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12750 words
6 photos with negatives
Return envelope and Postage enclosed
Submitted by-
Rob F. Sanderson
Box 4646
Tucson, Arizona

Catching the Great American Killer
Rob F. Sanderson

           Have you ever met the Great American Killer? Do you pay an annual tribute to conservation’s predatory enemy number one?

           You know whether you’ve ever had a personal meeting with this crafty, elusive canine predator. But chances are you don’t realize the heavy tribute he racketeers from you and your fellow sportsmen.

           You know him as the brush wolf if you live in the eastern part of the country. He sneaks through your hunting ground at night, wantonly helping himself to rabbits, grouse, quail, partridge, pheasants, young fawns and winter- weakened deer. If you live in the West you call him coyote and besides a long list of game he helps himself to young calves, lambs, turkeys, and anything else he can clamp his cruel fangs into.

           Always plentiful in the West, the coyote has re-occupied many parts of the East. He has no natural enemies and multiplies rapidly without interruption. He can adapt himself to almost any set of natural conditions from the waterless cacti country of the Southwest to the snowbound fastness of our Northern States and Canada. His nocturnal habits keep him hidden from the sight of hunters, and his native craftiness does such a good job of keeping his hide whole that he is a major problem rising to vex conservation commissions in almost any portion of the U.S. map you put your fingers on. When food is scarce or snow deep, these killers rove in marauding packs that can hamstring and down almost any sized game they overtake.

           Man being the only enemy of these small wolves, it is up to us sportsmen to see their numbers are kept thinned and exterminated when possible. This is a pretty big order when you consider that these predators rove only under cover of the darkness when they cannot be hunted. Owing to their extremely wide range and uncertain habits, and their fast rate of travel, they are almost impossible to track down and usually lead pursuing hounds clear out of the country. The conundrum is worst in areas recently occupied where natives are not familiar with effective methods to keep them under control

           With ordinary hunting methods eliminated as a practical and effective means of widespread control, we can choose form two methods that have been used by the United States Biological Survey - poison and steel traps. Poison has been used with some success in a few areas but has proven very undesirable for general use. More dogs, cats, other pets, and valuable, harmless animals have been killed in most areas than cagey coyotes who are noted for their reticence to pick up free government rations

           It takes a good trap to hold a savage killer. Only the larger sizes, numbers three and four, should be used. Once his toe has been pinched by a small trap and he escapes, Old Man Coyote generally acquires great immunity to traps and eventually expires by natural death. Two types of traps are in wide use - long spring and under spring. The long spring are very strong and practical, but occupy more space when set and are bulkier and heavier. This is a big point to consider when traps are to be carried to a long way or set in very small spaces.

           Most trappers fasten a drag to the end of the trap chain. A drag is a hooked device having two or three prongs that is easily yanked away from the set by the trapped animal but soon catches fast on the brush. A catch has a far better chance of jerking out of a solidly staked trap, and if not able to escape from the set will dig it up so badly that the set must be moved. A drag also saves time, can be used in rocky or stony soil, and solves the problem in treeless country where no wood for stakes grows

           Probably more coyotes are caught each year in trail sets than in any other type of set. The trap is concealed in trails or pathways where tracks or signs are noticed, and the animal steps into the trap (we hope) unawares. As there is not bait to make the animal suspicious and a coyote will freely use the same trails as humans and stock, it is one of the best sets for inexperienced trappers. It is odd that these predators will avoid by yards any human scent suspiciously located in places not ordinarily frequented by men, yet they will fearlessly trot along a trail a half hour after a man has passed along it. So a little human scent left along a trail set isn’t as serious as if the set were somewhere else.

           Although the trail set is the best bet for the pro trapper, most beginners don’t bother to find the well-traveled trails, but start right in using the bait set. By means of a flesh bait the idea is to lure the animal up to and into the trap before he can get to or investigate the bait. Right here is a good time to say that Mr. Coyote is mighty suspicious of any free lunches. Even if a flesh bait will lure him for some distance, he will coolly circle in from afar, then decline your hospitality and go about peddling his fish. Many times I have known him to completely ignore fresh flesh dropped right along trails his footprints proved he was traveling. One season I spent considerable time trying to accustom the coyotes along my line to the practice of accepting and eating baits put out with my compliments. This was supposed to be a sort of advertising to get them used to eating baits, and when they had become accustomed to my generosity, I planned to give them one free trap with each bait just to prove I was on the level and glad to shake their paw any time. But as far as my beneficiaries were concerned I might just as well have set out blocks of granite.

           If you want to try bait, take a tip and set your traps some distance away from it. For example, where your quarry is feeding on the carcass of a dead deer or steer, don’t try to put a set close to the carcass. Instead, try to pinch his toes as he comes in to feed. An old trapper acquaintance of mine makes a wide circle when he discovers partly eaten remains, setting traps on all trails leading to it. He makes it a rule not to set a trap closer than a hundred feet from the lunch counter. Sometimes he catches several animals coming to feed on one carcass in the same night

           When he can’t find good trail set locations he sets traps on the crests of slight rises in the ground level, then disturbs the carcass very slightly. Suspicion aroused, the gray shadows circle the bait some feet away, using the slight rises as vantage points from which to look things over. If the trap is well concealed and free from taint of human or iron odor, a catch is the result.

           All old time wolfers have some sort of “medicine” or lure that they concoct to their own conceptions of what a coyote’s idea of a heavenly smell is. Some medicines are sweetfish smelling and some stink to high heaven, but their own creators swear by them and most of these stinkums do the work. Canine predators have a marvelously sensitive nose that can detect a good lure half a mile distant when the wind is favorable. Most successful lures have a high content of animal glands; beaver castor, wolf glands and urine, sometimes a dash of skunk scent, and other animal musks some of which are imported from far corners of the globe. A third of the bottle is filled with pure grain alcohol to act as a preservative. The wolfer carries a small bottle while running his line, using a stick or feather to apply the scent about the set in such a manner that the animal will step into the trap while trying to investigate the odor. Different lure ingredients are supposed to appeal to hunger, curiosity, passion and other desires, and are composed especially by the trapping experts to meet the requirements of different seasons of the year.

           To remove odor from traps, boil them in weak lye or wood ashes. Some trappers bury their iron dogs for several weeks. Before setting out, coat them with wax by dipping them in hot water with melted beeswax floating on the surface. This leaves a thin coating of wax that will soon harden in the air. After this treatment I toss my traps into pure running water until I want to use them. The wax prevents them from rusting

           All drags chains, trowels or anything else used around the sets should be treated in the same manner. After they are treated handle them with a hook or glove that are free from human odor. I have several pairs of gloves, bury a pair after I use them a few days, then hang them in a tree to air out until I want to use them again. Gloves become contaminated with foreign odors after they have been used for a time, no matter how careful you are, so change them often. Some trappers use thick rubber gloves, which can be washed out easily and don’t absorb as much odor as leather or canvas. My gloves I carry in a small sack that stays tied to my saddle, using them for nothing except to handle traps and to make sets

           I ride my horse as close as possible to where I want to put in a set. Ordinarily I don’t have to move from my tracks after I dismount. I dig out a bed the size of the trap outline and deep enough to bury the drag. In brushy country I use a two -prong drag, but in open country a big killer will go far enough with a three - prong.

           Don’t try to force the animal into the trap by erecting a picket fence of sticks. He wants a wide birth, especially if the country is open; you can crowd him a little more if you set a thick cover but here you are more apt to leave human odor. A few small twigs or weed stems are enough to turn his step, provided they look well oriented with the surroundings. A “stepping stick” placed at right angles across his path on the far side of the trap, will cause him to plunk his foot smack on the trap pan. If you’re not sure where he’ll step, use an extra trap. Many old trappers use two traps at every set. Cover the traps level with flat leaves or well-aired wax paper, then sift light dirt or sand over the set with a small pie tin perforated with nail holes on the bottom. This will sift out all small sticks that might catch in the trap hinges and prevent the jaws from closing. Now apply the scent to some object beyond and preferably above the trap to divert attention from the trap and the ground, and back away from the set smoothing your tracks with a small brush.

           The welcome sign is now out for Mr. Wolf, but he’ll only come to the threshold unless everything is perfectly natural around the set with no sign or odor to arouse his suspicion. A freshly broken twig, the mark of a boot heel in the soft ground, or an ash inadvertently dropped from a cigarette, will point his nose and tracks the other way. The set must be absolutely flush with the surrounding ground level or it might as well be on top of a flagpole or at the bottom of a well as far as shaking hands with a killer is concerned

           In making scent sets you can put your trap out a week before you apply the scent. This will “age” the set, allowing scent a sign to be obliterated by the weather. A good scent set is made by digging a small hole at the base of a stump, bush, or cactus patch. Dig it from an angle as if some small animal had done the job, about nine inches deep. Put some scent on a feather or piece of rabbit fur in the back of the hole. Then set a trap or two just behind the pile of dirt scooped out. Leave a few scratches with the edge of your trowel that will look like animal claw marks. This set is very easy to make and can be put in almost anywhere in a jiffy

           In running your line come no closer to the set than is necessary to see if the set has been disrupted, going up to the set only about once a week or after each rain to add more scent. Sometimes you will see an empty hole where the trap was - and your heart will backfire a little for you know you have catch! You’ll glance eagerly about for you know the trap drag has caught somewhere nearby. Circle the set until you pick up the small furrows the drag points cut into the ground, and follow along with your eyes ahead of you. Sometimes you will go only a few feet, other times it may be up closer to a mile. I once heard of a sly old dog that picked the drag up in his mouth and ran for miles on three legs. Occasionally a trap drag will get hooked onto the trap so the points are rearward, and your trap will lead you a long chase. For this reason I either use three or four foot trap chains or extend shorter chains with strong wire. When you draw near you will hear the trap chain clanking and soon you’ll see snarling, bared fangs.

           The location of the set is just as important as how it is made. The best advertisement in the world won’t sell a free sample unless it’s located where people can see it. Locate your sets where you see fresh tracks and droppings. Near water holes, in arroyos or washes, thickets along river bottoms, are all good general locations. Depending on the country and the amount of sign you find, from two to five sets per mile are ample. Too many sets will frighten sly animals out of the country

           Change your scent once in a while. In a couple of months, if you put out many sets, the smarter animals in your area will get wise to the smell and avoid it like you do a gas factory. You can compound your own scents to formula but unless you are going into things in a big way you will find less work and perhaps better results if you buy a bottle or two from one of the many trappers who retail their own super discoveries.

           Many trappers run their lines on foot through rough or wooded country. Out here in the West, wolfers ride a horse around their lines as there’s lots of space and number four traps are mighty heavy to pack on foot. And horse tracks look much less suspicious to our little furred friends than do human footprints. A few trappers operating over flat country use an old model car with a high wheelbase, covering sometimes a hundred or more miles a day.

           Skin your catch anywhere off the habitual runs of the animals, as a carcass will scare the deceased’s cousins out of the country if they find it. Slit the inside of the hind legs from end to paw to vent. Work the skin loose around the legs and over the paws down to the ends of the toe bones, which can be severed with wire cutters. Fasten a wire above the hock and under the large tendon on each hind leg, to suspend the animal at comfortable working level form a limb or rafter

           Slit the tail part way, then strip the rest by straddling the tail bone with a split stick. The pelt can now be taken off over the animal’s head like a slipover sweater. Loosen the hide by working your finders between it and the flesh, helping the tough places along with a sharp knife to sever tough tissue. The front legs skinning is easier if slit half way up, then pulled out over the paw. Work slowly around the head as the eyes and ears must be severed at their very base. When the hide is pulled over the nose it is completely inside out.

           Clean off clinging bits of fat or flesh before you slip the hide on a stretcher. This is made from two one-by-one inch wood strips fastened at one end and planed to a point. Slip the pelt flesh side out over the stretcher, pulling down tightly until the nose fits snugly over the point. Now pull the bottom stretcher ends apart to form a thin inverted V, until the slack in the hide is taken up. Fasten the base ends apart by nailing a crossbar between them. Nail a thin boxboard upright to the cross bar, so the tail can be pulled firmly and tacked to it. Each hind leg must be pulled down tightly and fastened. The forelegs can be fixed tightly with a nail a piece into the stretcher sides, and another nail will hold the lower jaw flap up. Be sure the hide is taut or it will shrink and shrivel when it dries. A wire or small stick run down into the tail for proper ventilation will complete the job. Dry in a cool place. Some trappers turn their furs after two or three days. When properly dried it will hold its own shape, and you can either sell it or have it tanned and made up into any manufactured fur style that you desire.

           Many states pay high bounties on these killer predators, and in addition to the state bounties, most areas in the west have cattle or sheep owners associations that pay their own bounties. When the bounty is collected a small mark of identification is made on the skin, which prevents the bounty from being re-collected but does not impair the value of the fur.

           There are a good many sections in the West where a stockman is so glad to see a trapper pull in with his outfit that he will give the trapper free room and board and furnish him with a good horse, just to keep the trapper in his area. Let’s hope that the gray killers don’t get such a stranglehold in the East that our eastern farmers have to build bunkhouses for visiting toe pinchers!

           For fun, thrills, cash and conservation, why not join the outdoorsmen’s “crime busters” on the trail of the Great American Killer?

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob