Survival Trapping – 6 traps you need to know

fish funnel trap

What is survival trapping?

Survival trapping can best be described by thinking about the art of fur trapping and then adding a survival twist onto it. When fur trapping, you would be trying to catch animals like beaver, mink, coyotes, and raccoons. Whereas, if you were survival trapping, you would be trying to catch things like squirrels, rabbits, and any other small animal you can eat. Survival trapping is all about obtaining sustenance for you and anyone else you are surviving with. 

Why would I ever need to trap food?

Supplement food supply

One of the more not thought about ways to lengthen the amount of food you have stored is to supplement this food with any other food sources you can obtain. It is so important for you to not rely completely on your stored supplies, as this will drain your inventory of supplies rapidly.

Survival trapping is a great way to add healthy protein and fat to your diet, and almost everyone loves to eat meat. Another great benefit to trapping more food is that it will add variety to your possibly bland food that you have had stored. For lengthening your time that your food supplies will last and for adding healthy food to your diet, nothing beats survival trapping in a disaster scenario. 

Natural disasters

There is always one type of survival scenario that is never beyond the grasp of the imagination, because they occur frequently and violently. Natural disasters, be it tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, or earthquakes, cause tons of damage and can be very dangerous. Sometimes it isn’t even the weather event so much as the effects it has on people after the fact.

One of the worst things that can happen is when people are cut off from getting help and can’t contact anyone. These people will eventually run out of food, so it is vitally important to have another technique for gathering it.

Survival trapping can be done in all conditions virtually anywhere as long as there is an animal or two to catch. The animal might not be the most appetizing, but it will provide you with nutrients to make it through until natural disaster dissipates.

Supply chain disruptions

Many areas across the United States have witnessed supply chain disruptions firsthand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Between meat packers being forced to shut down in some states, to grocery stores just running out of food and supplies in others, there has been much proof that supply chains can be utterly disrupted.

One of the best remedies for this malady is to have more than one way of obtaining food. Survival trapping is a great option, as it allows you to not be dependent on grocery stores or meatpacking plants. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” That old saying is a great example of why it is vitally important to be self-reliant when it comes to being able to supply your own food, should you have to.

How can I start trapping?

Overview of traps

Just because survival trapping is usually associated with using Nature’s items, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some help from the prepping gear you have. In the bullet points below, a wide variety of traps will be discussed. If you are going to invest money or time into buying or making traps, determine what traps would work the best for the animals in your area. 

Cage traps

Cage traps are an excellent investment, as they can be used to trap any kind of animal that can fit inside. It literally will catch almost any animal as long as the trap is big enough. The real benefit of using cage traps is that if you accidentally catch a pet or something you didn’t mean to catch, it does not harm the animal.

A cage trap that is offered commercially is usually something along the lines of a wire frame with a door that falls once the animal sets off the trigger. Usually, bait is thrown in the back to give the animals a reason to go into it in the first place.

Cage traps can be made 100% DIY if you have the initiative and time. You will find tons of YouTube videos on how to make cage traps for many different animals. It is always smart to have at least one or two cage traps on hand, even for a non-survival scenario pest problem.


Even those who aren’t familiar with trapping probably have a good understanding of snares. The main goal of a snare is for a noose type object to entangle an animal and hold them there until you can check the snare again. The beautiful thing about snares is that they can be made from many different materials. They can even be woven from tough plant fibers or fibers from trees.

You can use a shoelace, small-gauge wire, and many other materials. There is no limit to how you set a snare and what kind of game you can catch. Be careful where you set them, as they can potentially strangle animals. You can buy pre-made snares, make your own, or come up with some during the survival scenario.

Steel traps

Many people have negative opinions about steel traps. They are seen as cruel and barbaric, as traps are often depicted as having teeth. Traps have NOT had teeth for many years now. Fur trappers primarily use steel traps, as they are effective, efficient, and durable. There are many varieties of traps that can be used on a wide variety of animals.

Some of the trap types are body grip (or Conibear) traps, foothold traps (coil spring & long spring), and older fashioned jump traps. If you are looking to invest in some steel traps, look at trap distributor websites or catalogs. Within these catalogs, you will be shown what animals certain sizes and varieties of traps are used for, helping guide your purchase. YouTube has a wealth of videos on how to set these traps. 

Primitive traps

This group of traps is the most widely varied, as there are so many varieties that have been used throughout history. This set of traps can be used for so many different types of animals, as these traps have been used since the dawn of man. There are no commercial options available for these traps, as these can be made from items in Nature.

Even if you have some steel traps, cage traps, or snares, it is vitally important to at least know a few different primitive traps. If your cage trap or steel traps stop working, you need to have backup traps, and the best ones are the ones you can make from scratch. Deadfalls, pits, and many other varieties abound. There will be a few methods discussed in more detail.

5 types of traps to know for survival

Simple snare

If you don’t purchase snares commercially, they are still pretty easy to make. All you need to do is find a suitable material to make the snare. Consider using thin wire, inner paracord string, or you can even purchase cable. Make a loop that is able to be tightened by forming a noose-like knot.

If you are using wire, it is easy to make the noose, as all you have to do is keep twisting the wire. If you are using string, it’s still easy. All you need to do is fold the end of the string back over itself, then tie a knot to secure the loop. The overhand knot is the most useful one to use. Now that you have created your snare, let’s go over how to use it.

Target species

  • Squirrels
  • Ground squirrels
  • Rabbits
  • Raccoons
  • Etc.

How to use

When using snares for survival situations, always keep in mind that it is a numbers game. The more snares you have set out, the more chances you have to catch animals. The great thing about snares is that they are a passive way to add food to your cooking pot. You do the work once and then you don’t worry about it again. You check them every so often and they work for you while you sleep. 

To use a snare you’ve made, simply find a small game trail. Look for tracks, small droppings, and faint trails running through grass or dirt. Determine what animal you are trying to catch and then adjust the size of the noose. Find a small twig to prop your noose up to the proper height for your target animal.

Place objects in the way of the path, funneling the animal right into your snare, as animals usually take the path of least resistance. You are all set. Now be patient and check the snare once in a while. For the animal lovers: you may have to dispatch the animal in the trap, so make sure you are able to mentally fortify yourself beforehand.

Cage trap

Cage traps are great traps to buy commercially, as brands like Havahart have been around forever and make quality traps. That being said, anyone can make a cage trap out of supplies they have laying around. It comes down to using ingenuity and creativity.

YouTube videos can help you get an idea of the basic premise of making a cage trap, but you can do anything you’d like to make your own. There are so many materials and varieties that it can seem overwhelming. Once you have made your cage trap or bought one, it is probably the easiest trap to use in a survival scenario.

Target species

  • Squirrel
  • Rabbit
  • Raccoon
  • Opossum
  • Etc.

How to use

Anyone can use a cage trap without a doubt. As long as you understand the simple trigger mechanism, it is not a complex task to set it. Use your knowledge of what your target animal likes to eat, and then put whatever food object that is in the back of the trap.

Be sure to set the trap near a trail or den area, as cage traps work much better when they’re set near where the animals frequently visit. Check on your trap once in a while. If your bait is gone, but there isn’t an animal, you’ve either got a smart animal or some rodents may be stealing your bait. Once you do catch an animal, it is the easiest to shoot it in the cage, as letting it go to dispatch it doesn’t work all that great. 

Metal trap “blind sets”

Metal traps are items that should be bought from a quality manufacturer. There are many amateur machinists and metalworkers who could probably make their own, but for most of us, buying them is the route to go.

Metal traps have advantages over other traps, as they allow you to catch bigger, stronger animals. No one really wants to eat many of these animals, but if you have to, you have to.

Target species

  • Raccoon
  • Mink
  • Muskrat
  • Opossum
  • Fox
  • Coyote
  • Beaver
  • Etc.

How to use

Steel traps are one of the easier traps to use once you figure out how to set them. The best way to set metal traps to catch animals in a survival situation is to make “blind sets”. These are sets where the trap is set in the trail of the animal. It is called a blind set because the animal is not supposed to notice anything out of the ordinary.

Find a trail of an animal, and set the trap in the trail. Funnel the animal using subtly placed sticks, rocks, and other debris. Once you’ve set the trap, try to camouflage it and blend it in. Make sure to fasten your trap down by either using a metal stake or wiring it off to a large object. Always approach these sets with caution if you have caught something, as the animal will still be very much alive. 

The deadfall

Making a deadfall is pretty easy to do and can be made from scratch relatively quickly. If you are in the middle of plains and there aren’t any trees or rocks around, this set probably won’t work, as you won’t be able to find the proper material. To make a deadfall, you need to find small stout sticks, a large rock or log, and some kind of bait.

The basic idea behind a deadfall is to prop up the large rock or log using the small stick. Put the bait back up behind the stick under the rock or log. Once the animal sees or smells the bait, it will bump the stick and the rock or log will crush it. 

Target species

  • Squirrels
  • Rabbits,
  • Small rodents
  • Birds
  • Etc.

How to use

The deadfall trap is very easy to use, as it can be made virtually anywhere. As is the case with most traps, try to find areas where there is plenty of animal traffic. Use whatever kind of bait you can find and set up the trap.

You could probably check this type of trap set more often, as mice and rats run all day, not just at night. The good thing about this set is that the animal will be dispatched when you get there, so you won’t have to personally kill it. This is a great primitive trap set to have in your repertoire. 

Fish funnel trap

The fish funnel trap is really easy to make, it will just take time to do properly. First you need to locate a stream, river, or lake that you know fish are in. Next, gather up as many stones and sticks as you can. You can make the trap as big or small as you want.

Use your sticks and stones to create circular walls that are tight enough to not allow fish to escape. Leave a couple of small openings where the water flows in so that the fish will swim right in and more than likely won’t leave. Now the trap is made and will catch fish.

Target species

  • Any fish that is too big to escape the walls; make walls smaller to get smaller fish

How to use

Once you see you’ve caught fish, it is a really easy process to collect them. Either make a spear or use some kind of a net, and collect as many as you will need for the day. Leave the rest of the fish for use in future days. The beauty of this trap is that it will keep fish fresh and keep catching them for as long as you need. You can open and close the openings to allow more fish in and keep them from escaping as needed.

Pitfall trap

The concept behind the pitfall trap is super easy to understand. All a pitfall consists of is a large pit dug to capture game animals. Depending on your location and how much food you are wanting, you can make this big enough to catch deer and other animals of a large nature.

You need to determine what animals you are wanting to capture in this trap before you begin construction, as the design will vary wildly based on the size of the game. Also, be sure to consider any potential predators that may be caught in the pit as well. A predator like a mountain lion could probably jump out of most pits if they are fairly shallow.

While the concept is easy, depending on how big and deep you make the pit, the actual construction of this trap might be cumbersome. There are not necessarily any specific depths and sizes that are required for various animals. It really comes down to personal preference.

Think about how big and athletic the animal you are trying to capture is, and make a pit accordingly. When you are constructing it, be sure to make the sides as vertical as you can, as this will keep the animals from getting out. If you want to really make it hard, consider using planks or other materials like planks to make it harder for the animal to escape. 

Target species

  • Anything; as small or as large as you make the hole

How to use

The pitfall is most certainly a trap that needs to be placed in an animal’s regularly followed trail. Dig the pit right along the trail and camouflage it very well. If everything looks good, the animal will not suspect it and will fall right in.

Another thing to consider is potentially making more than one pit on the same trail in case the first one is dodged somehow. You should always exercise extreme caution around pits, as you could fall in and break a bone yourself. Always be careful getting your prey out of the pit as well, as large animals are hard to get out. 


Survival  trapping is one of the best ways to passively collect food to add to your cooking pot. Once you do the initial work, you can sit back and check these traps and regularly collect food. Keep in mind that it is always a good idea to have many traps set. The more you have set, the more meat you will collect.

Along the same lines, a variety of different trap sets are great, because if there aren’t as many of a certain animal in one area, there may be more of another species. Always be sure to exercise caution around all of the sets you make, as well as when you have to dispatch animals you have caught. 

**A few of these sets may be considered illegal and/or unethical if used during a non-emergency. Be aware of all relevant laws prior to usage.**

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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