Why it Pays to know how to set basic traps to catch small game

So what is the advantage of learning how to set basic traps that will catch a rabbit or a squirrel effectively you may well ask? Simply that if you are all alone in  the woods for an extended period of time, you need to think ahead. Do not use your emergency rations immediately, you may be isolated for some time and even if you may be hungry, you should ration them accordingly. Always try to exploit the natural resources from your surroundings.

Even if food is lowest on your list of priorities, you cannot afford to ignore it completely. Ultimately, your body will require energy to keep alive and moving. You need to understand your body’s nutritional needs and how to meet them. While in the majority of circumstances plant foods will be readily available, you’ll also need to know which plants to avoid. Your best bet is to know that snares and traps will catch food, while you gather plants, collect water or carry out other survival tasks.

To hunt you may first have to improvise your own weapons, learning how to do so and practice using them. For this reason it is easier to trap most small prey than to hunt them. Even if you do spot a small animal it offers a very small target and can easily take cover. Trapping requires less skill and leaves you free to spend time foraging for other food. Nevertheless be prepared to take advantage of sitting prey if you get the chance.

Simple traps that are easy to remember and easy to construct:

There are many elaborate traps with complicated mechanisms, that take time to build and demand physical effort. As a “survivor”, all you need are simple traps that are easy to remember and simple to construct. However, since each animal has different habits, a wide variety of types are essential. It is for this reason that if one type fails, an alternative can be set. It is really a matter of ‘trial and error’.


Note:   Your own survival must take precedence over humanitarian principles and unfortunately some of the easiest traps can cause considerable suffering to the animal. A trap which could bring quick death to the animal for which it is intended, perhaps by strangulation, may catch another animal by a limb and leave it suffering for hours. Regular checking of snare and traps is essential, as leaving a trap line unchecked will prolong an animal’s pain and increase the risk that your catch may be poached by another larger animal, or that the prey will have managed painfully to struggle free.

Choice of baits and sites are important:

A great deal of error can be eliminated by studying the animals and their habits. If one kind of trap doesn’t work, try another. BE PATIENT. Animals will naturally be very cautious of new and unfamiliar things that suddenly appear in their environment. Give the traps time, allow the animal to lower their suspicions and accept them, that is when they will run into them. A few simple traps, quickly set up overnight, may be productive. The more traps you set, the more you will increase your chances of successfully catching something.

Establish as large an area as you can manage to set traps:

Inspect them at first light and when the sun goes down at last light. Collect the game and reset the traps. Repair any traps as necessary and move those that are repeatedly unfruitful. To be effective a trap must be very sensitive, so may be triggered accidentally. You will most likely have several empty traps for every success, but this doesn’t mean you are doing things wrong, you need to accept a proportion of failures. If a trap has not fired, but the bait is gone, it is an indication either that the bait was not sufficiently securely fixed or that the trigger mechanism is too light. Check both when you reset the trap.

By doing the rounds regularly you effectively patrol an area, noting the many signs of activity or change which help to build your knowledge of your surroundings, at the same time you can forage for plants and other food or take note of what is available for later collection.


Baiting a trap will attract the game:

Tunisian Nightingale trap

Tunisian Nightingale trap




In a survival situation food may be scarce, but if you know there are animals to trap, a little amount of food used as bait, may bring large rewards.





Where to place traps:

Find the game trails or runs, which lead from an animal’s home to where it feeds or waters. Look for any natural bottleneck along the route where it will have to pass through a particular position, such as a deadwood fall or a place where the track goes under an obstruction will be ideal places to set a trap.

Do not place a trap close to an animal’s lair, as this is where it sits and listens and sniffs the air. If at all suspicious it will either stay put or use a less obvious route. Don’t place a trap close to its watering place either. Placing it there, gives you the disadvantage. For the animal will be highly alert and instinctively  be more vigilant for danger, it is more likely to notice anything unusual. If you lay traps down the side of natural pastures the animal will not go near them but use other routes. However, when alarmed they panic and will take the shortest route to get away. That is when the crudest and most obvious of traps will be successful. Rabbits are easily caught by causing them to panic.

Trap construction:

The simpler traps and snares are made of string or wire. It will be easier to keep a loop open in the air if you use wire and the wire in your survival tin is ideal. Even the most sophisticated traps need nothing more than a knife to make them out of available wood. The choice of materials is important. Use strong, springy wood. Do not use dead wood or wood found on the ground. Hazel takes a lot of beating: it is easy to carve and retains its spring and strength.

Types of traps:

There are four mechanisms that make use of the following principles:


The deadfall ‘mangles’.

The snare ‘strangles’.

Springy saplings can make a trap more efficient and take the game up in the air – it ‘dangles’.                                                                                (The higher the sapling the more effectively it lifts the animal).

A net ‘tangles’.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              ( Some traps combine two or more of these principles).


What you need to know about setting traps:

I’m sure you’ve seen videos or read about how to construct traps and probably even seen demonstrations on how they’re supposed to work. and you’ve probably formed the opinion that by following the same procedures you will catch a small animal in the wild…… The reality is that it isn’t that easy!

There are “Rules” for setting traps that can only be known through experience and that is what amateurs fail to tell you, simply because their skill is focused on building the traps. They have never had to rely on their traps to actually catch anything.

You will have greater success when setting traps, by following these basic rules:

  1. Avoid disturbing the environment. – Don’t tread on the game trail. Do all your preparation off the trail and try very hard not to leave any sign that you have been there.
  2. Hide scent. When constructing or handling traps don’t leave your scent on them. Handle as little as possible and wear gloves if you can. Do not make a trap from pinewood and set it in a wood of hazel. Each tree gives off its own smell, and the animals you are trying to trap have a very heightened sense of smell, many time sharper than yours. Although they fear fire they are familiar with the smell of smoke and exposing a snare to the smoke from a camp fire will mask any human scent.
  3. Camouflage. Hide freshly cut ends of wood with mud. Cover any snare on the ground to blend in as naturally as possible with its surroundings.
  4. Make them strong. An ensnared animal is fighting for its life. It exerts a lot of energy in an attempt to escape and will take advantage of any weakness in the traps.

Snares are the simplest of traps:

They should be part of any survival kit. They are made of non ferrous wire with a running eye at one end through which the other end of the wire passes before being firmly anchored to a stake, rock or tree.

A snare is a free-running noose which can catch small game around the throat and larger game around the legs. A snare can be improvised from string, rope, twine or wire. Consider the kind of animal you are trying to trap when you place the snare. A rabbit, for instance, tends to sit in cover and observe. When satisfied that all is well it hops along. Setting the snare a hand’s length from a fall or obstruction on the trail accommodates this hop. If the snare is closer to an obstruction the rabbit may brush it aside.

Using a simple snare:

For rabbits and small animals, use your judgement to scale up these proportions for larger creatures such as foxes and badgers.

»  Make the loop a fist width wide

»  Set it four fingers above the ground and

»  one hand’s width from an obstruction (such as a fallen log or a large rock) on the trail

»  Check that it is securely anchored and if necessary support the loop in position with twigs.

Snares under tension:

A snare can be made more effective by using a sapling under tension to lift the game clear from the ground when it is released. This will take away any leverage that the animal might use in its struggle to free itself. It also helps to keep it out of the reach of predators who will take the opportunity of making a meal out of it! A few examples are shown below with detailed  instructions on how to set them up.


1. The Basic Spring snare:

When game is caught the trigger bar disengages and the prey is lifted off the ground. This is an ideal trap for animals such as rabbits and foxes, it will trap game coming in both directions and is ideally situated on the game trail by a natural bottleneck caused by a dead fall or a rocky outcrop.


A Spring snare along the game trail


  •  A The snare loop
  •  B The trigger bar
  •  C The fixed upright post
  •  D The sapling branch under tension
  •  E The twig that supports the loop




Cut a notch in the trigger bar (B) to fit notch in the fixed upright post (C). Drive upright into the ground.                                                                  Attach snare loop (A) to trigger bar and use cord to sapling (D) to keep it under tension.


2. The baited spring snare:

Works with the same mechanism, of a trigger notched into a fixed upright and is set-up like the spring snare, but here the quarry is tempted with a tasty morsel. The noose is laid on the ground with the bait strung above. When the game takes the bait the trigger is released. This trap is suitable for medium sized animals such as foxes, this trap can be located in an open area as the bait will attract attention, luring the animal. Small clearings in the woods are  good sites to place a baited spring snare.




NOTE: The bait support stake should be only lightly driven into the ground as this must fly away with the noose.


3. The baited spring leg snare:

The prongs of a natural fork of wood, or two sticks tied together are pushed firmly into the ground. The line from a bent sapling is tied to a toggle and to the snare and the toggle then passed under the fork. When the game takes the bait, which is on the end of a separate bar, the bar disengages and the toggle flies up carrying the snare and (hopefully) the game. This is a trap for larger game such as deer, bears and large felines. For the herbivorous deer bait with blood or scent glands, which will arouse its curiosity.





The upper end of the toggle presses against the fork and the lower end is prevented from pulling back through by a bait bar between it and the fork – the pressure of the toggle holding it in position.





4. The spring tension snare:

The upward counter thrust from the keeper stick (A) on which the snare arm (B) rests prevents the switch from pulling it up. When the game becomes ensnared the snare arm is dislodged from the keeper stick and the switch line slips off the other end. Suitable for small animals such as rabbits. The best place to set this type of trap is on the game trail.


(image here)


Note how the switch line secures one end of the snare arm (B), while the other rests on the keeper stick (A). Keep the switch near the end of the snare arm (C).