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Dirt Hole Set

A good old dirt hole set has without doubt caught more fox and coyote in the history of trapping than any other type of set. Most trappers target Red and Grey fox and coyote with the dirt hole set, but many other critters such as mink, raccoon, badger, skunks and others are also taken with this set. Most trappers have their favorite sets to catch fox and coyote, but the dirt hole set is still the standard of the trade in modern trapping today. Other sets that canine trappers commonly use are the flat set. The urine post set, and the scratch up mound set. These sets are equally very successful for trappers across America, but the dirt hole and its many variations is still the bread and butter set of the majority of canine trappers. The many variations of the dirt hole set with maybe a dozen or so successful canine trappers you probably would not see any one of them making the set the same. Of course there are numerous other variables to take into consideration, the most important being the set location itself. The best made set will not catch many canines if placed in areas where there are few fox or coyotes. Secondly. The set must be placed in an area where fox and coyote frequently travel. Other variables of critical importance are taking advantage of prevailing winds, the proper use of lures, baits, urines and other attractors, using clean traps, keeping human odor to a minimum at sets, trap checking methods, the use of natural guides, and many more.

The dirt hole set can be used anywhere a trapper can dig a hole in the ground. Most trappers use a narrow digging tool with a narrow blade and a short handle. Trappers can purchase digging tools specifically designed for making dirt hole sets from trapping supply businesses. There are many designs, some with very narrow blades for digging holes the sizes of mouse holes to blades 2-3 inches wide for making slightly larger holes. Trappers who make large holes for sets may use a tool as large as a tiling spade. The dirt hole set is always attractive to fox and coyote because it resembles a small mammals burrow or a place where another fox or coyote buried a morsel of food for a later meal. Fox and coyote often find the hole and the smells coming from it are intriguing, as well as arousing to their appetite and curiosity. Regardless of the type or style of dirt hole used, the trapper wants the critter to come into the set without hesitation or fear. The use of good urine and its proper application is one of the most common methods that trappers use to eliminate fear at a set. The use, type and height of a backing for the hole is another factor often overlooked when making a good dirt hole set. A backing could be a clump of grass, old bone, rock, piece of bleached wood or bone or a dried up cattle dung. The backing helps to guide the animal to the front of the trap where the trap is placed. The most important thing about the use of a backing is to keep it small, subtle and natural to the surrounding area. A dried up cow chip may be a natural backing for a set in a cattle pasture, but may be out of place and perhaps unnatural if it is place at a set in an agricultural field where cattle do not frequent. Fox and coyote often become wary and overly cautious when they cannot see over the set. This fear can be reduced or eliminated by using small natural backing maybe no more than two inches above the ground.

The key to success in using the dirt hole set does not depend on the size, or the depth of the hole, type of lure or baits used. The one common denominator and universal thing that any good set has is the proper placement, bedding of the trap and concealment. Therefore, the most important point here is how the set is constructed and the other little variables tat are done with the set so it is set upwind from the canines approach. First, lets say a little bit about trap placement. How far back from the hole or attractors should the trap be set? Should the trap pan be placed off center an inch or two to the right or left? If the trapper is targeting fox, then seven inches from hole is ok. If the target is coyote, then possibly nine inches will work. What if you are trying to catch both fox and coyote? Surely, I would not want to miss a raccoon either, especially if coon prices are good. I have used numerous variations of the dirt hole set over the past 50 years, and after all those years, I largely use a tow hole system where I set the trap right next to the hole and attractors in what is know today by professional trappers as the “Walk through approach”. This method can use one hole dug or two. I prefer to dig two small holes the size of a mouse hole on both sides of the backing. I really need only a 1/2 inch rebar stake punched into the ground about 5-6 inches, sometimes less if the ground is frozen. A small digging tool with a blade about one inch wide is often used by trappers when working in ground that is not frozen. If the ground is frozen then the rebar stake pounded into the ground works better. I simply ream the stake in a circular motion and create a cone shaped hole. The bait and lure are wedged down into the bottom of the hole making it virtually impossible for the canine to remove it. With the use of two small holes I like to use a gland lure in one hole and a food lure in another. This is kind of like offering the canine a smorgasbord. This method really works on the canine’s curiosity. The baits and lures are concealed and invisible, and are difficult for the canine to remove. With larger holes a canine will often times remove the bait or substance that the lure is applied to, and immediately its curiosity is fulfilled. Once this happens the canine may leave the set and the trapper will just have to wait for another day or better luck the next time. The use of multiple holes, baits and lures allows the canine to take a few extra steps thus greatly increasing the trapper’s odds in making a catch. When using the walk through approach, the trapper should give some consideration to the prevailing wind. Studies have shown that 80 percent of the time a canine will approach the set from the downwind side. Placing the trap between the animal and the smell attractors and letting the wind currents send out the odors from the baits and lures will work in the trapper’s favor. Therefore, setting the trap with the prevailing wind direction and setting upwind from the actual travel route of the canine is very important when using any kind of dirt hole set.

Once the trap is properly bedded, concealed and dirt sifted over the trap with a slight depression over their trap pan, the final touch of urine is then used. This can be done in several ways. I believe the best results are achieved when only a small amount of urine is sprayed in a pinpoint fashion between the holes on the backing. This causes the canine nose to focus its attention on the one spot while moving about its feet. Too much urine can cause the canine to be overly cautious. My preference for the greatest success in coyote trapping is to use only red fox urine, I do, however, like to use coyote urine on some of my urine post sets in the same area. I know that there are many successful trappers that have a lot of success with using coyote urine at all types of coyote sets. The choice of type of urine may depend on area of the country trapped, time of year or any number of independent factors.

Before I leave the set I will do a little landscaping and fencing to make sure the canine plants its foot directly on the pan. I like to use something that is natural and readily available at the set. This cold be a piece of cow chip, rock, dirt clod, corn cob, grass tufts, coyote or fox droppings, etc. and all of these materials should be small and subtle, but very visible to the canine. Just lightly bed one of these materials into the dry sifted dirt over the trap. Maybe a dirt clod over the loose jaw, one over the trap trigger and maybe one above the trap between the two holes. Using this fencing helps to guide the canine’s paw between the jaws directly on the trap pan, like you are telling the canine where to step. It also keeps the fox or coyote from stepping on the jaw and pan at the same time, resulting in a toe catch, and thus creates a pathway to walk through. There are countless other variables too numerous to elaborate on in just a short article that can make a difference in any kind of dirt hole set. Hopefully, I touched on some of the main points that have made the dirt hole set the bread and butter set of canine trappers for several generations.

John Almquist
South Dakota Trappers Assc. Inc.

Filed under: Trapping