HOW-TO: Primitive Deadfall Trap

One of the skills that’s never going to go out of fashion in the woods is being able to look around and use your surroundings to gather food, even during the harshest and most unforgiving times of year. While it’s foundational to survival to be able to utilize many different methods and eat things that you may not have ever considered food before, trapping is still essential.

One of the most ancient forms of trapping is called a deadfall trap. It uses stored energy in the form of a large rock or a log and a mechanism to drop that energy onto an animal at the perfect place and time. One of the simplest and most popular deadfall traps is called the Paiute Trap. It was utilized by the Paiute native people of Utah and Nevada to trap small animals since their terrain is very rocky and large game was scarce and difficult to get.

The first step is to find a large rock or log that is heavy enough to crush a small animal such as a rabbit or squirrel but flat so that it doesn’t roll. You’re not going to want to haul this around all over the woods so it’s best to look for this part near tracks or game trails of small game that you’re looking to catch.

Next you’ll want to construct the trigger mechanism. You’ll need about a foot of cordage, either 550 cord or natural cordage you braid yourself. Make a Y shaped support stick about 8 inches long and as thick as your thumb. Sharpen the non-Y end and shove it into the ground just outside the swinging arc in front of where the stone will fall. Use a cantilever stick about a foot long and as thick as your thumb. One end will hold up the front of the rock and the other end will have the string tied to it. Next a pencil-thick branch a little longer than a foot will be the arm of the trigger with the bait on the end. The final piece is a 2 inch pencil-thick switch stick.

Prop the rock or log up with your knee and prepare the switch. You want the switch to be sensitive enough to go off when an animal messes with the bait, but not so sensitive that it’s triggered by the wind. Make sure that you use bait that a small animal will like such as starchy pieces of cattail root, or if you have fish guts these make an excellent bait. Leftover or discarded food works as well.

Review the video below to see the details of exactly how to prop up the mechanism.

This trap can be an excellent source of small game, just make sure to check your traps frequently so your catch doesn’t get scavenged by larger predators. Also make sure to review the local laws around trapping before practicing these techniques. While in a life-or-death situation most people will forgo local laws in favor of survival, there’s no sense in going to jail for practicing wilderness skills.

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