Many people unfamiliar with modern trapping think of traps as big, powerful devices with jack-o'-lantern like teeth on the jaws. These images are based on the obsolete designs of the past. Today, sizes and types of traps and their uses are regulated, and many sizes and types of traps are no longer allowed.
Modern traps fall into two main categories: kill-type traps and live-holding traps. Kill-type traps are designed to quickly kill the captured animal, much like a common mousetrap. Live-holding traps can be separated into box (cage-type) traps and foothold traps.
BOX TRAPS are baited wire cages with one or two doors that close and lock when the animal steps on a pan or treadle. They work well for animals that are not averse to entering holes or cages, but are ineffective for capturing wary species such as foxes and coyotes. Box traps come in a variety of sizes designed to catch animals from mice to raccoons. They are expensive (raccoon-sized traps start at $35 each), bulky and heavy to handle, making them not practical in many trapping situations.
FOOTHOLD TRAPS traps typically have two metal jaws, sometimes covered with rubber, that are closed by springs released when the animal steps on the trigger pan. Foothold traps are categorized by the type of spring (e.g. coil, jump, or long spring), and are made in different sizes appropriate for catching animals as small as weasels and as large as coyotes and lynx. When set, the jaws of foothold traps range from 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches in spread. These traps are designed to hold an animal by gripping the toes or foot across or just above the foot pad. This prevents the captured animal from slipping the trap off its foot. As an option, foothold traps can be set submerged to drown a captured animal, and can thereby function as kill traps.
Foothold traps need not be large to be effective, as demonstrated by this coyote (which was subsequently examined and released). Foothold traps typically capture and hold animals without injury and have been used to capture animals for reintroduction and restoration efforts.
Trap Designs | Choosing the Appropriate Trap
Choice of trap style depends on the specific situation and the furbearer species that is being targeted. Box traps are an excellent choice for raccoon, skunk and opossum when trapping near residential areas in wildlife damage management situations. Kill-type traps — or body-gripping traps as they are sometimes called — are very effective when used for marten, mink, fisher, muskrat, otter and beaver. Kill-type traps are considered to be efficient and humane because animals rarely escape, and loss of consciousness and death are rapid. However, kill-type traps do not allow for release of "nontarget" animals (animals the trapper does not want to harvest). Fox and coyotes will not enter kill-type traps. For these species especially, foothold traps remain the most effective trap (and allow for release of nontarget animals).