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In a wilderness survival situation, finding food is a constant battle. It's not like you can just drive to the nearest McDonalds and order a greasy cheeseburger when you get hungry — you need to expend calories of energy to earn calories of food. Your bug-out bag stockpiles will eventually run out, and if the calories you burn tip the scales to exceed the calories you eat, sooner or later you're going to starve to death.
This leads us to the subject of trapping.
Active hunting can bring in big game and large amounts of meat, and foraging can help you gather wild edibles, but both of these methods require substantial physical exertion. If your hunt or foraging session is unsuccessful, you just wasted calories without bringing any in. Even fishing, which requires less physical activity, still necessitates walking to the water line, and repeated casting and reeling.
Trapping is mostly passive, and requires only a small amount of calories to build and check the traps. With enough traps set, you can supplement your survival diet. This is why primitive hunting cultures frequently relied on traps to catch small game in between big-game hunts. These primitive hunters may not have been able to take down a full-grown deer or elk more than a few times a year, and environmental factors such as droughts or storms could interrupt their plans. Traps permitted them to cast a wider net, so to speak.
However — and this is an important point for anyone who learns these skills — primitive trapping is never truly easy. You'll always be better off using modern purpose-built traps, as these spring-loaded devices have a much higher success rate than anything you can build with sticks and stones. Primitive trapping should be a fall-back plan, in case your modern tools are unavailable.
Also, unless you're in a true life-and-death survival situation, certain types of trapping may be against the law. Check your local laws before trying out these traps.
That said, it's valuable to learn a few different types of primitive survival trapping, and keep them in mind as you venture into the great outdoors. All of the following traps, which are mentioned in the U.S. Army Survival Manual, can be a helpful addition to your complete survival repertoire.
The deep hole trap, also known as a bottle trap, is about as simple as it gets. This device can capture various types of animals, including mice, rats, frogs, lizards, snakes, and crabs.
As you might guess from the name, this form of trapping involves digging a deep hole straight down into the ground, often with the bottom of the hole wider than the opening. These smooth, tapered, inward-sloping walls will prevent any animal that enters the hole from escaping.
Some deep hole traps have a cover elevated slightly above the hole, encouraging small animals to use it as a hiding spot from predators and fall to their demise. Others incorporate bait at the bottom of the hole, or a triggered lid which may fall to block the escape route. This video shows a form of deep hole trap that uses a smooth-sided plastic bucket to capture crabs.
Of course, some animals can jump, dig, or scramble up steep walls, so there's no guarantee of total effectiveness. But this trap is also incredibly easy to construct, and can capture a wide variety of prey.
A drag noose is one of the most common cordage-based traps, and is designed to lead an animal into a snare, which loops around its neck. As the animal tries to escape, it pulls the noose tighter, and ideally will become entangled in surrounding brush.
The upside to a drag noose is its ability to snag larger game, such as rabbits, foxes, or coyotes. The downside is that these animals may struggle free, or chew through the snare in a frantic desire to escape. Also, bigger predators may come along, eat your snared game, and saunter away before you notice you caught anything. So, a quick response time is essential for drag noose snares. Setting them on animal tracks within earshot of your campsite will reduce the risk of losing what you've captured.
It's also advisable to use strong cordage for any snare-based traps. The best 550 paracord money can buy won't hold for long, as rodents can easily chew through it to escape. Their sharp teeth can even make short work of flexible snare wire — just think of how rats are able to gnaw through hard plastic and metal to reach food. Carrying pre-made aircraft cable snares is wise if you plan to use a drag noose trap.
The figure 4 deadfall may be somewhat tricky to fine-tune, but fortunately, it's extremely easy to remember how to build one.
As the name indicates, the trap is shaped like the number 4, with three carved wood sticks suspending a heavy deadfall weight. That weight should be a large stone or log with a flat bottom, and should weigh at least three times as much as the animal you're aiming to trap. When the figure 4 is triggered, the weight falls and immediately crushes the small animal underneath.
The wood portion of the figure 4 is constructed as follows:
This device is ideal for trapping small prey, such as squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Here's a video clip that shows a figure 4 deadfall killing a chipmunk:
The advantage of a properly-constructed figure 4 deadfall trap is that it kills prey with a swift blow, so unless your trap was built incorrectly or the weight was insufficient, there's little risk of the animal escaping. A rodent that's pinned to the ground under a stone can't gnaw or claw its way to safety.
The disadvantage to this trap is that it can be finicky — the trigger must be heavy enough it doesn't fall under a light breeze, but also sensitive enough to drop the deadfall if an animal touches the bait. Practice will be necessary for this trap to work.
The twitch-up snare (a.k.a. spring snare) employs a snare like that in the drag noose, but adds mechanical spring action to yank the snare around the animal's neck. Instead of relying on the prey's panic to pull the noose tighter, the noose is bound to the end of a flexible sapling, which creates the twitch-up motion when the snare is triggered.
The trigger of a twitch-up snare consists of two forked pieces of wood. One is hammered deep into the soil, with one part of the fork parallel to the ground. The other forked portion is attached to the cordage near the noose, and put under tension from the sapling. When an animal pulls on the noose, the forked wood is dislodged, allowing the sapling to flick back to its unbent position.
A twitch-up snare is harder to construct than the basic drag noose, but can create enough tension to pull smaller animals off the ground. This reduces the risk of escape, and makes it harder to chew through the taut cordage.
By learning these four survival trapping techniques, you'll give yourself a better shot at generating enough calories to stay alive in the wilderness.