Building A Folding Colony Trap

By

Garry L. McLaughlin

As many know, this great country we live in was built on the backs of men who roamed the back country far from any civilization. These men were known as trappers and their livelihood was pursuing and trapping fur bearing animals, such as beaver, raccoon, wolves, skunk and muskrat. Their life was a rough hard life, but most of them would have it no other way. They were free men and in most cases answered to no one but the Lord Almighty.

We have been blessed by this tradition and there are still some that brave the elements every winter to carry on this tradition and experience the freedom and the feelings of accomplishment it can give a person. Unlike the trapper of old, we are faced with many regulations, rules and landowner concerns. Most of us donít own vast areas of land and therefore are confronted with either trapping on state owned wildlife management area property or obtaining permission from other landowners. Another problem we are faced with today is the group of individuals I will call "Antis". These are the people that object to the taking or killing of any animal whether it walks or swims. This group has classified the steel trap as a tool of the devil or worse and those that use them are not much less than a murderer. Therefore, those of us that choose to pursue trapping either as a hobby or an income must jump through every hoop possible to avoid these people and kill our prey as humanly as possible and to remove it from our traps in a timely manner.

There are several types of traps in use today. The leg hold trap which is most commonly referred to as "The Steel Trap" may provide an animal the opportunity to get free if the set is not made properly. The "Body Gripping Trap" normally will kill an animal almost instantly and is considered somewhat a humane trap. The "Snare" will on occasion kill an animal if used in the water, but seldom if used on land. There is also the "Live Trap" which is considered to be the only type of trap that is humane. If an animal is caught in a live trap it can be released without any physical harm done to it. The one big drawback of using any of these traps is they can only catch one animal at a time. But there is one type of trap that can, if used properly, take several, if not more animals at a time and that is the "Colony Trap". This trap is used exclusively for muskrats and is the main topic in this article.

The Colony Trap

The advantage of the colony trap is that it can take more than one muskrat at a time. When a muskrat swims into the trap, the lightly hinged door swings open and let the animal in, but wonít let it out, therefore drowning it. Muskrats following can also enter as long as the previous one isnít seriously blocking the door. The effects of this trap can be dynamic and as an example, I can personally testify to this. A number of years ago I was using such a trap in a marsh along Lake Erie. The trap was 40 inches long and 7 inches square. In one night I caught 14 muskrats in this trap. How they all got in there I will never know, but I had to disassemble the trap to get them all out. I have personally caught 4, 5, and 6 muskrats in them plenty of times.

When and Where To Use Them

If you have never used one before, you may be wondering under what conditions or where would you use them. Marshes or slews; and areas where the water is dead or slow moving and you can see runs or depressions in the ground or vegetation leading to a den, cubby or feeding station. Ponds; with gradual sloping areas leading into dens, cubbies or feeding stations. Creeks; that have shallow narrow waters ways or through vegetation leading to bank dens.

One important factor to remember is that these traps must be set completely under the water. If you have the trap even an inch above the water the muskrats will stick their noses through the wire and not drown.

If a muskrat is in itís den and you place one of these traps in a run leading to that den and he comes out of the den you will more than likely catch him with no problems. If he is out of the den and tries to go into it he may see the obstruction and swim around it. If you will observe a muskrat coming back to his den, he will usually swim on the surface until he is quite close, then dive down and enter it. Also if you will observe he will follow almost a straight line to the den. So I usually take a willow branch and bend it in a "U" and stick both ends in the mud just before the entrance to the trap, with the branch lying on top of the water. The muskrat will dive under the surface obstruction and enter the trap. I have caught mink in these traps, but also had mink tear them up and escape.

Building the Trap

I used to be a technical writer and illustrator, so it seems that I at times go into too much detail, but I want you to be able to build one of these traps when I am done, without having a whole bunch of questions.

Tools and Supplies

1 Ė Roll of 1" x 2" mesh 36" high x 25 feet long. (Rabbit cage wire)

1 Ė Bag of "J" Clips (for building rabbit cages)

96" Aluminum Television antennae (should be split not welded)

"J" Clip Pliers

Electrician side cutter

Needle nose pliers

Large straight bit screw driver

Tube cutter

We will building a trap that is 5" x 5" square x 30" long. The first thing is to unroll a couple of feet of the wire. Donít cut it off of the roll. You will cut it as you go. This is the only safe way not to make a cut where it shouldnít be.

You will lose one inch of wire for each of the four sides of you trap (except on the first piece cut) and one inch on each of the doors. You will cut out the sides and the doors will then be cut out of the remnants.

Step One: From the top of the roll (if standing up) count down including top wire to the fourth wire. You should make your cut on top of the fourth wire. Starting at the outside edge of the roll count over 5 inches (or squares). Cut across the top of the fourth wire to that intersecting point. Remember you need 5 full squares. When the horizontal cut has been completed start the veridical cut down to the floor. On the first piece from the roll you should end up with a piece that is a complete side with no trimming. Donít cut the remnant piece off yet. You will now have wires sticking out from where you detached the first side piece. You will trim these off later. Now repeat Step One: 3 more times. When you have four pieces cut out, you can trim off the protruding wires from your side pieces.

Step Two: You should have a piece dangling from the top (the remnant) which you now will cut your doors from. Each door must be 8 squares intact. Cut your doors from this piece. You will have wires hanging down which you can trim when you have cut the off of the roll.

 

What you see above are the sides (3 already assembled) the two doors and a piece of TV antennae tubing.

Step Three: This step is a self-remedy of problem one encounters when trying to copy the original your buy in the store. If you attach the pieces using only the clips the piece will slide 2 inches one way or the other. The original solves this problem by using clips that 2 inches long. I have looked high and low and have not been able to find them. I imagine they are cut and formed as the traps are manufactured. To solve this problem I tried several solutions. I tried putting a whole series of the smaller "J" Clips in a row in one or more of the openings. This worked but they would sometimes bind. So I had to reach back into one of those dark scary places in my brain and come up with something that was hollow and split that could be opened up. I settled on TV antennae and my brother had a dozen piece lying around that they used to stake up flowers. I guess the flowers will have to learn to stand on their own from now on. I started by using 8 pieces of tubing but found that 4 pieces on alternating corners would work. Now Ö take your TV antennae tubing and cut it to 1 7/8 inch piece. Four for each trap you build.

After you have your tubing cut, with your side cutters work them into the seam at one end of the tubing. Open it just enough to get you screw driver into the slit. Tap on the other end of the tubing and drive your screw driver up as far as you can. Then reverse it and open the other end.

After you get all 4 pieces done you will be almost ready to start assembly.

Step Four: Before you start assembling your pieces, get them as flat as possible. You fill find that the sides and ends, as well as the doors, will tend to curl. I use the needle nose plies for this and then work it with your hands.

Once your pieces are all flat take 2 side pieces and stand then on their end. Form a V with the point toward you. Take one of your pieces of tubing and slide it over both pieces of wire in the top square. Crimp the tubing back together as tight as possible. I use the "J" clip pliers and then tighten up with needle nose pliers. You can take your "J" Clips and go down that side and fasten the rest of it together. Now I only do every other space. So with the tubing being the first fastener, skip one space and put one in the next and continue this pattern until you get to the bottom. Take your next two sides and repeat the process.

Now that you have the two sections done, flip them end for end. You will be fastening these 2 sections together. Staring with you tubing again. You will notice that the tubing on this end is in a different corner than on the other end. By using the opposite sides to fasten your tubing you are able to get by with 4 pieces of tubing instead of 8 like I used on a couple of mine. Proceed on both seams as you did on the other pieces using the "J" clips the length of the seam in every other space.

You should now have a 30 inch x 5 x 5 inch box that will fold down somewhat flat.

Step Five: In This step you will be adding the doors. If you havenít done so Ö. Make sure they are as flat as possible. You will also want to make sure that the ends of the wires that run the length of the trap are cut as close as possible at the ends. Donít over cut or you might break the weld.

I leave the end wires long until I get the door fastened on the trap. I hold the trap body centered between my knees. Turn the door so that the 3 long wires are on the inside of the trap. I have done a couple in reverse and the doors seemed to want to hang up. These 3 wire act a little like bearings. The photos shows how and where I position the clips and in what order. The outside clips marked with an "X" are only added if I have too much side play in the door. If you need them, they go outside of the door between the door and the side. Flip it end for end and fasten the second door. Now I cut the protruding wires off of both doors, but I normally donít cut them real close Ö so they donít hang the door up.

Step Six: The final step is creating and fastening a wire to keep the trap in an upright position when it is set. The original store bought traps have a heavy wire of about 1/8 inch, formed into a square that fits inside the trap and fastened at the top of the trap. I have done a couple like this, but found that it is very time consuming (takes about as long to do this as the rest of the trap). The other way Ö. Which I have done most of them is to get a heavy wire coat hanger. Not the little flimsy ones you get at cleaners. I cut it close to the hook end on both sides and straighten it out as straight as possible. Then cut it in two equal pieces. Center it on top of the outside of the trap. Make a 90 degree bend at one side. Hold the bent side as close against the trap as possible and mark the second and bend down the other side. Including the end wire at the end of the trap, count back 5 wires. This is where you will fasten this wire. I fasten the support with just 3 or 4 clips on the top. (See the green wire)

Trim the extra wire from the bottom of each side Ö. UNLESS you want to keep them long so you can poke them into the bottom of the pond etc. Once I have trimmed them, I fold the legs up over the top and bend them in so they are very tight along the sides when they are put in position.

Take the other piece of the wire and repeat the process at the other end.

Step Seven: Now that you have completed assembling your trap, make sure the doors work smoothly and the supports hold the trap firm. If that is all good Ö. Raise the support wires, turn trap upside down, so the doors go to the top of the trap and fold it down. The trap may not fold completely flat as you think it should, but believe me Ö neither do the store bought ones. I have found that over time they do lay flatter. If you fold the down when you store them this will help. In addition to just stacking them I sit my trap basket on top of them for additional weight.

   

I hope this has helped everyone to build a better and sometimes much more efficient way of taking muskrats. Donít forget your trap tags on your trap and have a bountiful trapping season. ÖÖ.. Garry-


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All Rights Reserved - Written and compiled by Garry L. McLaughlin
Copyright - 2007, 2008