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Making Traps and Snares – Ancient Techniques That Still
May 24, 2018
Making Traps and Snares
Trapping has existed for at least 6000 years but the modern day leghold style traps weren’t
invented until about 400 years ago (and were first designed to catch poachers, not animals).
Before that, it was only those who learned the art and science of making traps and snares that
that was able to collect game for food and other resources.
The most useful primitive traps fall into two categories: deadfall and snare. These traps are
generally used to catch small to medium sized animals. Two other types, the pit trap, and
spear trap, were used on larger animals but are both dangerous to use and beyond the scope
of traps often used for survival. Specific traps do exist for birds and fish and can be productive
if setup in the right area.
Find out more about primitive skills here.
Deadfalls are among the most simple and most productive traps but are often only used
against the smallest animals. Generally, deadfalls use a ‘trigger stick’ somehow loaded with
bait that will release a lever holding a large log or rock and dropping it on the prey. For a
deadfall, it is important that the weight of the item dropped be at least five times the weight of
the intended target animal.
The current most popular deadfall trap seems to be the Paiute Deadfall named for the natives
of California. The only tools you will need for this trap is a small, sharp knife and a short length
of string. The premise of the trap is for the trigger stick to be braced against a toggle under
tension from the deadfall itself. If the trigger stick is moved too far, the toggle will release and
the weight will fall.
A classic deadfall for survival is the Figure-four Deadfall. The main draw of the figure-four is
that it can be made with nothing more than three sticks, a rock, and a decent knife. Unlike the
Paiute, there is no toggle or string, instead, the trigger stick holds a single lever in place which
supports the weight. Care must be taken when notching the sticks in a figure-four as too loose
and the trap will not stay set and to tight may cause the trap to bind up and not work.
Most people probably first saw a snare on Saturday morning cartoons where it caught some
unweary animal around the leg and hoisted him off the ground. It shouldn’t be surprising that
most snares don’t work like that. Snares can be set to catch animals around their extremities
but are often intended to catch a medium or larger animal around the neck.
This 12 pack of snares would make a great addition to a bug out bag or survival kit.
Unlike deadfalls, snares will require some more specialized equipment. Though you can use
any string at hand, having a more durable string or most commonly a strong wire will be very
beneficial. If using wire, a pair of pliers with cutters is a must! Some snares use bait while
others do not.
The Game Trail Snare which uses a spring device, usually a bent sapling, fed to a trigger
mechanism and then to a loop positioned on a game trail at approximately head height to the
animal you anticipate will use that trail. The idea is that the animal passes its head through the
loop while following the trail which will release the trigger and the spring will apply enough force
to strangle the animal. When well placed this is a fairly productive trap.
A simple baited snare is the Bait Stick Snare which works much like a deadfall. A ‘Y’ shaped
branch is driven into the ground and toggle passed through the crotch of the ‘Y’ serves as the
trigger stick. When an animal passes its head through the snare noose to get the bait stick, the
toggle, which is under tension from the spring devise, will release and the animal will be
strangled by the snare wire.
Though trapping mammals have been more common historically, some occasions will call on
targeting other types of animals. Making traps and snares for other animals will not only
increase productivity but be more efficient. Often times these traps are easier to set and take
less wear and tear than the traps above.
A bird trap can be very productive, especially with birds known to scavenge from humans.
Most bird traps resemble deadfalls but use a basket arrangement rather than a killing weight.
One benefit of live trapping is that live animals do not spoil or go bad. As long as they are
cared for, the meat will always be available.
Fish traps are great traps because they are generally reusable with very little effort and like
bird traps will keep your prey alive for at least a short while. Among the easiest to build, a fish
trap uses a funnel arrangement to guide fish in past the narrow point where it quickly widens.
Cutting the top off a 2-liter bottle, inverting it and wedging it back inside the rest of the bottle
will provide a great trap for bait fish. You can even stack rocks in a cone shape to guide fish
into secluded pools if you are after larger fish.
How to Learn the art of Making Traps and Snares
While this article can be considered a jumping off point, there are many issues to understand
about trapping animals. The normal course of learning is to study at home and practice in the
Though numerous books exist on trapping, practicing leads to a whole host of possible legal
issues. Primitive trapping is not legal in most areas and where it is legal, strict seasons for
Developing the skill to trap can be a life-saving endeavor but do so wisely and morally. Since
most of us live near communities of people, catching domestic animals is often a risk. Learn to
set the traps and practice building them but if you are not in a survival situation, take the trap
down before you leave.
Learning to build traps and snares is something many people ignore when it comes to
preparedness. Just knowing how to build a few traps can be a lifesaver in a survival situation.
Take some time to practice and you’ll be miles ahead of the average person.
Be sure to check out our other preparedness articles! Interested in more primitive skills
articles? Read our article Primitive Camping Essentials – 10 Things to Take Into the Woods
When You Don’t Want to Take Anything to find out how to get started!