steal bait from shallow dirtholes and pocket sets. I had to keep bait at least 8 inches in to keep them from getting it, and even then they often reached for it.

When I experimented with #120s at baited boxes for raccoons, I came up with a minimum box length of 14 inches, to prevent them from trying to reach in.

A behavioral line is involved. If bait is 8 inches or closer, raccoons instinctively reach for it. The farther beyond 8 inches the bait is, the more apt the animal is to try to step closer to get within reach. At 12 to 14 inches, they don’t seem to reach.

Don’t Make Them Duck
Another factor, also related to behavior, is the height of the trap container opening.

The #220 is a great raccoon trap. Its outside jawspread is close to 8 inches, and the top of most containers used at bait sets is usually at least 10 inches high. This is an ideal height for raccoons because they don’t have to duck or squat down to enter. They can simply step straight in. In my area, adult raccoons standing on all fours average 10 to 12 inches high at the shoulders. Raccoons often travel with their head farther off the ground than many trappers realize. When setting #220s blind in trails, professional raccoon trappers often position the bottom jaws 4 to 6 inches off the ground to take advantage of this.

Most trappers use containers just large enough to hold the bodygrip trap.

The #160 is a good raccoon trap at baited containers, but the top of a container made to fit it is only 8 inches off the ground. However, it is still not too low for raccoons. They have to lower their head a bit to enter, but they don’t have to squat.

But containers used for #120s and the CTM 5×5 are often only 6 inches square, and therefore much closer to the ground. Once again, we’ve crossed a behavioral line. To poke its head into the box, a ‘coon has to squat, and they often resist.

A professional raccoon trapper told Crum that if a raccoon could talk it would say, “Squeeze me all you want, but don’t make me duck.”
If there’s such a thing as an ironclad trapping rule, here’s one: Don’t force an animal to make unnatural movements while working a set.

Crum told me that some professionals using the CTM 5×5 use a 2×4 or other wooden block under the container to raise it 3.5 to 5 inches off the ground. That way, the raccoon is looking straight in at the bait.

Another behavior is at work with low containers: Raccoons love to stand on things. They work sets from above. It’s their nature. If a pocket set or dirthole is dug into a low, solid bank or solid backing, very often, they’ll stand on the higher back of the set and reach down into it.

When using a lower container for the #120 or CTM 5×5, their instinct is to climb onto the box. Then, they try to reach inside, over the top edge.

Custom ‘Coon Boxes
The wooden box I use for the CTM 5×5 is made of five-ply, half-inch exterior plywood. It’s 14 inches deep, with 1.5-inch deep notches on each side for the trap springs. When set, the trap is just inside the opening, its outer jaws flush with the edge of the box.

The inside opening is 7.5 inches high. When the trap is in place, there’s a gap of 2 inches between the bottom jaws and the ground. It’s still high enough for a raccoon to not have to squat, just lower its head a bit.

The inside width is 6.5 inches, which gives even large raccoons confidence that they can get their shoulders in, to get close enough to reach for the bait.

I’m convinced that with a large container, raccoons don’t see the trap jaws as obstacles. To them, the trap framework is just a cluster of small sticks in front of what is an opening obviously large enough for them to enter.

Finally, the top of the box has an overhang of 1 to 2 inches. If they raccoons stand on the box, the overhang discourages them from reaching inside.

My boxes have no bottom. I like it that the animals have bare ground to walk on as they enter. Plus, the box is very easy to stabilize by scraping and scuffing the bottom around and forcing it down into the ground a bit until the box is seated solidly. Also, when I crank the trap springs down to stabilize the trap, the sides bend in a bit, then push back against the springs, adding to the trap’s rigidity in the slots.

My boxes are also only 5 inches wide at the back end. With no bottom, this allows me to slide them partially inside each other, saving storage space.

Grabbing and Fiddling
Raccoons are notorious for grabbing and fiddling with the trap and container at bait sets. Sometimes, they pull the trap out of the container, or try to tip it over — particularly if they get frustrated trying to reach the bait and aren’t comfortable trying to squeeze in. Raccoons are irritable when frustrated.

With the heavier, more open #220 and its larger container, grabbing is not normally a factor. But it can be an issue with the CTM 5×5 and its smaller, lighter containers. With a deep container that is wide and high enough for raccoons to step in easily, they won’t mess with the trap or container. The ‘coon just pokes its head in.

Some trappers use small bungee cords to hold traps in the slots. One hook goes around the back arm of a spring on one side of the container, the cord is pulled around the end of the container, and the other hook goes around the back spring arm on the other side. Some trappers use light wire or heavy cord.

Con figuring Trigger Wires
Raccoon trigger.jpgThe final important factor in avoiding foot and leg catches is trigger wire position.

The dog should be on top, and the trigger wires should be on the inside jaw.

Do not use the standard V-shaped configuration with the wires hanging down.

At the very least, raccoons will be tempted to grab the wires and push or pull them out of the way. Like most animals, they don’t like trigger wires poking their sensitive faces.

I like the “wishbone” trigger wire shape. The trigger is centered on the back jaw. The wires go straight down for about half an inch, then each wire is bent to the side, one to the left and the other to the right, parallel with the upper trap jaws. Just before they reach the spring eye ends, they bend straight down.

Wishbone trigger.jpgThe wires should clear the spring eyes by a quarter inch or so. The wishbone leaves a very open space inside the jaws, so a raccoon can poke its head in fully, with no trigger wires in its face.

The trap fires when the top and sides of the ‘coon’s head push against the wire, and the jaws make a good strike on the neck behind the skull. Also, if a raccoon reaches into the box, it’s much less apt to hit the trigger wires with this open configuration.

Another excellent, very popular position is to center the trigger on the inside upper jaw as usual, spread the wires in the classic V shape, then about half an inch down from the trigger bracket bend the wires almost, but not quite, straight back into the container. The top of the raccoon’s head hits the wires when its head is far enough in for a perfect neck strike. And again, if they reach in, they won’t hit the wires.

Crum has heard of trappers simply cutting both trigger wires off about 1 inch below the wire bracket, and letting them hang fairly straight down.

The raccoon is literally wearing the trap when it folds the wires back enough to fire the trap. With the wires cut, the chances of a leg catch are virtually impossible.

I don’t cut the triggers because the CTM 5×5 is very versatile on a number of furbearers, and I use different trigger positions for some animals.

Other Container Styles
The plastic mailboxes marten trappers use as cubbies work with the CTM 5×5 if you get the larger ones. They’re very deep, and keep the bait well out of reach.

However, they are slippery, so it is hard to keep traps positioned in the slots.

I’ve had raccoons knock them out and step on them.

Also, the mailboxes are light and need to be weighted or pinned to the ground. I solved the problem by cutting out part of the bottom in front, then, on each side of the container, shoving a 12-inch spike from outside down at an angle between the trap spring arms, between the lower jaw corners, and into the ground. The mailbox is pinned to the ground and the trap held rigidly in place. But it meant altering the container, carrying spikes and hammering on them to pull the set when they froze in.

If you use wire cage containers on the ground, raccoons and fishers will work the bait through the wire because it is within reach, and they will be less apt to try to enter the cage opening. The 1×2 wire is particularly bad.

Raccoons can easily get their front feet through it, tear the bait apart, and pull it through the wire piece by piece. I’ve watched them do it under my bird feeder.

Make ‘Coons Enter the Box
You can avoid all leg catches in the #120 and the CTM 5×5 by having a box deep enough so raccoons can’t reach the bait and high enough so they don’t have to squat to enter, and by using trigger wire positions that don’t block the opening.

Bob Noonan of Canaan, Maine, is a field editor for T&PC.

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