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What you need to know about animal snares for survival

by Gaye Levy

When it comes to long-term survival under dire circumstances, many of us will need to step outside our personal comfort zone and use snares to trap animals for food. The thought of doing so is unpleasant to me personally, but if I had to do it I could and I would.

This has led me to research animal snares and how best to use them in modern times.

An article about using animal snares has been a frequent request in comments, yet I was getting nowhere while doing my own research. Ultimately, though, I hooked up with Cody Assmann, an experienced outdoorsman who has a lot of hands-on experience with this sort of thing. He is a social-studies teacher in a rural corner of Nebraska and is someone who spends time trapping, tanning, gardening and pursuing his passion of preserving the almost-lost skills of previous generations. I was lucky to find him.

In this article he teaches us that animal snares are an ancient tool that everyone interested in survival should become familiar with for SHTF purposes.

Animal snares and trapping for survival

by Cody Assmann

The modern movement of bushcraft, survival and prepping has had many benefits. People have developed a better sense of the world around them, have engaged themselves with that world and have developed an understanding of our past. It could be said though, that the greatest accomplishment of this movement is the preservation of our ancestral knowledge. Our collective knowledge as a society, and a global society, is only limited to what people know.

This sounds simple, but it hits on the reality that once knowledge is lost, it is gone. With so many of our ancestral skills and knowledge falling out of everyday life, it’s important a few folks keep those skills and knowledge alive by living it out. Such is the case with animal snares.

In our modern world people know very little about animal snares. In fact, many people today raise their hackles as soon as trapping or snaring is even mentioned. The truth is that trapping has been a part of the human story for longer than anyone would probably care to guess.

To hunt, trap, fish and otherwise procure food and resources are what you could call very human activities. Trapping in particular is an excellent way of providing food for the table as it is a passive activity. You don’t have to be walking 20+ miles per day in order to be a successful trapper. On the other hand, it does take a large bit of knowledge about the habits of animals and knowledge of the land.

Anyone interested in survival should have at least a basic knowledge of animal trapping.

The history of animal trapping

As mentioned, trapping is a very old activity. The previous linked article postulates humans have been trapping for more than 75,000 years. This date comes from remains found at a dig in Blombos Cave, South Africa. It’s safe to say that if that date proves true, archeologists still did not find the first traps.

This means humans were trapping even before that date. Archeologists point to the skeletons of animals they’ve found in the cave as evidence for trapping. Given the abundance of small nocturnal animals, it is likely the animals were trapped. You could argue otherwise, but logic points to trapping as the means they were harvested.

Snares were likely some of the first traps used by humans. The reason lies in their simplicity. Animals snares really require nothing more than some cordage and a bit of ingenuity. With the right setup some indigenous people were even capable of snaring large animals such as bighorn sheep. In contrast, even primitive deadfalls are complex by design and would have required much more tinkering to be successful. Snaring would have been used widely in the ancient world across the globe.

Some say that a good idea is something people develop independently around the world. Snaring and trapping seem to fit that bill.

Modern animal snares

Today, modern snares are much more efficient than the snares of our ancestors. Most snares use a metal cable with a one-way slide affixed. Metal is obviously more resilient than most primitive cordages, and it can last for years.

Many snares today are also equipped with what’s called a kill spring or stinger spring. This little device hastens the death of the animal in the trap immensely. The object of this spring is to cut off blood flow to the brain in a very short period of time.

Although snares are, and always will be, an effective trapping device, they are highly regulated due to the fact they are a killing trap. Many states have legislation set in place so non-target species, especially pets, are not put in harm’s way. Even with the red tape of legislation, a capable snareman is able to use snares to efficiently remove targeted animals from the area they trap.

How to use an animal snare

As mentioned, anyone interested in survival, bushcraft or learning about the natural world can benefit from a working knowledge of snares. Although there are a variety of ways to use a snare, we’ll focus on the most common way.

Again, most folks today use metal snares affixed with a one-way slide, and many use a killing spring. The snare also needs to be secured using a stake driven in the ground. If the situation allows, you can also make snares to be secured around a tree or other fixed item. Lastly, a small bit of string or dental floss can come in handy when setting your snare.

Snaring supplies
Snaring supplies: Snare cable, stake, and dental floss. As this is not a working snare it does not have a stinger spring.

The biggest hurdle when it comes to animal snares is knowing where to set them. Snares are best used in common routes of travel by the targeted species. You locate these trails by finding tracks, scat, fur or simply a well-worn path through the vegetation. It takes an awful lot of experience to begin noticing these travel corridors, but once you know what to look for they tend to stick out.

Beginners should be encouraged to hit potential trapping areas after a light snow hits the ground. Tracks indicate where animals are traveling and how many animals may be in the area. Odds are, if one animal has used a path once it will be used by that animal again and by others of the same species.

Once you’ve found your trails, you’ll need to start making your sets. How big you make your loop, how high off the ground it is and how well it needs to be disguised are all tailored to the animal you are trying to catch.

The loop should be big enough to slide over the head but catch on the shoulders of the targeted animal. The same goes for how high it should be off the ground. Snares set too low could potentially let the animal get through the loop, which is certainly not what you want. Snares too high could be noticed by the animal before the snare has a chance to grip them. You should also concern yourself to avoid catching with non-target species like deer.

Oftentimes travel routes are used by multiple species, some of which you don’t want to catch. Trappers have developed a few tricks to avoid catching the wrong critter.

One trick is to set your snare on the bottom side of a low hanging tree or branch. In an ideal situation an animal like a deer would jump over, while a target furbearer would go underneath. Another solution is to make a bait set just off the main trail. By using predator bait off the main trail you will still grab the attention of the furbearer and they will turn to investigate, but herbivores will simply walk on past. This trick is widely used in areas of deep snow where trapping is done on snowmobile or dog sled.

Once you’ve found a good location, the next step is to actually make the set. Making snare sets is often a simple and quick process. Just build your loop, secure your snare with a stake and tie the snare up with the string or dental floss you brought along.

Snare location
Ideal snare location. Notice the slight blending left of the snare and the overhead branch.

Blending in the set also helps increase your chances of a catch. You can blend in the set by using natural vegetation found in the immediate area. Any bit you can disguise the location should improve your chances. You can also use the blending material to steer the animal through the trap. On the other hand, too many obvious obstructions can tip a wise animal off and you’ll come up empty handed. Finding the sweet spot takes nothing but experience.

Animal snares for survival

On the topic of animal snares used in a survival situations, you can’t help but notice their benefits. They are light, easily portable and are a passive way to procure food and fur. In a survival situation trapping could prove to be a reliable and useful way to stay alive. You can not only create lots of sets, but you could potentially hunt while checking your traps which would increase your odds of getting something to eat. This is not some new idea. As we mentioned earlier, people had been doing this for much longer than they ever had the bow and arrow.

Animal snares and animal traps are not only a useful way to get food and fur, but also greatly promote knowledge of the natural world. Although some folks spread a lot of false testimony about trapping, I’d argue that trapping is just about as human as anything we do. Not only is it one of the fundamental skills that our history is based on, but it still provides income for people who choose to earn their living close to the land.

Anyone interested in not only preparing for a survival situation, but also in learning more of our ancestral knowledge and the world would be encouraged to take up the ancient art of snaring.

The final word

As I mentioned at the onset, the concept of trapping using animal snares is personally unpleasant. I don’t mind telling you that while seeking information on this practice, and especially on YouTube, I almost stopped. Still, realistically speaking, trapping small animals such as wild rabbits using snares is something we all need to be aware for SHTF purposes.

I do not advocate trapping animals solely for their fur. But for food in an honest to goodness survival situation? I leave that decision up to you. Just be aware that snares are pretty well regulated in many states so before your set out a snare for practice purposes, check local regulations.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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