Best Tips and Gear for Dirt-Hole Trapping

Summer is a great time to tune up, resupply and learn new techniques for dirt-hole trapping.

Best Tips and Gear for Dirt-Hole Trapping

Summer work to get traps ready pays off in autumn and winter when lines are set. The author with a bobcat.

Trappers live for the thrill of turning the corner and seeing their trap holding an animal. Whether it is a coyote, fox, bobcat, coon or just about any other furbearer, they can be caught in a dirt-hole set.

Whether you choose to create a traditional dirt-hole set or one of the variations I will discuss later, the following steps should be followed to get started and then you can make changes from there.

Basic Dirt-Hole Set

Using a kneeling pad for scent control, I dig a hole 3 to 4 inches in diameter approximately 8 to 10 inches deep at a 45 degree angle with a trowel. I put the dirt from the hole in my sifter for covering the trap later. For coyotes, I want the jaw of the trap approximately 6 inches from the edge of the dirt hole. For fox, bobcat and coon I want my trap approximately 4 inches from the edge of the hole. The trap bed does not need to big, approximately 1 inch larger than the trap and 4 inches deep is enough. I want the trap bed to be in a depression.

I like to stake my traps solid right in the bed of the trap. Depending on the soil conditions I will cross-stake my traps if I believe there is the risk in the animal being able to pull the stake out. Push the trap firmly into the trap bed and pack sifted dirt all around the jaws and springs. I put the dog of the trap at about two o’clock toward the dirt hole; that gives me a better chance of having the animal step in the pan area first and not directly on top of the dog and jaw. Having the trap firmly bedded is one of the most important steps to a good dirt-hole set. It will be less likely to tip or spring if the animal steps on the outer area of the trap bed. 

I use a pan cover over the trap and sift 1/4 to 1/2 inch of dirt over the entire trap and trap bed area. Be careful to make sure there are no small rocks or other debris that could get stuck in the trap jaws when the trap springs. I want my pan to be the lowest spot in the trap bed, so while I’m sifting dirt over the trap, I lightly brush away dirt from the pan area making the bed look like a bowl. A coyote will often step over dirt to step into the lowest spot. To keep things appearing natural in cases where I have to bring dirt in, I use it first to pack the trap in place and sift over it, then finish my set with dirt from the area. This keeps things looking natural. The more you can make your set look like an animal has been digging the more effective it will be. 

To keep an animal from approaching the hole from the wrong direction and missing the trap, a backing of some sort can be used at the back of the hole. A small chunk of wood, rock or bone works well. Even the sod from the hole and trap bed will work.

The backing needs be small enough that an animal can see over it. Canines do not feel comfortable approaching an object they can’t see over.

With a little work, trappers can help persuade the animal to step where they would like. Stepping sticks must appear natural so a coyote does not become suspicious. The foot guides that I use involve two stepping sticks or small stones. One on either side of the trap jaws about 2 inches away. This forces the coyote to step between the sticks and onto the trap pan.

If your set is made in an area where stepping sticks or rocks would appear unnatural, weeds with hard stems will work. Cut short sections of the stem and stick them in the ground so they are standing up just outside the jaws of the trap. All it takes is a 1 1/2 inch of the stem sticking out of the ground. The stems must be strong enough to detour the coyote from wanting to step on them. Just like humans, coyotes will not step on anything that causes a discomfort or does not provide stable footing.

The last thing to do is add lure or bait to the hole. The choice to use lure or bait is up to the individual preference of the trapper. Sometimes I will put bait in the bottom of the hole, cover it lightly with dirt or grass, and add liquid lure on top or at the edge of the hole. The final touch is adding a couple of squirts of urine to the backing. If I am targeting only coyotes, I use coyote urine. If I don’t mind catching whatever species of furbearer that wanders by, I use red fox urine. Other animals are not intimidated by red fox urine like they are with coyote urine.

Trappers do not like changes. They will continue using the standard dirt-hole set even when the catch has fallen off. When the traditional sets stop producing, trappers must swallow their pride and try something different. If you are not willing to make changes you will not catch animals.

Try Two Holes

Learn to make dirt-holes with two holes at the same set. Make the holes different sizes. Try holes as small as a golf balls or as big as softballs. Have bleached bones or feathers sticking out of the hole for added appeal in states where it is legal. Change the lure or bait you are using. Make the dirt pattern smaller or bigger at the trap bed. Just make sure the trap is bedded solidly in whatever other changes you might make.

Some trappers believe to change things up you must use two traps. I disagree. Traps are expensive and holes are free. Instead of using two traps I will use two holes. I would use that second trap at another set, though not at a place where I already have a trap. Dig the two holes about 18 inches apart and slightly angled toward one another. To change things up even more put lure in one hole, and bait in the other.

Hopefully, the two scents will be enough to keep the animal at the set long enough to get caught. In a perfect world, the animal shifts from one hole to the next just enough times to step on the pan of the trap. Sometimes it is all right to bait one hole and leave the other alone. Let the appearance of fresh dug dirt be enough of a visual attractor to lure the animals in.

Trapping in Freezing Conditions

If you have trapped for canines for any amount of time, you have probably realized the weather does not always cooperate. Frozen ground and snow can cause havoc on a trapline for the trapper who is not prepared to change with the weather. If there is snow on the ground, go ahead and make the set however you want, one hole, two holes, lure and bait, just lure, white bone sticking out of the hole — you are beginning to get the picture. Cover the trap in dry dirt you collected or commercially waxed dirt you purchased. Don’t use snow to cover the set.

The sight of the dirt is a visual attractor. The dark color on top of the white snow drives animals nuts. If the ground is frozen, just dig the hole in the snow. When doing it that way use a backing of some sort. A rock or chunk of wood bigger than what you used at the standard dirt-hole is needed. A bigger backing will keep animals from digging the hole from the back.

Dig the trap bed in the snow like you would if it were dirt. Using dry dirt or waxed dirt that you have carried in, pack it between the jaws and sift over the top. When I know I will be trapping later in the season when the ground is frozen and there might not be snow on the ground to dig a hole in, I pre-dig my holes. This is something I can do in the fall before the season opens to cure my trapping blues.

If I do not have holes pre-dug and my heart is set on making a dirt-hole, it will require some physical labor. A hammer and a chisel may be required, and if so, do not expect a perfect hole, or even a hole as deep as you would like. If my hole is only a few inches deep, I put sheep wool over the lure or bait in the hole.

After your trap is bedded and staked, cover it with dry or waxed dirt. Something as simple as changing the size of the hole might be enough to entice animals to work the set. Also try visual attractors in the hole such as sheep’s wool.


After you catch a coyote, you know you are in a good area, so do not leave. With a little work, you can have the area up and ready to catch more coyotes in no time. The odor of the previous caught coyote is a good attractant to other coyotes.

There is going to be blood left behind from dispatching the animal no matter how hard you try to avoid it. It’s very important to get all the dirt that is blood-soaked out of the area. The odor of blood can stop approaching coyotes once they get the whiff of it.

With the coyote dispatched and removed from the area, it is time to start getting the set ready again. I like to set in the same spot I was already set in. Other trappers like to move the set a few feet.

If you can help it, do not use the same trap. Coyotes will smell the dirty trap and start digging for it. This will cause the trap to fire, and it will educate the coyote as well. If you have enough traps, replace the dirty trap with a clean one. Take the dirty trap home and clean it before using it again. If you run out of clean traps, rub dirt over dirty traps as best you can before setting again. Do not touch a clean trap with dirty hands. If you transfer the scent of a dead coyote to a clean trap, you will end up with a trap flipped out of the ground by a digging coyote. Always wear clean gloves when making any coyote set.

Often, when a coyote has been at a set for any length of time, there will be droppings left behind. Do not remove the droppings from the set area. The droppings will help calm the nerves of other coyotes. I have even used the droppings as a foot guide.

Make the set the same way you did before. There is no need to remove any dirt or chaff from the area, except for what had blood on it. With the trap bedded, stabilized and covered, go ahead and apply lure and bait to the area and you are done.

Start Preparing Now

When trapping season is over, it is a good time to get equipment and supplies needed for the upcoming season. Trapping conventions, on the state and national levels, are taking place. Many good deals can be made to restock missing or broken parts on the traps that have been abused, buying new lures or baits or purchasing the next new thing that is sure to put more fur in the shed.

New and old traps need to be properly cared for by dying and waxing, adding swivels, setting the pan tension, adjusting the pan height and other minor adjustments. This is also a good time to collect, dry and wax dirt that can be used when the ground is frozen.


No two sets have to be made the same. Animals get used to the same old thing. Dirt-holes have been and will continue being one of the trapper’s favorite sets. More furbearers have stepped onto a trap pan investigating a hole than they have at any other type of set.

Just do not get in a rut. Experiment. There are no rules governing the making of a dirt-hole.


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