To catch a ringtail in Pennsylvania
Rounding the bend of a frost covered path in early-morning anticipation, my eyes caught a glimpse of shimmering silver, huddled in a furry ball, right where my trap used to sit. Another old boar coon was the reward for my labors during these cool winter days on the trapline, and more should experience this same euphoric feeling of success.
Raccoons are abundant right now, and while fur prices aren’t necessarily anything to get excited about, population numbers still benefit from the responsible management of the species through regulated trapping practices. It helps keep numbers in check for greater overall health conditions and balance within the ecosystem, while simultaneously doing local property owners a service by removing nuisance pests.
For the do-it-yourselfer looking to obtain prime furs for a personal pelt collection, handmade garments or home display, raccoons can be an excellent furbearer to target through the long winter months. It doesn’t cost much to have these beautiful pelts tanned, and with a little research and effort — you might even elect to tan them yourself as a hands-on winter project.
Regardless of motive, trapping coons is an enjoyable pursuit in the great outdoors, a worthy challenge, and a lot of fun. Even novice trappers can find early success by targeting racoons, which aren’t quite as wary as some of the other furbearing critters roaming the overnight landscape.
Three go-to methods many trappers choose to employ for targeting ringtails is the cubby/bank set, the blind culvert set, and the DP (dog-proof) set. For the first two sets, a #1.5 coil spring trap is tough to beat as a fast, strong, and reliable leghold option for coons.
The goal of a cubby or bank set is to divert a raccoon’s attention into a tightly funneled space baited with food or lure, while leading them over a carefully placed trap intended to catch them by one of their back legs.
Since raccoons frequently hunt along stream banks for crayfish, frogs, minnows etc., it makes sense to set in these areas. Moreover, most streams already offer natural overhangs that lend themselves to cubby or bank sets with simple modifications.
To make the set, hollow out a recession back into the bank with a digging tool, or use one that’s already there, but build up some sidewalls with rocks, logs, or other natural materials. Tuck some bait back into the hole —sardines, honey, even marshmallows- and keep it far enough back that a coon would need to stretch to reach the morsels upon approaching from the streamside mouth of the opening.
A few inches from the mouth of the cavity, preferably just underwater to mask sight and smell, firmly set and bed the trap. Either stake the chain into a secure location, or affix a grapple drag so that the raccoon cannot make off with your trap once caught.
Sweeten up the set with a little call lure for curiosity, and if all goes well, the masked bandit will smell your offerings, come to investigate, try to reach up into the cubby and get caught as he steps into the trap.
A blind culvert set is even less complicated, although slightly less effective, but it keys in on the same idea of funneling. Raccoons love to use culverts and concrete bridge ledges as a travel route, and both are great places to set an ambush.
Again, set your trap just under the water in an area you anticipate coons will walk — no need for bait. As they pass through the culvert, or even step into or out of it, they may land on the pan of your trap, triggering the jaws to snap shut. Be aware coons aren’t the only animals that use culverts to travel so do expect some other surprises from time to time.
By far the easiest method to catch racoons is to use a DP (dog-proof) trap. Duke, Bridger, Fleming, Freedom Brand and several other companies offer this highly effective style of trap that uses a narrow cylinder on a stake with an internal trigger mechanism that is a proven coon catcher without worry of accidentally trapping a dog or other non-target species.
You can bait the trap with dried cat food or other enticement of choice, and a racoon will reach down into the bottom of the metal tube to clean it out, releasing the trigger and thereby causing a metal bar to close around its arm. If the DP trap is anchored well, you’ll eventually have a fully secured coon waiting for you whenever they’re present in the area.
Using this method, young coons are easy to release if desired, and rebaiting and resetting is a cinch. Some trappers like to place a small cup or golf ball over the DP to keep the bait dry during periods of rain and protect it from being robbed by mice — all tricks of the trade that are learned with experience on the trapline.
If you’re looking for a fun challenge this winter, consider targeting the abundant and sometimes mischievous raccoon. They’re easy to fool, and their pelts can be a very nice addition to the home, even if presently undervalued on the fur market.
Try it, and you’ll see just how enjoyable it can be “to catch a ringtail.”