Standing in the rushing water just below a beaver dam in near freezing temperatures is not the time to realize that the trap in your hand is missing a trigger.
I had this sudden realization for about the 100th time earlier this spring season after slogging through mud and water up to my chest to get to a perfect set location. I pulled the final #330 from my pack basket and compressed the springs before opening the trap and setting the trigger. The rusty trigger had been worn and broken leaving just a single piece of steel about 3 inches long. It was a long way back to my truck and I didn’t have any wire to create a make shift trigger anyway.
Wrapping wire around the remaining stub and twisting it up to make a mediocre trigger would be my feeble attempt to make up for my lack of pre-season planning; which I determined to be the root cause of my dilemma after a thorough self analysis on the truck ride home. If only I had taken the time to look my traps over and get them tuned up BEFORE I got 50 miles down the road and several hundred yards from my truck! The minutes spent performing pre-season trap inspections at home will save you hours on your trap line this season.
After six months of trapping in tough conditions, pulling, setting and re-setting traps the wear and tear on our equipment can take its toll. It’s easy to neglect inspecting our traps but it’s also fairly easy and important to tune them up before the next season. While this concept applies to every trap we use in our profession, this article is specific to body gripping traps. The idea of inspecting our traps before season isn’t a new one but it’s always nice to have a gentle reminder.
Traps that are in good working order perform better and confidence in the equipment that you use is an important factor in trapping success. There are a few common issues with body grip traps we will all face at some point while on our trap lines. Inspecting and tuning your traps before you head out the door is easy and will help avoid bringing busted equipment into the field in the first place.
The weakest part of a body gripping trap is the trigger. It’s also the one trappers bend and move the most, sometimes widening them to maximize catch ratios in areas with beaver and otter or narrowing them and pushing them aside to avoid non-target catches. Trappers may also curl the ends to accommodate all sorts of conditions including debris avoidance or to increase the coverage inside the trap jaws. After our traps sit in muddy water and freeze solid when temperatures drop we chip them out of the ice and bend those triggers to bust the ice off. Next we haphazardly pile them up in the back of our trucks or in boats, atv’s, snow machines, in sleds and pack baskets.
Whatever the reason for bending, twisting and otherwise moving these two pieces of relatively fragile metal they weaken over time and they need to be replaced. At just over $1 each for triggers that will fit all trap sizes this is a worthwhile investment that will pay dividends. Some trap manufacturers offer brand specific replacement triggers that come with replacement rivets. Over the years I’ve amassed dozens of body gripping traps from a variety of manufacturers so when I buy replacement triggers they’re usually a universal model that comes with small bolts and nuts rather than rivets. I haven’t had many problems with the bolts loosening and falling out but they should be checked periodically throughout the season to ensure they remain secure.
The dog is the piece of metal that sits over the trigger holding it in place when the trap is set. Dogs can become bent easily and occasionally fall off. Replacement dogs are available for about 75 cents for smaller traps up to about $1.50 for 330 sized traps. Replacement is simple and requires a pair of pliers. This is one item that is either working or missing. Keeping dogs straight and not allowing a gap to creep in at the point where it fastens to the trap jaw will ensure a lifetime of use.
A close second in the “most likely to fail” category are safety hooks. While this item won’t help put more fur on your boards, having this item in good working order will make trap setting quicker, easier and safer for you. They will also reduce the likelihood that you’ll have to re-set the trap if it’s accidentally sprung while you’re setting it. These hooks can bend with routine trap line abuse making them unusable. It’s easy enough to bend them back with a pair of stout pliers but may require a vice. I wish that I had only one or two experiences with trying to set a trap that had bent or missing safety hooks, but it took me a long time to realize that the minutes I spend trying to be creative in the field adds up to hours over the course of a season. By keeping safety hooks in good working order, I’ve eliminated wasted time and frustration and this applies to every body gripper I use from the #120’s on my marten line to the #330’s at beaver sets. Safety hooks are important, especially with half frozen fingers.
Replacement safety hooks range from about 40 to 70 cents each and are well worth having a few in your trapping repair kit.
Over time trap springs can weaken making your traps almost worthless. There are some trap models that seem to wear out in just a few seasons while others have been employed on my trap lines since the 80’s and are still going strong. Now before readers start to think things like, “Yup, they don’t make ‘em like they used too…” I’d like to point out that there seems to be at least some correlation between the prices I’ve paid for body grippers and their ability to withstand use. Which roughly translates to, “You get what you pay for”.
Weak springs account for a lot of misses each season and probably more than we’d care to admit. If your finding a lot of sprung traps with no fur to show for it, it may be time to change your trap springs.
On occasion trap springs can pop off the trap jaws. When this occurs you’ll have to treat the trap like a Chinese puzzle to get it back on. Once it is back on you will need to press the gap on the lower spring closed to prevent it from happening again. A trap spring that pops of the trap jaws when an adult beaver or otter is in the trap will most likely result the release of that animal.
If necessary springs can be replaced but it’s a tough job and at $5 to $7 bucks a piece for new #330 springs many trappers just spring for total trap replacement (pun intended). Even the smaller #110 springs cost around $3 dollars often exceeding 50% of the cost of a new trap. For the more frugal trappers among us this is the way to go.
It seems that every year I have a few traps with bent jaws caused from things like stupidity on my part or big logs pushed into the trap on a wily beaver’s part. I hate to admit it but sometimes when I get to a #330 that’s frozen into ice and start swinging my axe I start getting tired and miss the ice. Since there’s only one alternative to hitting the ice when I miss, my swings occasionally result in bent trap jaws. While a lesson in setting traps so they won’t freeze up solid like this could be an article all on its own and one which I am unfortunately familiar with, I’m going to stay focused on the matter at hand.
Bent jaws can present as either flared open by as much as two inches or bent in on one side which actually prevents the trap from closing fully on one side while touching together too soon on the other. Bent trap jaws can slow traps down and result in missed catches. I don’t know of any replacement jaws for body grippers and I’d hate to think of the cost they might incur. In this case, a hammer and a solid surface used in combination with some ingenuity will remedy the problem.
I’ve had some success placing a board 2” thick in between the jaws and applying some encouraging pressure where it needs to go in order to re-shape jaws bent inward toward each other. When trap jaws flare away from each other I’ve tried clamping them shut in a vice and hammering them back into place with mixed results. Re-shaping trap jaws isn’t rocket science but be sure to take it slowly at first until you get a feel for how hard to hit the steel, clamp it or bend it. It’s easy to over-do it and doesn’t have to meet manufacturer specifications but keeping the trap jaws aligned is important.
On The Trap Line
Making sure your body gripping traps are well maintained is neither difficult nor time consuming but it’s easy to overlook the minor wear and tear that occurs with general use. The accumulative effect over time can cause misses on otherwise well placed traps.
Storing traps with dogs and triggers laid flat inside the trap jaws with springs folded over neatly and trap chains wrapped firmly around each trap will help prevent unnecessary wear on the trap parts when not in use.
Spending a little pre-season time inspecting traps and replacing broken or worn parts will get you thinking about the upcoming season and will have you ready when opening day arrives. Spending less time looking for lost parts or checking empty sprung traps will give you more time to focus on making good sets and more confidence in your equipment. The additional fur you put up during trapping season will more than compensate for the extra attention given to your traps before season.