SNARES

Snares can provide an effective way to catch all sorts of animals. Sometimes they can be set to be very selective in what they catch when the habits of the local animals are well known. They are cheap to make and easy to carry. They can be improvised using a variety of readily available materials. And our ancestors have used them for a very long time.

Nowadays any form of trapping can be a ‘touchy’ subject. It can be seen as cruel, especially to people who have had no first-hand experience of the activity. Sure, there must be some distress involved when an animal is caught compared to when it is running free….but sometimes animals simply have to be caught. I am very concerned about animal welfare, but from my trapping experiences I can honestly say that it feels right in my heart to continue trapping at the stage I am at. Well set snares are infinitely more preferable to me than the use of widespread toxins. And I prefer snares to leg-hold traps, although I feel that it is necessary to use leg-hold traps. I think that if a good operator were to set an equal number of leg-holds and snares, the leg-holds would get a better tally.

I have caught a variety of animals in do-it-yourself traps such as snares. However I want to mainly describe how snares can be used to catch possums. I still have a lot I want to learn about possum habits and trapping technique. I get a lot of snares that get ‘knocked’ (disturbed without making a catch). By posting this information I hope to share what I know with genuine people, and I hope to get feedback that will help me improve my methods. I am largely self-taught. So although I may state things dogmatically, I don’t think that my way is necessarily the best way or the only way. If people want to try this form of trapping, then take what I say as a guide to start with….but always think for yourself. Look at the results you are getting and try to figure out why.

The law (Animal Welfare Act in NZ) requires that traps have to be checked the day after they are set (by a certain time). I say they should be checked as often as possible, and certainly first thing the next morning. If you are a visitor reading this and you want to experiment with snares, please be careful. Don’t set them where you might catch pets, farm animals, or protected birds; check them regularly, and don’t upset the public by setting them where they can see them. Remove them when you are finished with them. You get the idea.

Here is a picture to describe the ‘terminology’ of snaring:


Possum snares can be set on the ground or on poles or branches above the ground. So far my ground snares seem to be a lot more productive than pole snares. On the ground they are less noticeable, whereas on a bare pole they are very hard to disguise. Set on a possum run, no bait is required and the animal can just blunder into the snare as he is going about his business. Generally, some sort of a lure is required to get a possum to climb a pole.

I believe pole snares are very useful when there are birds like kiwis and wekas around that might get caught, or simply just knock the snares. And on farmland, a pole snare won’t catch a sheep or a dog by the leg as a ground snare might.

Some people make snares with locking eyes. These may be useful in some applications, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a possum escape from a snare by struggling free once caught. I like to use non-locking eyes…then if an animal breaks the snare cord, the snare can simply drop off and the critter doesn’t have to wear it for life.

I’ve caught a lot of possums using black braided nylon cord. I’ve also reinforced thinner cord with one wrapping of copper wire to make it stiff to hold its position.

The picture below shows some of the snare materials and supporting methods I’ve used. At the left is some thin wire attached at right angles to a bit of number eight wire. The snare can be hung from the thinner wire, and sometimes I use short pieces of very thin copper wire bent as hooks for this purpose. The bottom of the number eight wire is bent like a staple, and the staple is bent at right angles to the main bit of wire. The staple part can be bound to the snare pole with the snare tether cord. I’ve made up a dummy snare with some white cord wound around a bit of 0.9mm galv support wire…note that the noose eye is threaded over the wire so that the whole thing releases fairly smoothly. Also featured are a cable snare with a crimped eye, and some black snares reinforced with a strand of copper wire. One of these has a running eye made from a bit of wire shaped like an ‘8’. This eye can run quite smoothly, and if made from the right wire it will theoretically straighten out if anything bigger than a possum gets caught. These are just ideas to get you started.


One early method I used to support my snares was to drive two nails into a branch. I then pushed a long, black plastic drinking straw on to each nail. The tops of the straws were slit with a knife and I sat my cord snare in the slits. I certainly caught possums this way, but I found also that they sometimes chewed at the straws and upset the snares without getting caught. Sometimes it may not be appropriate to drive nails into trees.

SNARES SET ON THE GROUND

Ground snares can be set in such a way to reduce the likelihood of harm to non-target species. By using thin cord, or a ‘breakaway’ eye, the snare can break if a large non-target gets caught. By using stiffer cord, a weka is unlikely to tighten the cord around its neck….but it may still be possible for a determined weka to do this. If a heavy stick is laid securely over the top of a possum ground snare, it makes it less likely that a sheep or a dog will get its foot caught. Some form of stop can be fitted to a snare so that the eye can only tighten up to the point when it reaches the stop. So by tying a knot, or crimping a ferrule on to the cable a short distance from the eye, and having a suitably sized eye, you have made a snare that will not close completely.

Domestic dogs when caught in snares are likely to be reasonably placid and not struggle. But one should not set a snare where dogs are likely to be caught assuming that everything will be OK.

Possum runs are fairly obvious when you know what you are looking for. But I believe that any trail in the bush is likely to be used by possums…so if there is no danger of catching anything else, then snares set on runs can produce good catches. If you can find a spot where the trail narrows down to make a good place to set a snare…good. If not, you can create your own sets by driving pegs into the ground similar to what is shown in the above picture. You can also lay sticks and scrub across the trail to narrow down the pathway.

Holes under fences are terrific locations for catching possums, wild cats and pigs. Keep the bottom of the snare off the ground as much as is practical to help prevent the animal walking right through it.

Here is a typical set-up for a ground snare using an inverted ‘L’ support made of wire. One side of the snare is held up by being tied or bound to the wire, and the other side is held on a hook made of easily straightened copper wire. You can carry ready-made supports like this to save time, or you can simply improvise with the materials at hand:



Snares have to be anchored well. I recommend high anchors for big animals like pigs, but anything reasonably strong will do for possums. If your snare is clear of obstructions, the possum should be alive and well in the morning. If there are branches he can climb, then he may strangle himself if he jumps from the branch. Much less frequently they may strangle themselves by going ‘round and ‘round a tree.

Is it ‘bad’ that a possum strangles itself? Hmmm…..yes and no. I’ll write more on this later. In my experience, most possums caught in ground snares are alive and well in the morning. They could even be released without harm, but I understand that this is illegal.

For ground snares set for possums, I’ve found that a variety of sizes and heights of snare can work. I’ve even caught possums in big rope snares I’ve set for pigs. But a good starting point would be to have maybe a noose of maybe six inches (150mm) in diameter set about a fist height from the ground (say 120mm). Smaller nooses will work, but sometimes the big old possums might climb over them or bulldoze them out of their way. A big noose will sometimes mean that an animal can walk right through, or maybe get caught by the body or just a leg…especially if the snare is set low. I generally start with bigger and higher nooses, then if I think smaller possums are knocking the snares I might set them a bit smaller and lower. But this really applies more to pole snares…. On the ground you can take more of a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Baited ground snares can be set, but then you have the time-consuming problem of building a barrier or ‘cubby’ around the bait to make sure that the animal goes through the noose. If you want to use bait to get a live catch, then setting a pole snare down low with enough cord on the snare to allow the possum to sit on the ground might be a more practical option.

If you get problem possums that somehow seem to get around your snares, then by thoughtfully setting a baited spring up trap like the San Bushman trap you should get some results (I intend to write up a blog about this eventually).

I often carry a bundle of thin strips of flax leaf for tying bait and rigging sets in one way or another. Then when I remove my sets and cut the flax, I can leave it there to rot. If I used string I’d have to take a long time to properly clear up.

POLE SNARES


Years ago I recall seeing a ‘Country Calendar’ programme where a guy was demonstrating some special snare mounts he’d made for possums. These snares had to be set at a good height. The claim was that when the possum felt the noose around his neck he would jump, and he would be dead in something like 30 seconds.

Some time later I set a pole snare behind my folk’s garage. That night I was working on my old Lada in their garage. I heard a scuffle and a crash behind the shed and hurried to investigate. A possum was swinging by the neck in the snare. I went back to the garage to get a hunk of pipe to bash it with, but when I got back it was dead.

This result is very good for hunters who want cold possums to skin when they check their traps.

If a possum gets one paw through the noose as well as its neck it may not jump from the pole, but many of them will…and they generally still die, but it may not be as quick, although I have never witnessed the process. This is one good reason to keep the nooses to a minimum size, and to set them high to stop the animals stepping through. Most of my pole catches nowadays are neat neck catches, but occasionally I find a dead one that has a leg in the noose as well.

I’ve seen a lot of dead and dying animals over the last half century. My personal feeling is that many animals are a lot more comfortable with violence and death than people are. They just get on with it. Of course I can’t prove this with conventional argument, but it is my honest opinion. I further believe that what we call death is not the end. The body we see may cease to function, but the life force continues. Why I have come to believe this is another story, but I have very good reasons to think this way. This doesn’t mean that it is ok to be violent or callous or kill indiscriminately. We should always be as gentle and loving as possible. It is a paradox that I don’t even begin to understand.

Shot and poisoned animals may take longer to die than we’d like. Animals may escape injured from predators and die later. A possum may leave the highway with a tyre mark on it and expire in the scrub. Flies buzz on their back for a while when squirted with insecticide. None of this is good in my opinion, but we are generally doing our best. And do the animals really experience what we think they might experience? I think our imagination and powers of reason create fears that can make life more miserable than it needs to be. Animals just get on with it. Still, that opinion is no justification for not using the best methods of animal control that are practical for the purpose at hand. I will let others on the forum debate the ethics. From one perspective, the question of how quickly something dies is somewhat insignificant compared to should we kill anything at all? What is a few moments compared to ‘eternity’?

One main challenge with pole snares is holding them open in the right position, especially on a sloping pole or branch. Wire cable snares are good from this point of view. I have made some cable snares from 1mm diameter stainless fishing trace cable, and these have performed very well indeed. I generally hold them in place using a length of galvanised tie wire about 0.9mm in diameter like this:


The old Forestry Department pamphlet on possum trapping suggested that snares should be five inches in diameter (say 125mm) and only three-quarters of an inch off the pole. They recommended that lure should be wiped up the full length of the pole. This system certainly works, and by having the lure all the way up the pole it may ensure that the possums mostly keep their heads in the same postion.

I think that the 125mm diameter snare is a good size to start with, but I generally set it higher off the pole to avoid catching legs as well as necks. So I’d generally start setting the snares at fist height and try to get the larger possums first. However the height of the snare might be beneficially adjusted to suit the slope of the pole. Steep poles may suit lower (closer) snares. Branches that are more horizontal could have higher snares. It is also easier to set an ordinary ‘string’ snare on a horizontal branch because gravity isn’t going to make the bottom of the snare drop away from the branch. I don’t wipe lure all the way up the pole when using higher snares…just a bit at the base of the pole, and a bit well above the snare.

I think it helps to have a visual lure above a pole snare. I often hang paper above the snare, and sometimes use bits of apple or citrus fruit from the garden.


KNOCKED SNARES

To be a successful trapper it is not as important to have cunning gear as it is to have a good understanding of the target animal.

I have had a lot of knocked snares. This means that the snare has been disturbed but there is nothing in it. Knocks may be caused by things like:
-Wind
-Birds
-Rats (if set low)
-Pigs and other big animals if set on the ground.
-Deer or goats if set in trees
-Possums that didn’t get caught.

When a possum comes to a snare a variety of things could happen:
-It may be completely unaware of the snare and just walk right into it and get caught.
-It may poke or chew at it as a way of investigating the strange new object, particularly if there are unusual smells in the area.
-It could climb right through it, or
-Push under it
-Climb over it, or
-Bulldoze it out of the way if it is too big to easily enter the snare.

Knocks have only been a big problem for me when pole snares are involved. My ground snares mainly get knocked by pigs I think, but because I am currently setting where there are quite a few wekas, I’ve been setting very few ground snares nowadays. It would be nice to be setting a few pig snares on the side, but my host has other friends who like to hunt pigs and I don’t want to stuff up a great relationship.

If a possum is likely to notice a snare, as when it is set on a pole, perhaps the proximity of the fragrant lure or a visual lure might distract it enough to forget about the snare. So by having a prominent visual lure above the snare on the pole, you may catch more possums.

Possums come in different sizes, and I am very tempted to believe that their behaviour may vary. I can set all my snares the same and catch possums as well as getting possum knocks. I might change the snares to have a different height and size and get the same results. Thus it is likely that different possums behave differently.

By coming up with a decent support and/or barrier system for a pole snare you may be able to more or less force any possum wanting to go up the pole to go through the snare. When you do, please tell me about it.

You can take advantage of natural side shoots on poles to help set up nice snare sets. But be aware that the possum is likely to tangle around these and may not be able jump from the pole. And if you want to set a lot of snares, it will take up a lot of your time looking for ideal ‘natural’ sets with side branches.

I like to be able to have the same snares set for several nights. I think it is a good idea to set your pole snares slightly bigger and slightly higher than average the first night (on the ground the problems aren’t as bad). These sets are good for the nice big possums with the valuable pelts. If you come to a snare that is knocked, you can look at the clues to see what adjustments you might make. If the snare mount isn’t disturbed much, but the noose is pulled partially closed…perhaps a smaller possum has climbed right through or under it and has caught the noose with its tail or leg. In that case I might make the noose a bit smaller, and probably a bit lower. If the whole set is crushed flat or badly bent, I might assume that a big one has climbed over it, so I would set it a tad higher and bigger. However a totally different possum might come along next time and stuff up your program

Sometimes, if you have enough snares and time, it might be a good idea to set two snares on a pole where possible…or several snares close to one another. Each snare can be set differently.


In the picture above of the two possums caught on the one pole, you might think you’ve seen evidence of a master at work. Well I did catch two possums that night, but the next night both snares were knocked.

I think there may be at least a partial solution to the knock problem when we have decent mounts for snares. I’m glad I’ve experimented the way I have with bare snares because I have learned a heap. But now I think it will be worth trying to come up with a good barrier type mount to increase the catch percentage. There once were some commercially available snare mounts made and sold (I think they had the name "Marex"). But they aren’t common now, and I don’t know the reason as to why trappers didn’t stick with them.

In my research I have never seen other than a simple mount for pole snares being used anywhere. The North Americans use pole snares quite a bit for some things.

I’m currently playing with a simple paw snare idea, but it is in its very early stages. I’ve really reduced the possum population in my own handy area, and I need to go elsewhere for my testing. When there are a lot of animals around, the knock problem doesn’t seem as bad. Maybe the surviving stragglers are the cunning ones.

LURES

There are lots of things that can be used to interest possums, and some of these things are already discussed in other posts on this site.

A white flour lure with added fragrances can double as a visual lure as well.

Long life, and water resistance are two desirable qualities for a lure. It is also good if it is sticky enough to adhere to branches. Here is a recipe I have been using. I am positive other things may be as good or better, but this sure seems to interest possums. You don’t have to stick to the same proportions, but be aware that the consistency may change from batch to batch depending on the moisture content of the raisins and other things.

The day before you want to make the lure, tip a cup of raisins or sultanas into a bowl, then add:
-50 mls water
-Up to 50 mls of vanilla essence (I use cheap ‘Home Brand’)
-20 mls of Glycerine (probably not necessary, but it may help to keep things more fluid in cold weather…more or less could be added according to need).
Stir everything up and let it soak overnight. This helps to soften the raisins.

Using the missus’ food processer, mix the soaked raisins with:
-3/4 cup cooking oil
-50 g butter
-1 cup soft brown sugar
-6 teaspoons cinnamon powder
-4 teaspoons curry powder
-6 teaspoons of salt (helps to preserve the mix I think)
-2 cups flour

This should mix to a nice consistency. I sometimes fill old toothpaste tubes with the stuff so I am less likely to get it on my hands and all over the snares. If possums smell lure on the snares they may be more likely to knock the snares by sniffing them etc. To fill the tubes I make a hole through a bit of cloth or plastic and tie it securely to the threaded opening of the tube. I expel all the air from the tube then wind up the cloth like an icing bag to force the paste into the tube. Having old toothpaste in the tube just adds to the appeal. There are other food and cosmetic tubes which may be easier to fill, and a lot of the time I just have the stuff in a jar and apply it with a knife.

STEEL CABLE SNARES

Different types of steel cable may also sometimes be called wire rope, fishing trace, bowden cable, aircraft cable and snare cable. I call it ‘wire’ sometimes, but this can be confusing. Steel cable is generally made up of many strands of fine high tensile wire, and if trappers talk about wire they may be referring to the solid, single-strand stuff they might use to help support their snares.

Cable seems to be the snare material mostly used nowadays in America. Americans I’ve communicated with, hint that cable is what I should be using if I want to be more successful.

Cable has advantages. New cable snares generally ‘run’ smoothly as they close. They can be ‘loaded’ by careful bending before they are set so that a slight pull will cause them to spring to a smaller diameter. The biggest advantage is that they hold their shape, and they can be set at right angles to a sloping pole (wheras cord wants to flop downwards). A well-mounted cable snare is likely to spring back to its proper position if it is knocked by a bird or a strong gust of wind. Cable is very strong.

But cable has some significant disadvantages. For a start it can get horribly bent and mangled by what it has caught. This is especially true for snares set on the ground designed to hold animals alive. Furthermore, if an animal twists in the snare, it can separate the ‘lay’ of the strands and the strands can be individually broken. To counteract this, some trappers fit swivels to the cable. Swivels may prevent the unwinding of the lay and the resulting breakage and escape, but they do not prevent snare damage. I understand that most cable snares are discarded after one catch. That does not appeal to this frugal Kiwi.

Cable is also quite a ‘harsh’ material compared to cord. It has sharp ends which easily penetrate the trappers skin, and I feel that it must be a little harder on the animals…although I haven’t seen much evidence of this. I think it may also look a bit ‘meaner’ to non-trappers compared to synthetic cord.

Cable is generally not knotted like cord to form the eyes and joins. Eyes are either made by doubling the cable and swaging a crimp sleeve (ferrule) to grip the doubled portion…or some special eye or fitting is swaged to the end of the cable. Sometimes trappers use annealed nuts (as in nuts and bolts) to grip the cable…these are generally just hammered flat on to the cable.

It seems that many trappers will fit locks to their snares. This means that the snare can get pulled tight, but the lock helps prevent the noose from loosening. I am sure that locks have their advantages, especially for some applications, but I am not keen on them. I like to have a fixed, free-running eye…then if the critter breaks the snare and runs off with it, the snare is free to fall off and it doesn’t have to be worn for life. Of course if a strong cable snare is set in a proficient manner, the critter should not be able to break it…and I would never want to tell a trapper that uses locks that he should not. This is just my personal preference. I understand that the use of locks may be illegal in Britain.

I have used cable snares with great success for pole sets. With a pole set the possum jumps from the pole when the noose tightens around the neck. The possums seem to expire relatively quickly. This is good for humane reasons, and it is also good for the snares. I have used some individual snares to catch a good quantity of possums. I simply straighten out the one or two kinks and re-set them. As illustrated in an earlier post, the snares are made from 1mm diameter stainless fishing trace. The eyes are simply crimped on the end using a commercial alloy ferrule (or sleeve). I have ‘proper’ crimping pliers that make a nice round crimp, but the ferrules that I simply bashed flat with a hammer have held perfectly well. If hammering, you don’t want to pulverise the sleeve…just squash it down firmly. I like to file the sharp corners off my hammered sleeves.

For possum pole snares, I think it best to make the cable snares only just long enough to form a 130mm diameter noose, with an allowance to form an eye at each end and maybe another 30mm for winding the support wire around the cable. So I guess I am cutting my cable ‘blanks’ about 510 mm long. You can cut cable fairly easily, but unless you cut it neatly, it can be a huge frustration trying to feed it into the little crimp sleeves. It is best to use a proper cable cutter that doesn’t squash the lay too much and unwind it. I tie a bit of nylon braid to the cable for tethering.

I discard the snare if I see any broken strands, or if the lay has started to unwind and open up….or if it gets so many kinks that it drives me crazy.

If a possum doesn’t jump from the pole and is sitting in it for a while, it is likely that the cable will get badly kinked and unwound, and it is quite possible that it will break. I do not recommend cable this thin for live capture snares, and live capture snares should really have swivels fitted to them. Braided nylon cord makes very effective live capture snares (and it is cheaper than cable). A broken cable snare, even with a free-running eye, may be a lot more difficult for an escaped animal to remove because of the twists and bent strands. So care and skill are needed.

I painted some snares black to help cover the ‘shinyness’, but I don’t think it improved my catch rate significantly.

There may be a number of good sources for thin wire rope and fishing trace, but I found what I wanted at Cookes in Nelson. I think the fishing trace worked out at under a dollar a metre, and the aluminium crimp sleeves were about four cents each. So let’s say each cable snare might cost sixty cents. That isn’t too bad, especially if you catch two to ten possums before you discard it.

I prefer to work with simple cord for snares where possible. It is soft, you can tie knots in it, and it seems to be a more natural and gentle material. I’ve probably caught the majority of my possums in cord snares, and it can be used over and over. The difficulty with cord, is setting the noose to stay open on a sloping branch or in windy conditions.

TESTING KNOTS AND SNARES

It may surprise some people to see how easily ‘strong’ cord can be broken.

I test the relative strength of knots by tying one knot to be tested at one end of the cord, and a different knot at the other. I then stretch the cord until it breaks. Obviously the knot that breaks first is the weakest one. But this should be done several times to confirm the result….things aren’t always that consistent. And if the cord breaks in the unknotted portion at least some of the time, your knots are likely to be fairly good ones.

I’ve done this testing for hours. Sitting in front of the T.V, I’ve tested the relative strength of various fishing knots in nylon monofilament. I might tie the knots dry sometimes, and other times I will wet them before tightening them.And of course I’ve tested a few of the different knots that I might use on my snare cord.

There is a big difference between a cord holding a load at rest, and the situation where the same load might be falling or jumping. Experienced rock climbers and cavers will be well aware of this. A climbing rope has to be capable of supporting a load many times greater than the weight of the individual climber.

I would suggest that for snares, if possible, that the breaking strain of the cord is at least five times more than the weight of the animal…but this is not really enough. I think ten times greater is more realistic, but even then with the animal running hard to the end of the cord, or taking a jump from a pole there may be a load created that is still big enough to break the cord…especially if it is weakened by a knot or a small ‘nick,’ or bit of abrasion that you might not have seen.

I have looked for a simple formula that will enable us to calculate the required cord strength, but there are simply too many factors to consider. A breaking strain calculation would probably relate to the formula: Force = Mass x Accelaration…but we also have to consider the decelaration when the cord stretches etc.

I test possum pole snare rigs by ‘snaring’ an object that has the weight of a large possum. I then fasten the ‘tether’ end to a big nail on the basement roof of my house. I drop the weight from the height that the possum might drop and I see what happens. I have been surprised to see steel cable and strong braided cord snap when I’ve tested with a few slightly longer drops. Admittedly, the hard bit of wood I am using as a weight probably doesn’t cushion the drop as much as a snared possum, but it is a good test.

Be careful when testing this way. A bit of broken cord or cable might whip up and get you in the face. Maybe you should wear safety glasses unless you are well clear of the drop.


KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR TRAPS

This is extremely important. It is irresponsible and quite wrong to carelessly set traps and then forget where they are.

Traps and snares can be very hard to see in dim bush, and if you have set a lot of them in new country it is difficult to remember where they all are. Here are some things I might do to ensure that I can account for all of my sets.

Carry an exact number of snares, support wires and marker flags etc. You then know exactly how many you have to retrieve the next day.

Keep notes on each set and give each set a number.

Stick to logical routes when setting, and be methodical.

Use marker flags as appropriate.

When keeping notes, I number each set from the beginning of the line even if I am only setting ten snares as I might typically do. I don’t necessarily write numbers on the set itself; but sometimes where there is likely to be confusion, I will write the number on the tree the snare is tethered to, or write it on a small card and tie it to the tree. My notes will record the type of set and the snare material used. I will also note the type of tree it might be attached to and any distinguishing feature. I may also note the approximate distance and direction from a prominent landmark or the last set. If a marker flag is used to mark the set, I will note this fact and the number written on the marker flag (if any). It may also be useful to note what lure is used for later comparison. On checking the snares I will note the size and sex of any possum and any other relevant information.

Here’s what I might write for a typical entry:

“8. Pink flag M10. Cable on side branch of big mahoe on north side of firebreak maybe 40 m up from 7.”

In tricky bush areas I may hang a fluorescent marker tag at each set. This is a tremendous help in spotting the snares in the early morning light. I will often write a number on a flag to ‘individualize’ it….and I may also write something like ‘possum research’ on the flag to help satisfy the curiosity of any passer-by.

Where there aren’t likely to be other people in the area, I hang the flag close to the snare. Where there may be people around, I will generally hang the flags some distance away (generally trying to keep them a certain distance and direction from the set so it is easier for me to find the snares next morning).

Where the route is fairly obvious…like a ridge, trail, or bottom of a narrow gully….I might only use flags occasionally.

I have used white paper and strips of white plastic for flags. Nowadays I have come to appreciate the fluorescent flagging tape, or survey tape as it is called. I got mine from CRT. I don’t tie the tape directly to a tree….instead I have bits of cord tied to each bit of tape. This is more economical, and it enables me to easily remove and re-use the flag. I use a slip knot for easy untying.

When I started keeping notes I just used folded up bits of paper. I went to a hunter’s funeral one day, and his family had made up some little books about him that were held together in a simple yet effective manner. So I have adopted this method for making up the little notebooks that I carry with me. I hope that the picture below gives an idea of how the notebooks are constructed.

By folding the paper, and punching ‘half’ holes on the fold, you have created ‘full’ holes in the centre of the paper. Cord is then passed through these holes in the paper, and through the cover you make, and tied to hold everything together. For my trapping notebook I made a cover from a plastic folder. For a smaller notebook I made a cover from some stiff deerskin that I ‘cured’.

So here are my notebooks and samples of the marker flags…


SAFETY AND EQUIPMENT

There has been a lot written about safety in the outdoors, so I won’t repeat everything here. Setting snares is considerably safer than working with steel traps, poison or firearms…but care still needs to be taken. Here are a few points that spring to mind:

Ensure that somebody knows where you are. If you work around the area in a logical way, and use marker flags, somebody should be able to find you if you need to be found. Also, if you keep good notes and use marker flags, somebody else may be able to check your traps for you if suddenly you are unable to do it.

Make sure you can stay warm and dry if the weather changes. I generally carry a light poncho if there is no rain forecast for my day trip, and a heavy duty one if rain is likely. A warm hat and a thermal singlet are good ‘extras’ to have stowed in your pack.

Suitable footwear should be selected for the terrain.

A cellphone, matches, and some bandaids may be handy. I generally always have a bottle of water with me.

Support wires can be very sharp at the cut ends. I round off the ends of thick wire with a file, and I bend over the ends of some other support wires. I generally don’t do anything about the sharp ends of very thin support wire because it is likely to push out of the way if you come in contact with it. But the wires are often set at the height of your face and you need to ensure that you and others in the area are safe. I bend thin support wires ‘in half’ and stuff the sharp ends into a cardboard tube to carry them in my bag.

Possums have a strong bite and sharp claws. I will sometimes grab them by the tail when I need to pull them out of the scrub, but they tend to resist. The moment before you grab them can be hazardous if they see you coming at them . If you grab a possum on a slope, then lose your balance, the possum may well react quicker than you and latch on to your flesh.

Don’t walk around with an unsheathed knife, machete or axe in your hand. A smaller knife is safer than a big one, so only carry a big knife if you really need it. A smaller knife is generally better than a big one for skinning anyway. Some knives will sit on their ‘backs’ when you put them down…leaving the blade facing upwards. Be careful with knives like this as somebody may sit on it, or inadvertently place their hand on it.

I’ve never seen a possum with TB, and I am not sure how to identify the symptoms. If the animal has lumps under its front ‘armpits’, this may be a symptom. If the possum has unusual looking lungs or an odd-looking liver it may have some problem. Perhaps someone else can add something here. I’d be inclined to leave any sick looking possums buried under rocks...without cutting them open. Wash yourself and your gear well after dealing with odd-looking possums. I have heard that the only way a trapper might infect himself from a possum with TB, is to breathe in the sprayed ‘aerosol’ of a pressurized abscess that you might burst on the animal. Fairly unlikely I would think. I suggest that sticking your dirty fingers into your mouth or nose might also be unwise. I have also spoken to a possum ‘expert,’ who has served possum meat to many guests, about TB. He did not seem at all worried about it, stating that the cooking would take care of it. I would add that I would not eat a suspicious looking possum, and I would sanitize my utensils and kitchen surfaces if I found something ‘yukky’ while preparing the meat. Many animals can carry TB, and I’ve never heard of a hunter being infected. Perhaps somebody who knows more than me can post some further information. Obviously a possum plucker is exposed to less of this kind of thing than a skinner. Don’t let the thought of this keep you from hunting.


GEAR

Apart from snares, flags, support wire, lures etc, there are things that I regularly take with me. When I am checking traps, I ensure that I have some old shopping bags for fur and skins…and some clean bags for any meat worth keeping.

Here is a photo showing some other things I might carry….


Most of my snares etc are carried in the polarfleece shoulder bag. I made this myself. It has four small pockets sewn on to the inside of the side walls.

At the left is a home-made tomahawk, with a small hammer face at the back. This chops surprisingly well, and is quite light. It is useful for driving small nails and chopping small branches and sticks as necessary. It also doubles as a useful ‘basher’ instead of carrying a club.

Next to the tomahawk is a heavy club. I don’t carry this if I have the tomahawk, or the heavy ‘golok’ knife shown below. The golok came from a guy who served in Vietnam, and it is proving to be a very versatile tool. It chops well, and its thick 320mm blade is good for hammering and digging.

On the right is an old hatchet. This is good if I have to drive pegs into the ground.

At the top is a cord which I wear around my neck. Hanging from the cord is my 4wd key with a fluorescent tag on it, my watch, a small LED torch, and a “trout and bird” knife which is good for removing splinters and would be good for skinning if I misplaced my normal knife.

My possum knife is the one with the white handle. I made this and the sheath. The sheath is simply a bit of 20mm low density polythene pipe which I heated in boiling water…then pushed the knife into it. The plastic has ‘set’ into a good shape which grips the knife firmly. The tube sheath is very reliable and easy to keep clean. I hang it around my waist with a bit of cord that has an eye plaited on to one end, and a hook on a sliding prusik loop at the other…it adjusts to size very quickly. I use the knife for skinning etc, for spreading lure near sets, and for cutting up and boring holes through apples and lemons so that they can be stuck on twigs or hung from branches. The blade is probably not the best shape for making the opening cuts when possum skinning, but it works well enough.

Next to the knife are a couple of bits of braided cord. One is for skinning tails, the other has a hook on one end and is used for hanging possums while I skin them.

The black pocketknife hasn’t seen much action yet, but I wanted to illustrate that it is a good idea to tie flagging tape on to a tool like this so it is easy to see if you drop it in the bush. (It is a Cold Steel Voyager, and I love it).

Attached to the bag with a cord, is a broken bit of a ceramic ‘crock stick’ knife sharpener.

I have a small backpack to carry my extra clothing etc.


SUMMARY, AND WHERE TO FROM HERE

Snares provide a fairly effective way to catch possums that should be considered. They can be used in addition to, or instead of, other methods.

Knocked snares seem to be a fact of life. If a steel trap trigger is knocked, it is likely to grab a paw. A snare can be knocked and not tighten around an animal. Sometimes we can take steps to minimise knocked snares, but I doubt that we will ever get to the stage where a snare will catch every time. In my experience, pole snares are more likely to have ‘no-catch’ knocks than ground snares.

Where ground snares can be set, they are likely to be more successful than pole snares. Ground snares do not need to be baited when set on a busy possum trail, and they are less noticeable than pole snares.

Rigid pole snare supports are probably best in theory, because they provide a more solid anchor to ensure that the snare pulls tight quickly, and because they can act as a barrier that the possum has to climb around. But in practical terms, thin wire snare supports are easier to carry.

Good snares can be made from steel cable or synthetic cord. If I had to pick just one material it would be the cord. Cord can be reinforced with wire as shown in earlier posts, but the wire often gets broken with the first catch. Bare cord can be used successfully, and it is worth persisting with. There is still a lot to learn about setting cord snares.

My engineering manager had a poster on his wall that said: “Ask why five times”. Good advice. Ask why you are getting the results you are getting with your trapping efforts. Look for clues as to why certain things have occurred. I am sure this is one of the best ways to improve at something like this.

Here are some questions. When I have better answers to questions like these I might be a better trapper.

How does a possum carry itself as it climbs a branch or squeezes through a hole in a fence?

Does a possum prefer to climb under or over obstacles if given a choice?

When possums come to a vertical branch growing from a horizontal one, what can influence them in their decision as to which side of the branch they will climb around?

Do all possums act in a similar manner?

What smells or flavours are irresistable to possums?

Does a possum put its paw through some snares before its head, or does the head go first?

Are possums left or right ‘handed’?

How far do possums travel at night?

Does the presence of a fragrant lure make some possums poke at every object in an effort to find the source?

Why have some possums been caught in thick, white cord pole snares or in heavy rope snares set for pigs…yet some seem to be impossible to catch in thin black cable snares?

Why do some big, fat possums get caught in cold, shady gullies?

How do most possums react when they come to the snare set on a pole?

If a visual lure is placed just above a pole snare, does it make the possum think less about the snare?

When a pole snare is partially closed and pulled back down the pole, what does this generally mean? Etc etc etc….

It is helpful to stay positive about the process. There will be knocked snares, and traplines that catch very little, but it best just to see these things as ‘results’ rather than failures. Then we can work on improving the results.

I am always happy to discuss traps and snares with any genuine person. And I would especially love to learn things that will make me more of a possum ‘expert’, and a better trapper.


Best wishes to all. Happy hunting….Stephen Coote, Nelson, New Zealand.

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Shrafter
Comment by Stephen Coote on June 26, 2010 at 20:37
'Nelson Region' is fairly broad... but it was the only option I could see to click on when I was creating my profile. I live at the north end of the city area not far from the coast. I will happily send you my address and contact details via a private email if you want to pop in. I wouldn't get too excited though, I haven't found a convenient place to trap around here yet, and I no longer have a 4wD.

For the small amount of trapping that I do, milk powder will be a good ingredient. I often keep some of this in storage and when I eventually get around to using it I find that often it is outside its use-by date.

Spring-up traps certainly work for possums, and they are satisfying to make and use. But I reckon your steel traps will produce more fur if making money is the main aim. Dang, if you have bagged 65 in a day it seems like you already have a winning formula. I wouldnt be keen to drag big quantities of jaw traps around the hillsides though.

It is great if a trap/snare line can be kept in place and checked for several days in a row (you probably are doing this Scott). I like being able to do this so I can have a chance to see where the possums are being caught, and so that I can try different things if I feel the possums have been coming by without getting caught. Plus there is a huge time saving compared to having a 'one night' trap line where the traps have to be put in place then pulled out for only one night's work. I think another advantage of having traps set for several days is that if the animals (not necessarily possums) are wary of changes in their surroundings they have a couple of days to become used to them .... plus if the animals are scared of human scent, chances are by the second or third day it will be less noticeable. However I don't think human scent bothers possums too much.

I don't use that little 'hawk much nowadays, although I am kinda fond of it. It was the first one I made I think. The blade was a cold chisel in a previous life. I forged it in a primitive charcoal forge. I can't recall for sure, but I think the air source for the fire was a simple plunger bellows. It didn't take long for me to adapt an electric fan to supply the air. If I were to set up another forge I think I'd find an old hair dryer to provide the draft. The sleeve (or hole) for the handle is a bit short on that tomahawk. The steel in that region got a bit squashed when I was trying to punch the hole through.

Although I might still sometimes choose to take out a hatchet or tomahawk when setting traps, I have come to appreciate a khukuri when I need a heavy chopping blade (and possum club).... and more recently I've started to use a short machete a bit more.

Newbie
Comment by Liam on June 26, 2010 at 18:26
Love the little 'hawk. Well done on making it yourself. I have no smithing experience but making something like that is on the to do list.

Shrafter
Comment by Scott Hamilton on June 26, 2010 at 18:08
Sorry, should have mentioned that you can use milk powder as well, but is heaps dearer than the whey powder. Also make sure you let the flour lure brew for a couple of weeks before using it.

Shrafter
Comment by Scott Hamilton on June 26, 2010 at 17:52
I am very keen as well, would be good to meet up and go out. As soon as I have finished shifting house I am going to organise an outing in Christchurch for Shrafters, and the areas I possum in are where we will be going. Would be good if you could make it down for it. Next time I get up to the family batch in Picton I might try and slip over for a visit, what exactly does Nelson region mean? The spring snare I am thinking of is just a bow spring of some form and a forked branch, one side of the fork attached to the base of the bow as the mechanism and the other fork baited, snare mounted off the forked branch about head length out, but the snare should be able to be rather large if the baited stick keeps their head down flat instead of having to look upwards. Then the spring force should get the chance to pull it tight fast. Would just funnel them towards the bait with a few sticks either side or even fern, as they will always walk around something instead of over when possible.

Shrafter
Comment by Stephen Coote on June 26, 2010 at 14:38
Hmmm... thanks, I must keep my eye out for whey powder.

Spring-up snares are fairly reliable for possums in my experience. The trouble is that if you start from scratch at every set they can take far too long to set (well the ones I know about do anyway). Carrying pre-made components does help. I think there is a commercially made mechanical snare used for possums. They stick their head into a hole and a spring mechanism pulls the snare tight. It could be called something like "Possum Master". Dunno. One big time-consuming part of setting a baited primitive spring-up trap is building the barrier that prevents the bait being taken except by going through the snare.

A spring-up trap based on the San Bushman Bird Trap is set up in such a way that not much of a barrier is required. I hope to post a picture of one of these traps soon.

In case you cant tell, I am very keen on this subject.

Shrafter
Comment by Scott Hamilton on June 26, 2010 at 11:06
Yes the dvds are based in NZ, my understanding is NZ is the only country that it is stiill legal to trap them. Also if you add calve whey powder into the flour mix, it will make it more waterproof, it gets a slick coating over it instead of just washing away. Use catering size sauce bottle, with a 4mm hole in the spout for a dispenser, this enables you to put a squiggle of lure on the tree, instead of a big blazed patch and it is more likely to peak interest as it is different.
I like the idea of snaring as well, but as it is an income for me I need to be more reliable in my trapping methods. I think a mechanical action type snare trap that I have in mind will work well, they will have to put their head through the snare to sniff the lure, and the moment they move it it should pull away and the bow type mechanism or hanging rock should tighten the snare around their neck and lift them from the ground. I would like to be good at snaring, so much less to carry and when I get time I will try different types.

Shrafter
Comment by Stu on June 25, 2010 at 21:39
Excellent stuff! Fascinating reading. Thank you!

Shrafter
Comment by Stephen Coote on June 25, 2010 at 19:16
Thanks Scott. I agree that leg-hold traps are more reliable than snares. But snares and other more primitive, or 'DIY', methods of harvesting hold a great deal of interest to me and they can be used when factory equipment isn't available.

Those DVDs sound interesting. Are they about trapping in NZ?

Thanks and best wishes... Coote.

Shrafter
Comment by Scott Hamilton on June 25, 2010 at 16:16
I trap Possums part time for a living, I wrote a post that I have not transfered from the previous site, that may be of interest. Also I own the dvds called 'the trapper comes clean' and these are good. Another good book is 'commercial opossum hunting', these are sometimes available on trademe. These will not teach about snaring as they are aimed at leghold trappers. I am self taught as well, via these books and dvds etc, I managed 61 in a day not so long ago. If you want any help, I will do what I can to help.
These Dvds and the book answer nearly all the questions you have above, but I have never heard an answer to left or right handed. The glow tags are a cheap reusable lure, also you can glue a little bit of foam on the back and add aniseed, clove, rose, or eucalyptus oils to the foam for a nice small compact lure. Snares are notorious for failing to capture in some way or another, that is why trappers use leghold traps etc. If snares worked really well, trappers would use them instead, much easier to lug around 10m of snare wire, than 100 or so traps on your back.
The trapper comes clean dvds show how to trap without lure, using floating anchors, these should be able to be adapted to snares as well. Learning the sign is the biggest help you can give yourself.
When you skin a possum you do not need cord to skin the tail, do it last, throw the skin around the tail once, grap skin and tail tight at base, twist and pull with a firm grip and it will break the membrane at the base of the tail and pull away easy as.

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