Trapping Coyotes

A key to successful trapping is to use the correct trap for the job. A trap should be large, powerful and fast enough to catch the coyote that activates it.

For best results, chose a No. 3 coil-spring trap with a jaw spread of about 6 inches. Smaller traps do not get as high a grip on the animal's foot, increasing the likelihood of escape. To further prevent an animal from escaping, use a trap that has smooth jaws, which holds the foot firmly without breaking the skin. Traps with four coils are preferred because they have enough power to break through the dirt and close more quickly than traps with two coiled springs.

Also choose traps that have a center swivel and a re-enforced base plate. A central swivel attaches the heavy chain to the bottom of the trap, allowing the trapped animal to pull directly on the chain, and eliminating undue damage to the coyote's foot.

Traps, as described above, are available from manufacturers, but many trappers modify ones they already have to fit these specifications. A narrow-jawed trap can be made wider by welding a strip of metal along the existing jaw to double its width. This is called laminating. Traps with laminated or rubber jaws are more humane to coyotes and non-target catches, and they are less likely to allow the coyote to escape. Some trappers re-enforce the base plate to add extra strength. Many also add extra swivels on the chain to reduce damage to the trapped animal.

Traps suitable for catching coyotes are available at cost from the Conservation Department's wildlife damage biologists.

Target animals

It is important to remove the coyote that is doing the actual damage. Other coyotes in the same family group may be caught in the process of catching the target coyote.

coyote teeth drawingContrary to common belief, it usually is not a coyote with its teeth worn down or an old female feeding pups that kills livestock. The prime-of-life male coyote between the ages of 3 to 5 years old is most often the culprit when larger livestock are being killed. This includes goats, as well as large lambs, pigs and calves. This dominant male is stronger, more vigorous and more capable than older and younger males and females.

Drawing Caption:  The age of a coyote can be determined by looking at the wear on the incisor and canine teeth. The dotted lines show the annual wear.  (Charles W. Schwartz, illustration courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia.)

Other coyotes in the family group may be involved, but the dominant male is usually the one responsible. Younger coyotes and females may be involved when small pigs or poultry are being killed.

After a coyote is trapped, check its age and sex to be sure the right coyote has been caught. Teeth wear is the best indicator of a coyote's age. Wear on the long canine teeth may be apparent, but the best indicator is wear on the front incisor teeth, located between the canine teeth. If the incisors show rounded lobes, chances are the coyote is a young animal.

Coyotes between the ages of 3 and 5 usually show wear on the incisors, and the rounded lobes may be completely worn off, leaving the teeth flat across the top. This doesn't mean that the teeth of the dominant male are worn down noticeably, only that there is some wear on the teeth.

Trapping rules and regulations

The use of traps for problem coyotes must be in compliance with the Conservation Department's regulations. The main provisions are listed below. For more details, see Rule 3CSR10-8.510 of the Wildlife Code of Missouri.


  • must be attended daily.
  • must be made of metal with smooth or rubber jaws.
  • must be labeled with the user's name and address.
  • must not be set in paths made or used by people or domestic animals.

When trapping, be sure to:

  • get permission before setting traps on a neighbor's property.
  • notify all neighbors in the area of the location of traps and ask their cooperation in keeping their pets away from the traps.

For best results, use four-coiled traps with laminated or rubber jaws. Because the jaws are wider, the traps are more humane to coyotes and non-target catches, and less likely to allow coyotes to escape.

Trap-set location

Traps must be set where the coyotes doing the actual killing can be caught. Coyotes are creatures of habit and return to the same area. Looking for the places where problem coyotes travel and visit regularly will be time well spent. A good place to trap is in areas where coyote tracks and other sign indicate that the coyotes are coming into a pasture or pen. Traps also can be set in the vicinity of the carcass of an animal that the coyote has killed, as they often return to feed or loiter around the remains and mark the immediate area with droppings and urine.

High ground and ridge tops often are the best trap locations because coyotes like to travel these areas. Non-target furbearers, such as raccoons, are less likely to be caught in these locations because they stay along creeks and in bottoms. Check for tracks to be sure that coyotes are in the area, but non-target animals, including pets, are not. Dogs and cats are attracted to lures used to catch coyotes so traps should not be set in the area until pets are properly housed or restrained.

Trapping regulations also specify that traps must not be set in paths made or used by persons or domestic animals. To avoid further financial loss, trap sets for coyotes should never be made in pastures occupied by pigs, calves, sheep, goats or other small livestock. The following locations are good spots for trap sets as long as coyote tracks and other sign indicate that the target animals are passing regularly:

  • near, but not in, farm trails or livestock trails,
  • at the edge of fields,
  • intersections of fences
  • where farm trails pass through gates or intersect,
  • any other open ground place that is not near or in brushy cover or high grass or weeds.

Coyote trap sets should not be made directly under trees or against high weeds or brush because coyotes are apprehensive about approaching a trap near this type of cover.

When choosing locations for trap sets, look for both old and fresh tracks - an indication that coyotes use the area regularly. The presence of coyote droppings is another sign of a good place to set a trap. Coyote droppings are a little larger than a cigar and are usually black when fresh. They often show hair, fur and sometimes grass.

During times of the year when coyotes are eating berries, fruit or insects, their droppings may resemble those of raccoons. When fresh, coyote droppings have a strong, distinct odor. Another way to tell coyote from raccoon droppings is location. Coyote droppings are usually found on higher ground and ridge tops, as well as at trail intersections and gateways. Often coyotes leave droppings on low bunches of grass, rocks or other natural objects. Coyote tracks or signs of "back scratching" in the ground nearby may help identify droppings as those of coyotes. These places make choice trap-set locations.

Human and other foreign odor

Trappers have long discussed the consequences of leaving human odor at coyote trap sets. In the past, many wore gloves to keep their scent off traps and snares. Many modern-day trappers do not take these precautions because they feel that gloves, which can easily become contaminated with lure or other materials, may transmit more odors than clean, bare human hands.

Most coyotes in Missouri are accustomed to people. With their keen sense of smell, they can detect human scent a mile on the wind and can smell this odor most of the time. Faint human scent in their territory doesn't normally alarm them.

Coyotes can tell the difference between fresh and old scent. If they sense that a person is nearby, their strong survival instinct tells them to avoid the area. Still, coyotes are regularly caught within a few hours after a trap or snare is set.

Some people believe that coyotes are afraid of the scent of steel. If it were the case, coyotes would avoid fences, idle farm machinery and junk piles. It is important, however, that traps be kept clean.

Coyotes sometimes dig up traps that have not been cleaned after a coyote or other animal has been caught in them. They may be attracted to the smell of fecal matter or to the smell of the lure transferred to the trap from the trapper's hands or gloves.

Coyotes aren't always responsible for digging up traps. Raccoons and other animals are attracted to freshly dug dirt. Sprinkling water over trap sets to form an old-looking crust can help keep some non-target animals away.

With traps, common sense is the rule. It isn't necessary to boil, dye and wax traps to catch coyotes, but they must be clean.

Dyeing and waxing, however, are good ways to prevent traps from rusting, especially in winter when salt is used to keep the dirt over the trap from freezing.

A rust-free, dyed and waxed trap is a fast trap. A fraction of a second can make a difference in catching a coyote or having it jerk its foot and get away.

Trap sets for coyotes

tools for coyote trap set

Drawing Caption:  A few simple tools can help in the preparation of a trap set. A trowel is useful for digging the hole. A hammer or hatchet helps drive the trap stake. A sifter made of 1/8 inch hardware cloth is used to cover the trap with dirt. A 3-foot square piece of canvas or plastic tarp serves as a kneeling cloth and holds the freshly dug dirt until it i ready to cover the trap. Small jars hold the trapping lure. A bucket comes in handy for carrying all the equipment to the trapping site.

IMPORTANT TIP: Coyote traps must be staked properly. Coyotes are not large animals, but they will fight hard to escape.


Three basic trap sets are commonly used for coyotes. They are referred to as dirt-hole sets, flat sets and blind sets. Each of these trap sets has its proper use.

Dirt-hole sets

One of the most common sets used to catch coyotes is the dirt hole. It's effective, simple and easy to construct with a few basic tools, such as a trowel, hammer or hatchet, sifter, 3-foot square kneeling cloth and bucket.The dirt-hole set appeals to the coyotes' instincts because it looks like a hole where another animal has buried food. The completed set has bait or lure placed in the hole to attract a hungry or curious coyote. The addition of urine or gland lure makes the set even more attractive. The trap is carefully concealed so the coyote will be caught when it investigates the hole.

Locate the dirt-hole set near and at a right angle to the path of the coyote's anticipated line of travel. The hole can be dug on level ground; but if there is a slope to the ground, the hole should be dug into the slope.

Because much of Missouri's soil is heavy gumbo or clay, care must be taken to locate a well-drained place where the trap can be firmly bedded and where it can withstand some rain. Once the soil over the trap as been rained on and dried by the sun, a heavy dirt crust forms over the trap. This is a major reason why strong powerful traps with an adequate jaw spread are necessary. Weak traps with a small jaw spread will not break through the dirt crust quickly when the coyote activates the trap.

It's nearly impossible to keep dry dirt on traps in cold weather because of rain and snow. The trap may have to break through wet or frozen soil. Mixing salt with the dirt on top of the trap helps keep the soil from freezing. See page 24 for more details on trapping in winter.

How to construct a dirt-hole set

step1 dirthole coyote


Step 1. Dig a hole about 4 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep at a 45- degree angle. If possible, dig under a small bunch of grass that can serve as a backing. A dried cow chip, coyote droppings, bone or small piece of rotten wood can be used for a backing if grass is not available. Place the dirt from the hole on the kneeling cloth so it is easily accessible for covering the trap.

Step 2. Place the trap 2 to 3 inches from the hole to figure out how large to dig the trap's bed.

Step 3. Set the trap aside, and dig another hole an inch or so below the level of the ground and wide enough for the trap and stakes.

Step 4.  Level and smooth the trap bed.

Step 5. After placing the trap in the freshly dug hole, secure it by driving a stake through the attachment on the swivel. For the stake, use a 5/8-inch reenforcing rod stake at least 28 inches long with a nut or washer welded to the top end.  If the ground is rocky, it may be difficult to drive the stake into the ground. If so, substitute two 16-inch reenforcing rod stakes and drive them in the ground at 45-degree angles.  Use the cross-stake method if the ground is wet or the soil is loose. See a cross-stake set up in the drawing on page 21.

Once the stakes are driven into the ground, place enough loose soil from the kneeling cloth to bed the trap and firmly twist it into the dirt. The trap should be about an inch below the level of the ground.

Step 6. Once the trap is bedded in the hole, install a pan cover to keep the dirt away from the springs. Pan covers should be porous so that moisture, but not dirt, passes through. Denim, other cloth materials and fiberglass screen work well. They should be

clean and free of odors. Cut the cover to fit under the jaws and over the pan of the trap.  A trap with a 6-inch jaw spread requires a pan cover that is 6 inches wide and 8 or 9 inches long. In one end, cut a slit for the trigger mechanism.

Step 7. Pack loose soil around the trap and over the ends of the pan cover that extend out from the jaws of the trap.  Pack the soil firmly all around the outside of the trap to bed the trap securely. This keeps the trap from tipping if the coyote steps on the soil outside the trap. If the soil dug from the hole is too wet or too coarse to use, find drier soil along protected cut banks, under fallen logs or hay bales, or in buildings with dirt floors.

Step 8. Once the trap is firmly bedded and the pan cover installed, sift 1/4 to 1/2 inch of dry dirt over the trap. A homemade sifter with a 1/4- or 1/8-inch mesh screen of heavy hardware cloth with wood sides will screen out all coarse dirt, rocks and other debris from the trap covering. The trap will work smoothly through the sifted-dirt covering.  To make a place for the coyote to step as it approaches to investigate the lure, create a saucer-like depression in the dirt over the trap. The depression should be sloped slightly toward the opening of the dirt hole. Arrange small pebbles or clods of dirt carefully around the trap to guide the coyote into the trap, but be careful that pebbles or clods are not in the way of the trap jaws. Because coyotes like to step on smooth soil, this arrangement of pebbles or clods in conjunction with the saucer-like depression over the trap will do more to guide a coyote to step into the trap than will actual placement of the trap in relation to the dirt hole or lure.

In summer conditions, the dirt covering the trap will be dusty, making it an attractive dust-bathing location for birds and rabbits. A thorough sprinkling of water over the finished covering will cause a crust to form over the trap. The dirt crust is less attractive to rabbits and birds, which lessens the chances of making non-target catches or having the trap covering accidentally knocked off. The dirt crust also gives the trap set an aged appearance and seals in any undesirable odors that might be on the trap or the pan cover.

Step 9. The last step in making the dirt-hole set is to add bait, lure or scent. The combination of two or more coyote lures in the hole make the set more appealing to a coyote and is more effective than using just one. Tainted meat bait, such as the flesh of beaver, bobcat, cattle or skunk, is a popular lure used in a dirt hole, but they deteriorate in hot weather. Many trappers use commercially available lures, which are more convenient and less messy than meat bait. There are numerous ways to make trapping lures. Three popular recipes can be found on page 25.

Use at least two coyote trapping lures in the dirt hole. Place a ball of sheep wool in the bottom of the hole and pour the lures on it, or pour the lures directly on the bottom of the hole. After the lures are applied, roll up a wad of dried grass and place it in the hole. Then place coyote gland lure, coyote urine or red fox urine on the backing. Coyote droppings can be used along with the gland lure or urine. If two or more dirt-hole sets are made in a close area, use a different combination of lures at each set to give each trap set a different smell.

Step 10. The finished dirt-hole set should look like an animal has dug a hole and strung the dirt back in the process. The dirt-hole set is effective partly because of its visual appeal. It also works well in areas with some grassy cover where other types of sets would be less obvious. Coyotes are attracted to bare dirt or mounds of dirt like gopher mounds, mole hills and badger dens. The addition of extra dirt in a trap-set location can make the set more attractive.

Flat Sets

Flat sets, also called scent-post sets, are used to trap coyotes along a farm trail, cow path or at the edge of a field where coyotes regularly travel. The presence of coyote tracks is the best indicator.

dirthole set complete

A natural spot to place a flat set is near a clump of grass in the area where a coyote has left droppings. If a natural scent post is not available, a piece of rotten wood, dried cow chip or clump of sod can be moved to the area as a lure object.

The lure object should be large enough to attract the attention of the passing coyote. Two large cow chips stacked on top of each other is a good example of the right size. Place the lure object perpen-dicular to the coyote's path. Bed and cover the trap at the end of the lure object off the path, using the same techniques as when making a dirt-hole set.

Because the flat set is more natural looking than the dirt-hole set, the covering over the trap should be camouflaged with dried grass, leaves or pulverized dried cow or sheep manure that has been grated through a sifter.

Finally, place gland lure or coyote urine on the upper edge of the lure object just above the trap. To keep the coyote's attention, place a curiosity lure in a small depression under the bottom edge of the lure object. A curiosity lure attracts coyotes because of its unusual smell.

Droppings on the lure object add to its appeal. Coyote urine or gland lure also can be placed on the droppings.

Blind sets

blind setBlind sets are used as a last resort to catch a specific coyote that is difficult to trap. Place the set in an area where tracks show the coyote has been stepping. A good example would be a place where the coyote jumps over a fence into a field.

Blind sets are concealed and covered the same way as flat sets. Place the trap in the exact spot the coyote hits the ground when it jumps over the fence or when it leaves the ground to jump.

Hide the trap carefully, and place small sticks on either side of the trap to direct the coyote into it. Bare ground in an otherwise grassy area provides the coyote an inviting spot to place a foot.

Blind sets at these locations are usually selective. No bait or lure is used to attract non-target animals, and the coyote is usually the only animal jumping over the fence at these places. Blind sets also can be used on trails and at crawl-under locations at fences.

Trapping at carcasses

Coyotes come back to the remains of kills even if little is left but the hide and larger bones. These also are favorite places for them to leave urine scent posts and droppings. Trapping at carcasses can be effective when no other trap-set location can be found.

Three or four trap sets placed in the vicinity of a carcass is a good place to target a problem animal. Because more than one coyote may be visiting the carcass, setting several traps may be necessary. It is common to catch more than one coyote at the same time.

Set either dirt-hole or flat sets 30 yards or more away from a livestock carcass. Do not set traps too close to carcasses or other visible meat baits because scavengers, such as crows, turkey vultures and eagles, might be caught. Stake the carcass so the coyote cannot drag it away from the area.

Resetting after a catch

After a coyote or non-target animal has been caught in a trap, the set should be remade unless there is reason to believe that the target coyote has been caught. When remaking a dirt-hole set, clean debris and dirt from the hole.

Remove the dirt from the area where the trap is to be reset. If dirt mixed with lure is placed over the trap, the coyote may dig it up and not get caught.

Use dirt that is not contaminated with lure to bed and cover the trap. Bring in fresh dirt and use a clean trap if possible.

Place any droppings from the trapped coyote on the backing of the dirt hole. The scent, urine and droppings of the trapped coyote add to the attractiveness of the trap set and make it easier to catch additional coyotes.

Non-target animals sometimes are caught in traps set for coyotes. Release them carefully. Reset with a clean trap and fresh dirt. Gather any fur or bits of animal matter to avoid drawing non-target scavengers to the area.

Flat sets can be remade in the circular area that the struggling animal created. Reconstruct the set so that the coyote steps in the trap when investigating the lure object.

Some commercially available dyes are easier to use because they do not require boiling. However, they are highly concentrated and must be mixed with unleaded gasoline, which leaves a chemical smell. When using these dyes, air the traps for several days before setting.

New traps with factory oil still on them should be left outside in the weather and allowed to develop a light coat of rust so they will take the dye. Do not boil rubber-jawed traps because the boiling water causes the rubber pads to deteriorate.

After traps are dyed, they should be waxed with canning paraffin. Melt the wax in a large pot at a very low heat until the wax is just bubbling.

Keep the heat low because paraffin is flammable. Waxing traps can be dangerous. To be safe, do it outside and away from children. Lower the traps carefully into the melted wax and leave them until they take on a thin coating. Then remove the traps, and hang them up to dry. Before using, remember to clean the wax from the trigger mechanism so it won't trip too easily.

Trapping in frozen ground

Most coyote problems occur in the spring and summer. If a coyote causes a problem in winter, it is usually a mature adult. Most of these coyotes are too wary to be caught in winter trap sets because they can smell the salt used to keep the soil above the trap from freezing.

If trapping when the ground is wet or frozen, carry in dry soil mixed with salt. One part salt to four parts dry soil is adequate in most winter conditions.

Even when the weather is dry, it's a good idea to use salt when trapping in the winter. The trap may not work if rain or snow dampens the soil after the set has been made. A final thin layer of dry soil should be added over the soil and salt mixture.

If snow covers the trap set, use a broom to wipe it away. Clear a circular area 5 or 6 feet across, and place the trap in the center. Dirt-hole sets are the best for snow conditions because the dug-out hole with the dirt strung over the snow appeals to coyotes.

Releasing non-target animals

Non-target animals should be released from the trap. If the animal is small enough, cover it with a wash tub or heavy blanket, pull the trap out and release the animal. A catch pole with a sliding loop that is placed over the animal's head also works well.

Another method of releasing larger animals is to lay just enough brush, limbs or poles over the animal to pin it down so it can't reach the person releasing it. When done with just enough pressure to pin down the animal but not to injure it, this method is the safest and least stressful on the animal and the trapper.

Care of traps

After a trap has become fouled with dirt and animal scents, clean it with a high pressure hose at a car wash or soak it in hot, soapy water and scrub it with a stiff brush. Then rinse the trap in clean water and hang it outside to dry and air out.

Dyeing and waxing traps is not absolutely necessary unless the trap is used in winter and exposed to salt. The process is time consuming, and some parts can be dangerous. These techniques do, however, protect traps from rusting, help them last longer and make them close faster. When salt is used to keep a trap working in freezing weather, the traps quickly rust if not treated.

One of the time-proven commercial dyes is called log wood crystals. The dye is put in a large container of water, which is heated until it boils. The traps are added to the boiling water and left until they develop a brown or black color.

Coyote trapping lures

Many types of commercial coyote lures are available because a variety of odors attract coyotes. Curiosity lures, which are made of ingredients such as beaver castor and tonquin musk, attract coyotes with their unusual odor. Call lures are made of strong odors like skunk essence that bring coyotes into the area from a distance.

Old-time trappers' recipes included ingredients, such as prairie dog or bobcat flesh, horse meat and the "frog" from a horse's hoof. All these lures do have one thing in common: They all smell horrible.

Many coyote trappers have their own special recipe. Some of these formulas have been traded over the years, but many favorite recipes are closely guarded secrets.

On this page are three lure recipes that have proven successful over the years. Check trapper supply stores for ingredients.

Ron McNeely's Tried and True Coyote Lure

Place 2 inches of glycerine into a clean gallon jar. Glycerine, which acts as a preservative and antifreeze, makes the lure last longer in wet weather.

Add equal parts of sun-rendered fish oil and rotten eggs (see recipe below) to within 1 inch of the shoulder of the jar.

To this base mixture, add:

  • 20 drops of pure skunk essence
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of beaver castor
  • 3 teaspoons of tonquin musk.

Stir well. Place a lid loosely on the jar so that gas can escape. Put the jar in a cool dark place for six to eight weeks. From time to time shake well. At first the ingredients will separate, but after a few weeks they will bond together. The end product is rather thick, similar to a thin paste.

Rotten Eggs Lure

The best time to make this recipe is in late October or early November when fly season and hot weather are over.

Break approximately four dozen eggs into a gallon jar, allowing room at the top for expansion. Discard the shells. Stir the eggs until they are well beaten. Cover with a flat lid, but do not tighten. Let set for a couple of months.

Rotten eggs can be used by themselves as a lure or can be mixed with other ingredients.

Old Trappers' Reliable Coyote Gland and Urine Lure

When skinning a coyote, remove the anal area surrounded by a patch of fur on the carcass. The anal glands are located on each side of the anal opening.

Cut deeply all around the opening. Pull out the anal glands and about 6 inches of the intestine. Include droppings found in the intestine. If possible, remove the bladder. On females, take the vagina and reproductive organs.

Grind up all these parts, and place in jars. Add just enough unpreserved coyote urine to cover the mixture. Place in a wide-mouth jar. Place a lid loosely on the jar so gas can escape. Put the jar in a wooden box and place screen wire on one end of the box to keep flies from laying eggs on the outside of the jar. Let the mixture age until the flesh breaks down, which could take a year or more. Later, add enough coyote urine to thin to a paste. Store in a bottle that can be carried to the trapping area.

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