Over the years I have relied heavily on the dirt-hole and flat sets when trapping coyotes. If I were told tomorrow that I had to choose only one set for the remainder of my trapping life, I would choose the flat set. Without question, most of my canine catches have been at a flat set.
One reason I prefer the flat over the dirt hole is because of all the non-target catches that I make at a hole set. I use bait at my dirt holes, which seems to attract every coon, possum and skunk within a 100-mile radius. I still catch my share of coyotes at a dirt hole, but my favorite is and always will be a flat set.
As the name implies, a dirt-hole set requires a hole with bait inserted in the hole. The trap is bedded and covered with dirt from the hole. A properly made dirt-hole set will appear as if the dirt covering the trap came from the hole you had dug. This is fine for foxes that bury their food and then come back later for an easy meal. This is something that coyotes do not do very often.
With a flat set there is an actual attractor above the ground instead of a hole. Another difference between a hole and flat set is that the trap is blended in at a flat set to match the surrounding terrain.
The visual attractor or backing at a flat set can be anything: a rock, a chunk of wood, a bleached bone or a clump of grass. When the ground has a covering of snow, I have found dark bird feathers (crow feathers) really stand out and grab the attention of a passing coyote.
As I mentioned earlier, a trap should be blended in at a flat set. I want everything to appear 100 percent natural and undisturbed when I’m finished making the set. If I’m not able to make a natural-looking set, all is not lost. In a situation like this I go to the set location and prepare an area of about 15×15 feet to make the ground covering in that area look consistent. Within a couple of days, this area will appear aged. I can then go in and make a flat set that appears natural.
The first thing I do after I’ve found a good set location is to dig the trap bed. When the attractor is in place, I want the center of the trap pan as close to 10 inches from the attractor as I can get it, give or take an inch or two. I believe the visual attractor and stepping sticks play a more important role than how far away the trap pan is from the backing.
Using a trowel, I cut out a trap bed the size of the trap I am using. Remember that a flat set is supposed to look natural. For starters, I don’t put the dirt from the trap bed on the ground. Instead, I carry a 2-foot square piece of plastic with me to set the dirt on. A clean 5-gallon plastic bucket will serve the same purpose.
The trap can either be staked solid by driving a stake into the ground in the trap bed, and then placing the trap over the stake, or you can use a grapple. Grapples are a good choice if you plan on remaking the set after a catch. To place the grapple, I make a slit in the ground just big enough to cover the chain. The slit is made from the side of the trap where the grapple is going to be buried nearby. Using my trowel, I cut a circle just big enough around for the grapple to fit in. It is important to keep the sod as fully intact as possible, and then lay it on the 2-foot piece of plastic. Next, use the trowel to dig the hole deep enough so that the entire grapple, with the chain coiled on top, will fit in the hole. Complete the hiding spot by replacing the sod that was removed, and brush the area in so it looks like you were never there. Take the time to make sure any cuts you made are not visible. To keep the area looking natural, take any excess dirt you might have left on the plastic away from the set before you scatter it. This also goes for any remaining dirt that you might have from the trap bed.
Bed and cover the trap with sifted dirt as you would any other set. Once that is done it is time to blend the set in.
When blending the set to match its surroundings, I like to keep the actual area I am working in as small as possible. This gives me less room to make a mistake. However, using a sifter to put the dirt covering on the trap can makes it hard to keep the pattern small. I do not like to gather blending materials close to the trap site, either. This could leave the area looking noticeably different than the rest of the area.
To help keep the set looking undisturbed while keeping the pattern as small as possible, I start preparing the materials that I will use as a cover during the summer. A couple of things I do is dry and pre-sift the dirt that I will use to cover the trap. By doing this ahead of time I am able to keep the dirt covering concentrated to a specific area as I make the set. After I collect dry, pre-sifted dirt, I store it in a clean 5-gallon bucket with a lid.
Summer months are also the time when I start gathering blending materials, and the type of materials used will depend on where the set is. In the heat of the summer I start drying grass clippings and pine needles on plywood. Once dry, they also go in a covered bucket.
During trapping season there are always buckets of dirt, grass and pine needles in the back of my truck ready to be used. Remember to keep the buckets tightly sealed. This will prevent foreign odors from contaminating the materials.
If you do not have the time or simply do not want to collect bedding materials in the summer, there are other options. As you are walking to your trap site, pick up material that you can use to blend the set in. If you pick the material up far enough away from the set, coyotes will never notice the disturbance.
Making a flat set in leafy areas works well. It is easy to sprinkle some leaves over the covered trap. The only problem with a set in an area with a lot of leaves is the difficulty with placing stepping sticks.
When a coyote approaches a dirt-hole set, the trapper has a good idea where the animal will step. This is not nearly as easy to do at a flat set. 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 will force 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 1½ inches of the stem sticking out of the ground. The stems must be strong enough to deter 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.
When I look for a spot to make a flat set, I don’t find a good backing and then make my set. Instead, I find a good set location and then worry about a good backing if one is not already around. A visual attractor is nothing more than something that stands out from everything else, and hopefully pulls a coyote in close for an investigation. It normally is not very hard to find a chunk of wood or a rock and move it to where you need it.
My two favorite visual attractors are rocks and partially rotten chunks of wood. A backing should not be too big, either — just big enough to catch the eye of a passing coyote while still allowing the animal to see over it. Coyotes do not like to approach an object when they cannot see what is behind it.
Wood is one of my favorite backings because of the ease involved with placing urine or lure at the set. The key to placing lure/urine is to know which side the coyote is likely to approach from. Once that is determined, place the attractor on the side of the expected arrival (downwind side) of the animal. The decaying wood will absorb the odor of the lure/urine and hold it for several days.
A rock is another good backing, but it will not allow the lure or urine to soak in. When this is the case I use cotton balls or a wad of dry grass to hold the urine. Stuff the cotton balls or grass under the edge of the rock and squirt some lure or urine on it.
If I want to make a set in an area that is primarily on bare ground, I look for a clump of grass that stands out. This is one time that I look for a visual attractor first. If there is only one clump of grass in a large area, add a lure or some urine. Coyotes are sure to notice.
Another method to applying scent to a set is making a small hole with a trap stake. Bore a hole into the ground directly in front of the visual attractor. Place a few drops of lure or urine in the hole. For added appeal you can stuff fur or cotton balls into the hole and apply the scent.
The basics to any flat set are to keep the area around the set looking natural while still being able to make a coyote interested in checking things out. When finished, the set should show no signs of anything being out of the ordinary, like bare dirt in a grass pasture, or green grass on a set made on bare ground.
This season give the flat set a chance. As season progresses, coyotes are introduced to many of the tricks that trappers use. To catch a wily coyote, all you might need is a flat set that is blended to its surroundings.