Cage trapping, although sometimes not the most effective method of capture is becoming more popular. Many states have already mandated “cage only” laws and regulations requiring trappers to adapt to new methods. Massachusetts, California, Washington, Colorado and Arizona for example have been cage only states for a number of years now.
Massachusetts is the only state in the Northeast that technically is a cage only state. While body grip traps are allowed with a special permit, trapping under normal conditions prohibits the use of anything but a box trap for most species or snap trap (Rat Trap) for weasel/ermine. Cage traps are used by trappers in most states. Even states that have less restrictive laws and regulations often, by default, require the use of cage traps for certain species. For instance, in my home state of Connecticut, body grip traps are prohibited on land and non-padded foothold traps, in general must be underwater. Even during the regulated land trapping season in December and January only coyotes may be taken using padded foothold traps and any incidental catches must be released. This means that if you want to catch species like fisher, fox, bobcat or skunk in a state where footholds and body grip traps are restricted the cage trap becomes more of a viable option.
Cage traps are a good choice for a number of reasons. First, you can create an inviting environment when brushing them in as a cubby. Second, most are simple to set and won’t often cause harm if fired unexpectedly. This make them an ideal starter trap for young ones. Third, you have the opportunity to release non target catches safely and without harm. Very helpful when trapping populated areas with pets or farms that have a lot of foot traffic. Often a landowner that would normally be hesitant to allow permission using steel traps would be more likely to grant permission when cages are used. Cage trapping does come with a downside as well. The traps are costly, they are more visible and subject to theft or damage by anti’s and they are bulky to name a few.
If you can get past the issues listed above cage trapping can be very enjoyable. You can set cages most any place. In granite country where you can’t dig a trap bed, in grassy trails, along water ways and even fastened to leaning trees. Deep snow does sometimes create problems but rain and freeze/thaw condition problems are less than with foot hold traps. With the introduction of Comstock and Advanced Brand traps water trapping has even become possible. Cages are set in runways or parallel to dams like body grippers would be for beaver and otter. Small swing door cages (colony traps) are used in muskrat runs.
Like all trapping, setting on sign is important.
I have trapped most every legal animal in Connecticut and Massachusetts in a cage with the exception of mink. Now this isn’t to say it isn’t possible, I have just never targeted them. I’ll leave the mink cage trapping tips to someone more qualified.
Let's start with the egg thieves. I have trapped many, many raccoon, opossum, and skunks in cages. I prefer a 10” x 12” x 32” cage for all three species. Any number of manufactures can help supply you. Tomahawk, Safeguard, Comstock, Advanced, Williams, Wickencamp, etc.. Door styles vary as well, spring loaded, gravity, guillotine, etc.. Havaharts will be fine for skunk and opossum but marginal at best for ‘coon. They will work most of the time for raccoon but at some point if you trap long enough you’ll likely stroll upon a cage that’s been destroyed and empty. They just aren’t as heavy duty as others. Stay away from the cage traps of this size offered at tractor supply stores if quality and longevity is a factor for you. You can use a smaller cage for skunk and opossum, as small as 5” x 5” x24” but then you would be limiting your ability to catch ‘coon. I make sure I clear the area under the cage of debris so the treadle is fully operational and then I use two pieces of 18 inch rebar to secure it to the ground. I have found in my experience that just like foothold traps a well bedded trap is essential to success. Any wobble at all is enough to spook a critter. So I figure if I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right and make sure there is no shake or wobble to the cage. For Raccoon, skunk and opossum bait I prefer something smelly like fish or cheap wet cat food in a back corner of the cage. I place it in the back corner so the animal must press on the treadle to get the bait. I feel the animal has less of a chance of reaching over the treadle and stealing the bait. I don’t bother to brush in these cages to heavily or sometimes at all. Usually loosely tucking the cage into a briar bush or long grass is all it needs. This is more to keep people from seeing it too easily. I usually use a castor based lure above the cage for these species and any type of gland lure inside the cage. Once caught dispatch options include firearm, Co2, Injection, etc.. Check your regulations for legal methods.
For fox I step up my game and use a larger trap. Not just taller but wider as well. Red Fox are a bit more weary to enter a cage than Gray fox but it can be done. I prefer a 14” x 18” x 36” cage. Specifically the Freedom Brand cages. They are just the best I have found to entice fox into. They also have a nice bait door in the rear allowing you to freshen up bait and lure easily. The doors are gravity doors with locking rings. It is essential to stake this type of trap down as if animal can roll it over upside down the door will drop open. This feature however also makes releasing out of season or non-target animals a piece of cake. For bait I use something fresh like beaver meat or chicken. If legal in your state, pheasant and fowl carcasses wired to the back of the cage work well. I will put a coyote or fox gland lure inside the cage. I keep bait as fresh as possible in these sets to keep out the grinners and polecats as much as possible. If a ‘coon ends up caught that’s always ok with me. A well brushed cage is critical with fox. Cover the floor with dirt, leaves, hay, etc. so that no wire mesh is showing.
For fisher a cage much like we use for Raccoon is adequate. Like fox its best to brush the cage in well. A bait like beaver meat is great. A strong skunky call lure is worth its weight in gold. Use the call lure above the set but also a small amount inside the cage.
Bobcat specific cages should be tall and narrow. I personally haven’t found brushing in the cage to be absolutely necessary for bobcat but opinions vary on this. With bobcat I Iike to take the cornucopia setting approach. Everything including the kitchen sink goes in the cage. Bait, a skunky call lure, gland lure, a castor based lure and urine go in the back past the treadle or wire triggers and I use Lawing’s Cage Magic lead in scent from the back to about 8” before the opening. I make sure the floor of the cage is covered in dirt and then grass clippings and/or leaves to make it resemble actual earth. I feel this is much more important than brushing the cage in. Once I’m satisfied with set construction I hang a visual attractor above the set. A dvd, or pheasant wing works well, my favorite is 18”-24” of Christmas garland. I prefer a blue/silver color combo. My preferred cage for bobcat is the Tomahawk Slammer Bobcat Cage. It comes in three different sizes which nest inside each other for easy transport. Setting on sign with cats is also crucial. Do your preseason homework and you will be successful.
Let’s talk a little about water trapping with cages. Although it sounds like it’d be difficult to cage trap a beaver my friends up in Massachusetts and other states have it down to a science and are very successful. The same approach applies to beaver and otter and follows the same concepts as trapping with body grip traps as far as location goes. Runways, dam sets and crawl outs are all fair game and good spots to set. I have even incorporated castor mounds at one end of a cage on more than one occasion. Kirk DeKalb of Advanced Trap and Jim Comstock of Comstock Traps both make two very nice lines of traps designed with wire triggers rather than treadle pans to trigger the trap. The animal goes through the trap and pushes the wire triggers forward which sets the doors closed. A little fencing is still helpful like when using body grip traps.
This is just a high level overview of the way I cage trap. It’s certainly not gospel and there are many, many other ways to cage trap successfully. I hope at the very least a few folks are able to take one or two tips provide into this article to help them be more successful in the field!