By Jason A. Webster
A lot of people think as soon as the snow starts to fly it is time to hang up the raccoon traps. They think the raccoons are all hibernating until spring or somehow they have moved to a warmer climate. I am going to explain to you why this is not the case and help you still put up good coon numbers.
The first thing you need to know is the habits of raccoons and what their motivational differences are between fall, when most people trap, and the late winter months. In the fall a coon’s main motivation is food. Find the food and you will find the coon. Crop fields, fruit orchards, grape-vine thickets, water sources and nut groves are great source of food. Their main goal is to eat and put on fat for the upcoming winter. But when January and February rolls around, and the rut is coming on, their main motivation then switches to breeding. This is why most of the raccoon caught during this time of the year are boars. They tend to be your larger one. Doing this period you need to search out denning areas, whether it be hardwood groves, rock ledges, or old abandoned barns and building. You will need to locate the travel routes between denning areas. The boars will be traveling from these areas in search of females that are ready to breed.
When looking for these travel routes you are trying to locate an area or a place where, for example, a big standing timber narrows down between two fields before it opens back up into another big timber area. It could be where a fence row runs between two big timber areas. Another great location would be where you have a steep hillside on one side of the road, with rock ledges and a culvert that crosses under the road and goes into a big wooded hollow. You are looking for pinch points on the travel routes so that you stand the best chance of getting the coon to come across your set. Remember food is not his main objective this time of the year and you will have a hard time pulling him very far with food odors alone. For that reason you want to be as close to their travel route as you can get it.
Raccoon will den up during a major temperature drop or a good snow fall. The time frame you are looking for is after it has gotten cold and stayed that way for a few days. They tend to start running again once they have time to adjust to the temperature drop. After a significant warm up will be the best nights for coon to move. These are the nights that you will want to have your traps ready in their travel routes.
Baiting your sets this time of year will depend on what type of trap you are using. If you are using Dog proof traps, for example, you want to bait it with something the coon will want to eat. There are a lot of great commercial baits available for sale. Whatever you are using make sure it has a great taste and odor and that it will not freeze in the cold. You will want use something to help grab his attention and put a lot of food odor in the air. I use ground molasses as a trailing scent. Sling it all around the trail to get him slowed down. The one thing that is a must for this time of the year is a good gland lure. This can be a raccoon gland lure or you can use coyote, fox or a bobcat gland lure. This is what will really reach out and grab the boar’s attention and help to keep him there until he is caught.
If you are a foot hold trapper you can punch in dirt hole sets, flat sets or a variation of a scent post for coon. You will want to follow pretty much the same baiting procedures as above, but the most important thing is to use a good gland lure. This is what they are searching for and what will hold their attention during the rut, better than a food lure. If you were setting foot hold traps for them make sure to stake your trap down really well or use a drag because a lot of these locations and sets will also take coyotes, fox and cats.
The most important facts to remember when trapping later winter coons is to make sure you search out denning areas and intersecting travel ways. Make sure you use attractive bait and a good gland lure to grab and hold his attention. Also remember that they may not travel every night this time of year, but be ready for warm- ups. If you keep these facts in mind during this time of the year you will add a lot of raccoons to your catch when most have given up and are sitting at home.