Wilderness / TEOTWAWKI Survival Trapping : Basic powered trap (non-baited)

This guest post is by SurvivorDan and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Before we begin with a discussion of the construction of the most basic primitive/minimal* tension trap; a quick look at the ethics of primitive trapping.

Modern trap use is legal as long as you obey the local laws, licensing, seasons, limits, etc.

Primitive trapping is illegal in most places and definitely in my neck of the woods…er…desert. Exigent circumstances may negate that illegality.

It is to be used in an extreme emergency survival situation only. It is only for keeping you and yours alive in an all out emergency survival situation. Even practicing setting your traps may run you afoul of the law. Last year I took Mrs. Survivordan into a national forest and taught her to make a variety of traps. I had her cut the pieces of stick we would need in advance from private property with permission. Any saplings we used in the National Forest for tension were not stripped of ancillary branches and leaves. In other words we left everything the way we found it.

All traps were sprung after completion, then disassembled and re-bagged. Nothing in that riparian area was disturbed. Still could have ended up having to do some fast talking with the local game warden or ranger. So be careful where you practice these techniques. And pre-cut whatever devices you need for your traps. Even simply chopping and/or slashing greenery in a state park, National Park or National Forest may land you in a more modern trap. The local hoosegow. The lock-up. Jail. So obey the law and when walking that fine line betwixt legal and illegal while practicing primitive trap building, be law abiding………….and discreet.

SurvivorDan’s pre-trapping strategy:

First, I rig up a shelter and build a small fire and put on some water. I dig a little slit trench. Then I sit down and prepare a cup of coffee or tea or some chow. I listen and observe while I work. Usually while my food or java is heating I walk around the area and reconnoiter a bit. Look for critters and sign. Then I go back to the campsite and eat and drink. Gives me a chance to think about the lay of the land. Did I spy any critters? Where were the game trails? Did I see any scat? Rub marks and wallows and such? Tracks down by the water (if any water)? If I determined there’s game and what kind, for instance rabbits, then I decide what kind of traps I am going to make and where I might put them.

For rabbits I usually make a giant crossbow thingy that fires a great big eight foot spear capped by a massive trident with exploding tips made from .357 magnum shells……….

I’m just kiddin’! The rabbits will get fixed snares (if I have wire) and tension snares on the ground. In this article I am mainly dealing with traps constructed with string, vines or paracord. Assuming primitive/at-hand materials – no wire. If you do have wire….wire is good. I go where I figure the rabbits ain’t and cut the pieces of stick I’ll be needing. When I’ve got them whittled up and partially rigged with cord, I usually try to rinse them off with water or wipe some dirt and such on them to get some of my scent off. But I’m getting ahead of myself…..

Trigger stick:

Cut a small simple cylinder of wood, about 5 – 6” long and 1 1/2” – 2” thick. This is the simple trigger for many traps. This is a fundamental piece that you need to learn to make. It is very simple to fabricate. As is the second part of our first trap, the anchor which looks and functions much like a tent stake. That and some cord and we can build our first spring or tension snare.

Back to the trigger…..cut a small 5 – 6” length of wood 1 ½” to 2” thick and about a third of the way from an end, score it about 1/8” deep all the way around with your camp saw or drywall saw. (You can do all this with a knife but why? Cruder but easier with the camp saw. Either way, watch out that you keep all your fingers so you don’t have to practice one-handed first aid.) That will be a good place to anchor your para cord or other line that goes up to your tension pole. Tie it on good ‘cuz if anything pulls loose you have no dinner and something may smack you in the face while you are setting your trap. But first let’s cut another notch.

At approximately a third of the way from the other end of the stick you need to make a mark across it. Cut straight down at that center line mark and alternately shave from the middle of the stick towards the mark until you have a nice ½ to ¾” deep flat surfaced notch. That is where you will catch your trigger stick on its anchor stick. Sounds more complicated than it is. It’s easy.

Anchor stick:

Find a spot where a branch forks off and cut a stick roughly shaped like this longish stick pictured above. Twelve inches to the fork would be good. If your trap will be set in soft marshy ground in a riparian area, then make it a bit longer. You want a long strong piece as it will be pounded into the ground. Leave a couple of inches above the forked area as that will be the head of your ‘nail’ when you pound it into position. The fork that you cut off has to be shaped to match up to your trigger so bear that in mind when you cut it originally as it can save you some sawing and filing. Anyway, this ain’t about mil specs. When you set your trap you can make last-minute adjustments to the interlocking surfaces of the trigger and anchor sticks. Line up the trigger and anchor sticks. It is simpler than it sounds.

Power pole:

The power pole should be very close to the actual noose placement. It can be a sapling or a large overhanging branch. If saplings and such are not located where you want to site a trap then you can cut a strong branch and place it vertically in a hole and brace it with rocks. You could even throw a line over a big overhanging branch and tie it securely to a good size rock or log for your power source. Hoist the rock up and set your tension on your trigger. It’s a fairly simple concept so I will assume common sense will guide you to figure out what to use for a power source.

Once on site, find a good tension pole (rooted sapling or branch) that bends down to about a foot from your trap site with enough tension (power) to hoist your dinner aloft. Bend the tip of the power pole down to where you want to site the trap. Line it up. Pound your anchor stick in with a rock or small log.

Out of respect for the environment and fear of the law I would not strip the ancillary branches and leaves but in exigent circumstances (ie: you are hopelessly lost and hungry) you can strip the sapling, reducing the weight, and thus increase its power. (For these photos I am using a fishing pole for a power source) You will tie a para cord (Use green, tan or camo cord.- I used this multi-color easy-to-see cord for illustration purposes) to the end of the sapling and allow a foot or so of free cord until you fasten it securely to your trigger stick.

If you can’t tie a basic knot then get on Google and learn as there are all kinds of knot loving sites. Climbers and sailors I reckon. I can only tie about 6 knots and they serve me well. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a reef knot and the Flemish eight. But I got my little arsenal of idiot proof knots and they work. Get yours.


Assuming you only have the para cord or other strong line and no pre-made wire nooses then you must form a noose from your line. Pretty straight forward. Tie a little loop in the end of a 3-5 foot piece of cord and feed the end of the line thru it (Don’t make the loop too tight so, when sprung, the noose cinches up quickly without binding). Now you have a nice snare loop (make it 6 – 8 inches across) you can position it horizontally atop of 3-4 small forked twigs, so your future dinner guest steps in it. Or you can prop it up vertically so your bunny or what-have-you walks into the loop. For bunnies have the bottom of the loop about 3-4 inches off the ground. In my experience, vertical orientation tends to be more productive.

Note: I don’t like set (non-powered) snares with cordage as the critter is likely to chew off the line before expiring or may suffer for a prolonged period of time. There are examples of set snares (no power pole) that are reasonably efficient even with cordage and I may address them in the future. Modern snares have a one way device that continually constricts as the animal pulls to get loose and are more likely to effectuate a ‘clean’ kill. Herein I am only addressing primitive powered snares using cordage or vines.

Powering the snare:

DANGER! CAUTION! First you need to tie the free end of the noose to the trigger stick and set it under power. Now you need to set your loop vertically or horizontally but very gingerly, very carefully so you don’t lose an eye or some teeth if you inadvertently trigger the trap while setting the noose. Sounds a bit scary but I have never been hurt though I have experienced premature triggering (No jokes please. I’m sensitive.) of my traps while setting them. Keep your head back and your hands free of the noose while setting. I was wearing safety goggles while setting this trap. You need to have a healthy respect for all traps you set.

Trap site:

Assuming you are a natural-born trap builder and can extrapolate the basic design into a dozen different sure-fire can’t miss critter-killer primitive traps, that doesn’t mean you are going to eat! You could put up 50 traps hither and thither and get nary a bunny for your efforts. The cardinal rule that applies to retail locations, restaurant sites, hotels, survivalist retreats, gas stations, hunting camps and just about everything else you could want to build or locate somewhere consists of three principles, “Location. Location. Location.” You have to place your traps along the routes between where the animals eat, sleep and drink.

Where do they sleep? Well a lot of little critters sleep in dens. Holes in the ground (don’t reach in and feel around…ya might find claws, fangs and maybe even some venom), hollowed out logs and tree trunks, nests in the trees ( squirrels ), etc. Larger game like deer, elk and horses tend to bed down in grass when they can get it. You will notice large flattened out areas in the bush. These are not your trapping sites. Wild pigs tend to bed down deep into a thicket and will have scraped away the ground cover down to the dirt, in fact if you can stand and see their bedding area you are not looking at their bedding area. You would usually have to crawl back into it and you do not want to meet a feral hog in that position. It would get ugly.

Of course the type of trap in this article is not designed to take out a large animal. But by understanding the signs for large animals you will not waste your tension trap there. Your target critter is most likely going to be a bunny. Typically you can find bunnies in many environments. They will den in holes, usually inter-connected to form warrens so watch out as there will be more than one way in and out. You can locate a few holes and place a snare at each one. You should look for runs which are the flattened out paths through the bush that the rabbits use to get from their dens to their feeding and watering areas.

The rabbit runs often exhibit sign like bits of grass clipped off and rabbit ‘pellets’ (scat/poop) scattered along the run.

If the run is very large and you see large hoof prints then you are probably looking at a pig run and need to build a bigger trap! I suggest that if you are a new survivor trapper, you should stick to bunnies, chipmunks, squirrels and such until you get a bit more confident and a bigger repertoire of traps. Besides, you need snare wire and cable for the big critters like feral hogs. Back to the bunnies …. some species of rabbits sleep in the dense thickets and thorns rather than underground.

You will set traps for all types of rabbits on their runs and catch them coming and going. {By the way, if you’ve got a slingshot or smoke pole you might just lurk somewhere and pop off a bunny around sunset or dawn when they’re on the move along one a them rabbit runs. I’m just saying that two layers of critter harvesting is better than one.} Be aware that rabbits don’t stray to far from where they den up as they have many enemies.

If you have had little luck finding the rabbit’s runs for some reason and you have located a water source such as a small stream or a pond you will need to backtrack from there. Many critters doubtless come to that water to drink eventually. If there is small game in the area you will find runs and bigger game trails leading to and from the water. Pick the ones that seem to have your target critter using them (meaning if there are huge hoofprints or paw prints and you can’t discern any little tracks, find another game trail or run) and set your traps.

Remember….look for tracks and scat (poop). Site your traps in the narrowest part of the runs. You may need to place some sticks or brambles in such a way as to funnel the rabbits to your noose. While you are doing that and when you are setting your traps try to avoid leaving too much human scent on everything. At least don’t be wearing any deodorant, cologne, hair spray/gel, soap residue, hand lotion, bug spray…..well, you get the picture.

Try not to stink up the bunnies world cuz they will know something is not right. If setting your snare or noose vertically then you want the bottom end only 3-4 inches from the ground. We are aiming for the bunnies head. Speaking of his head, bring a big stick when you go to check your traps. Cordage snares don’t always dispatch your critters. Make it quick. And on that note, check your traps often (every 5-6 hours) . You don’t want the little critters to suffer and you don’t want a coyote to steal ‘em neither.

Those of you more sensitive to killing and field dressing an animal, I want you to know that I am not a natural-born hunter. Some of my friends enjoy the kill. I really don’t. It’s for meat. To survive. It’s a necessary task in order to keep yourself and comrades fed. You don’t have to enjoy it. Just do what you have to do.

Get your hands dirty:

You think you’ve got all this down? You can do it when you need to? Photographic (eidetic) memory? Practice now when you don’t need this skill. When you need to do it for real it will seem so natural and you will build your traps easily and correctly so they are effective. Lives may depend on it. You don’t want on-the-job training and have your dinner get loose from a defectively constructed tension trap.

So cut some sticks. Make a couple of basic traps until you are comfortable and confident building them. Securely prop up a fishing pole in the back yard and use it for a power source (wear safety glasses) to practice your trap building skills. (In my backyard I buried a 14″ PVC pipe with a removable cap to put my power stick in for teaching purposes) You will come to realize that you could fashion a half-dozen such traps in an hour and set them in another hour or two.

Trigger your practice traps immediately so you don’t snare/kill Fluffy. Don’t run to get Momma to show her your neat-to new trap cuz, for sure and for certain, that’s when Fluffy will find it! Anyway that’s 6 traps out there working for you 24/7. Think about that. Much more productive than chasing fast-moving rabbits with your tire iron in hand. Smarter too. Good trapping!

Practice your trapping skills. Be a survivor.

* As we are utilizing manufactured cordage one could argue these traps are not truly ‘primitive’ traps. For instructional purposes and simplicity here we will designate such traps as primitive as opposed to ‘humane’ modern manufactured traps.

This contest will end on August 9 2012 – prizes include:

List of prizes will be added shortly…

Contest ends on August 9 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. village idiot says:

    Dan, this may be one of the most interesting and well-written articles I’ve ever seen here. I have a large live trap for hogs, and a small live trap for critters like raccoons and rabbits. I also have a set of steel traps I bought at a garage sale. Just for SHTF. I would never use them unless starvation was staring me in the face.

    Trapping is a good strategy IF you don’t live close to other people and their animals(can you imagine catching someone’s pet cat or dog). Our retreat is a deer camp that has about 100 acres of woodland with a pond/tank and a spring, so trapping and snaring is a possiblity.

    Oh, by the way, loved the photos. I gotta learn how to do that. Not take photos, but include them in my submissions. Thanks for a great article. This may be my favorite of all time on MD’s blog.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Thanks VI. And MD had to tell me to include pictures as attachments. And my teen age granddaughter had to show me how to actually do it. I was humbled…..again.
      Insanely jealous of the 100 acres of woodland retreat!

      • SurvivorDan says:

        VI: Perhaps in the event of TEOTWAWKI I could shelter in a spider hole in the back forty? I’d watch your six.

        • village idiot says:

          Roger that, SD, you would be most welcome, but consider we have chiggers here in the South. And that other blog guy says chiggers are another reason to avoid the South as a retreat location. That guy kills me, as if people haven’t survived with chiggers. Just weat boots when you’re in the weeds, JWR. Sheesh!

          • SurvivorDan says:

            Came back in a sheriff’s convoy from Katrina (N.O.) and several deputies (slept in bags on the ground) had contracted chiggers so we put them together like lepers. They had laughed at me previously for sleeping each night on the roof of a Suburban! Some sympathetic old boy in Texas doused them with kerosene and it seemed to do the trick. I’ll bring my own kerosene. 🙂

  2. TomFish says:

    Thanks, SurvivorDan…really good article. I’ve never trapped, but now I want to build a powered trap, as you’ve described. Now, for a dumb question (I know, no such things as dumb questions…
    just dumb people :o)

    So, I’m picturing the loop. You said for a bunny, the bottom of it should be a few inches off the ground at about head height. If the hoop is basically hanging vertically, it seems like it would be really easy for the critter to slip his head to one side or the other, as long as he isn’t rapidly moving forward. I’m just having trouble picturing the loop catching and tightening. Maybe I’m overthinking it and just need to go try it…

    And, it seems like if the loop was laying on the ground, a critter would have to be pretty clumsy to step in it and then pull it enough to spring the trigger from the anchor stick.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doubting you at all…it’s just hard for someone who hasn’t done it to imagine it working, I guess! It all makes sense to me until the critter has a head or foot in the loop, then it falls apart in my mind…..the chain of events of appendage in loop, pulling loop far enough and hard enough to pull the trigger.

    Any additional thoughts on the loop presentation – horizontal vs. vertical, partially on the ground or completely suspended….small vs. large…baited vs. non-baited…would be welcomed.

    Again, thanks Dan, for getting me thinking and for providing a great starting point into learning a new skill!


    • SurvivorDan says:

      Good question TomFish. You’re right that a little doing will make it click for you. First of all that’s why I don’t tie a slip knot but rather make a small open loop to form the noose with. You want the noose to close easily with little pressure. Depending on how the rabbit is moving and the inclination of his head and how he reacts to any resistance (ie: does he dart forward – does he pull back?) will determine whether he snares himself.
      Modern snares have a snare lock that hold the loop in position and ensure the loop does not reopen thus increasing the lethality of the snare. Naturally it would be prudent to keep modern snares and traps in your survival arsenal. I am dealing here with the absence of modern snaring/trapping equipment.

      Whether modern or primitive, you need to set as many traps as you can because all those variables mean that many nooses will miss and even sprung traps may be empty. Try using a small stuffed bunny (teddy will do) and spring your practice traps with them. Adjust your nooses and the tension on the trigger stick until you think you have a good combination. After that it’s the actual doing. Which of course, in the absence of exigent circumstances, isn’t legal……..

      • SurvivorDan says:

        TF: I forgot to mention….there is no reason you can’t tie multiple nooses to the same trigger. You are only going to get one critter no matter what but you increase your chances of him ensnaring himself. If you prep enough of them and site them properly (or luckily) ……. dinner is served.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Wow Tomfish! I made an error (not uncommon). If you look closely at the picture of the horizontal loop you will notice little y-shaped sticks that are holding the loop 2-4 inches off the ground. I forgot to articulate that in the article. When one does something often enough one can ASSume little details are obvious when they are not. My bad. Look closely and you will see four little sticks propping up the noose. Sorry for any confusion.

  3. Very informative ~ as always another good article by Survivor Dan!

  4. Survivor says:

    Excellent article! Thanks for sharing! I wanted to share a tip with you. I get my snarewire from WalMart in the floral section, over by the electronics. They sell about 150 yards of what they call floral wire for under 3 bucks. It’s green and pretty strong , but I double it up anyway, just to be sure.
    I also use bungy cord instead of a branch or tree for my spring. A piece of cord around a handy tree or limb will hold it in place and absolutely no damage to anything.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Nice tip Survivor. As I rummage through Walmart weekly I shall get some. Thanks.

  5. Sound information SD. Have tried this method and several varying methods of snare trapping and when area and trap are not contaminated with extensive disturbance of vegetation or human scent, they are successful in most cases since when no human scent abounds, bunny, like deer are very naturally inquisitive creatures. That said, the most productive traps I have ever used were the common box trap that I started using as a kid during WWII to provide sustenance for the family table still remain my favorite in spite of the fact that once you trap a skunk, the trap is unusable from then on. I once had early success with a woven brush trap not unlike a fish trap but caught a really big and strong bunny that managed to break off the spines and get away, bleeding heavily until he made it to a hole in the ground. Doubt if I would have eaten him anyway since the meat would have possibly been contaminated due to possible punctured entrails. Let us see some more of your experiments in this nature in the future please.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      But did you eat the skunk?
      Seriously sorry about the critter that got away. Happened to me a couple times and bothered me quite a bit. Hate to have critters suffer a slow death.
      Modern traps are usually more lethal and preferred. But, we uses what we has on hand…..

      • Nope, the skunk starved to death and when spring came, the trap was burned with some brush. I used to trap the streams and creeks for muskrats and the occassional mink when I was a youth and I have had several chew their leg off and get away. Had one that something ate most of it while in the trap. Was quite young back then and the money from the skins was weighing very heavily in favor of not worrying about the ones that got away. We were extremely poor and not only needed the fur money but also any wild game we could catch to put on the table. Now trapping is so restricted here and the fools at the DNR placed the red fox 0n the protected species list. When I enquired as to where I could collect the bounty on one, they threatened to arrest me. Luckily I had not killed it yet. I told them I had always collected bounty money for their ears when I was younger. He said that was then and this was now. When I asked him what fool had placed them on an endangered species list, he really got mad. I told him I bought it was a college educated only fool that had never lived on a farm and seen the destruction that a single vixen could cause in a flock of chickens, turkeys or rabbits in a single night. My wife was feeding and encouraging squirrels and the fox had denned up on my property and was catching the squirrels. When all the heated discourse cooled down, he left and a week later a fellow tried to drop off a wire box trap and a permit to live trap and release which I refused. He tried to leave it anyway and I told him no way in hell I was going to trap a live fox but to especially try to release a live one in the country could get me shot. They later asked what I had done and I told them I just let nature take it’s course. He asked what I meant by that and I told him after I had boarded a couple of Rottweilers for a month, I no longer had a fox. He left and they have not bothered me since then. Just out of curiosity, I checked the DNR and not a single supervisor had other than a city background and only two of the field agents had a rural background. That is what is calling the shots for the rest of us.

        • SurvivorDan says:

          I’m if the fox wasn’t smart enough to vacate, the Rotts did the natural thing. I like it.
          As to the DNR agents….ptui! Catch and release onto someone else’s property? Damn metrosexual by-the-book tree huggers.

  6. JP in MT says:

    This article was great. Just the kind of information that I am looking for front The Pack.

    Please go into detail on the “exploding tips made from .357 Magnum shells”. They are probably cheaper than my c-4 trip wire release for my boulder trap.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Gave them up for 20mm HE fired from an Oerlikon cannon I picked up at a garage sale.
      C-4 trigger on boulder trap is intriguing…

      • JP in MT says:

        I love the Oerlikon. Wanted a 20mm ever since “Thunderbolt & Lightfoot”.

        • I always wanted a white half track with a quad fifty mount like we had in the army for my sports car.

  7. tommy2rs says:

    You can also pick up pre-made wire snares from Buckshot’s site. The sets without the DVD’s are reasonable.


    • SurvivorDan says:

      Looks like a great site for all things related to trapping. Guy seems to know his stuff. Nice tip tommy. Everyone should pick up a few modern snares/parts for the uncertain future.

  8. recoveringidiot says:

    SurvivorDan, very well written! I have no experience with powered traps only store bought spring traps mostly Conibear(sp?) types and some foot traps. The Conibear types do not discriminate or give you a chance to set “fluffy” free with just a sore foot, they kill almost instantly and rarely fail. I have several of the the 110 size and a few 220’s stored. I need to learn the methods you describe, I may not have my nice store bought ones when I really need them.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Thanks RI and I agree that good store bought traps are the most lethal. Great when you got ’em.

  9. Ridge Runner says:

    Outstanding article Dan. Thank you.

  10. WESTPAC says:

    Has my vote for “Article of the Year.”

    Get some, SurvivorDan!

  11. d2 prep says:

    Awesome article survivor Dan. This is another skill I know very little about. I am printing your article and putting it into my binder.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      It’s an honor. Hope you get an old fishing pole set up in the back yard and give it a whirl.

    • Encourager says:

      I, too, copied it out and saved it SD. Good article that even I could understand….having never trapped/hunted before. But someday I may have to, right?

  12. alikaat says:

    Hi SD-
    Thank you. I am going to try it out in the thicket behind my house. If it works, I will teach my boys, with the same rules that apply when we are at the range – like your finger on the trigger, never set a snare and leave it unless you are planning on killing something.
    Thank you for a really well-written article on a valuable survival skill.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      The kids will have a blast. My grand kids loved the first time I taught them. We looked for sign and determined where to place them (of course we didn’t actually place them) and they built the basic and then came up with their own designs. They liked rock and log powered gravity traps (Line over a tree limb powered by a weight) the best.
      Don’t forget the safety glasses.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        ‘Killed’ a bunch of little stuffed animals that day! Lol.

        • alikaat says:

          Hehe…my boys wouldn’t admit it… but they are very sentimental about their stuffed animals. Think they might all cry if I used them to demonstrate…it would definitely make the point not to set one unless they intend to kill something.
          Love it. Thank you! This is going to be fun.

  13. Well written article! Good information, good presentation, excellent explanations and tips. I have read every article I have encountered for a long time concerning the basics of trapping and this, without a doubt,
    is the best one. I believe anyone with just a rudimentary background in the outdoors could build and set a snare after reading this tutorial. Thanks for sharing – again – Dan!

  14. Great article and pics. One of the most informative articles I have seen here.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      Thanks folks ‘preciate it. If one person gets something useful out of this post, it was worth the effort. Hope fishing/tension poles get propped up in a few backyards. But please be careful….don’t become one-eyed trappers. 😉

  15. axelsteve says:

    I think trapping will be very useful far after when the balloon goes up. For many skills skills it should be one that is practiced before the need arrives.You can practice that in your back yard if need be or in your garage .Imagine trapping a raccoon that dwells under your house. You can get rid of the critter and convert the space under your house for preps.

  16. I have a mystery varmint in my garden! Probably a rat hole. I think I will try this, just to see if I can do it.

Before commenting, please read my Comments Policy - thanks!