Choosing the Right Foothold Trap

May 31, 2016:
By Tim Roper,

For anyone just getting into trapping, there is a bewildering array of traps available. They come in all types, brands, sizes and prices.

Before you can choose the right trap, you need to decide what you are going to trap. There is a big difference between a trap for a muskrat and a trap for beavers just as a hunter choosing a rifle needs to decide if he is going to hunt squirrels or grizzly bears.

Once you have decided what to trap, the following information may help you narrow down your choices so you can make an intelligent, educated decision.

Trap Size
Traps sizes range from a #1 sized trap, having a jaw spread of 4” all the way up to a #5 trap having a 7 ¼” jaw spread. There are specialty traps that are even larger, but the majority of your foothold traps
will fall within this range.

For the smallest animals such as mink and muskrat, smaller traps such as the #1 or #1.5 sized trap will work well. As you get into bigger targets such as raccoons, you can use #1.5, #1.75 or even #2 sized traps for bigger northern coons.

The next step up comes with predator trapping. This would include red and grey fox and the coyote. While it is possible to hold a coyote in a #1.5 trap, the hard fighting yote can bend the trap dog, pop the jaws out and even bend the baseplate. Most predator trappers will use a trap with a five to six inch jaw spread such as a Duke #3 or the American made MB-550.

One thing to make sure of is to check your State regulations as every State has different regulations regarding trap size and construction.

Trap Type
Foothold traps come in two basic varieties: coil spring traps and the older, traditional style long spring traps. Each has advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately it boils down to personal preference.

The coil spring trap is the more modern design. Coil springs are compact traps, they can be two coiled or four coiled (having two springs or four springs) depending upon how much holding power is needed. You can purchase them with offset and laminated jaws, which increase animal comfort and virtually eliminate any damage to the animals paw.

On the down side, coil spring traps depend entirely upon the strength of the coiled springs to hold the animal. As the springs age and weaken, the trap loses holding power. This means that you will need to be prepared to replace the springs when they get weak.

Long spring traps are the more traditional trap design. The long spring trap is bigger; it requires a larger trap bed and is usually not available with as many jaw options as coil spring traps. However, the holding power of the long spring trap does not lessen as the springs age because of the physics of the design of the trap.

If a trapper were trapping coyotes for the live market where zero paw damage can be tolerated, the coil spring trap with laminated and offset jaws would be the obvious choice. On the other hand, if a trapper were purchasing traps for long-term survival purposes in conditions where replacement parts may be impossible to procure and animal comfort is a secondary issue, the long spring trap might be a better choice.

Trap Brand
This is, without a doubt, a bigger can of worms than the 9mm vs. .45 caliber debate. One trapper may swear by a particular brand of trap while the guy next door may swear at them.

A great example is Duke traps. Duke traps are a value priced trap. Some people love’em, some people hate’em. From my perspective, there is a reason that Duke traps cost less and that is, they get less hand finishing in the production process. This means that you will pay less up front, but you might have to do some filing or hand tuning of your traps after you get them. It is up to you if you would rather pay more up front and have a trap that is ready to go out of the box, or pay less and apply a little elbow grease in your spare time.

On the other extreme are the Minnesota Brand (MB) traps. MB traps are made in America and are widely considered the ‘Cadillac’ of traps. MB traps are ready to use right out of the box – no filing, sanding, bending or cussing required. You will pay for this, as MB traps can be two or three times the cost of lesser traps. Other brands such as Bridger, Sleepy Creek and others usually fall somewhere in between.

The Bottom Line
In the end, the best formula for choosing the right trap is to identify the animal you wish to trap, decide if you are going with coil springs or long springs, and then order a sample trap from two or three different manufacturers and simply use them a while. Decide which you like and then buy them in quantity. Following this process can save you from making some very expensive mistakes.