Friday, October 09, 2009

How to Set -- and Release -- a Conibear Trap

Mountain and an old Conibear found at the entrance to a sette the dogs entered.

Let's begin with the most important thing: Conibear traps kill a lot of dogs and cats, and they can take your fingers off.

To repeat: Conibear traps can easily kill a small dog and cat and maim you.

Read that again. Do it once more. Got it? Good!

Now for some knowledge. Did you know that Conibear traps were invented by the animal rights folks as an alternative to the far safer leghold trap?


Conibear traps were first designed by Frank Conibear in the 1950s in Canada, and were the first substantive improvement in traps since the leghold trap was invented in 1823.

The development of this type of trap was paid for by an animal rights group, and the trap was designed to kill very fast. This sure-kill trap design was subsequently approved by the International Humane Society.

Ironically, because this type of trap kills almost instantly, and is very difficulty to release even if you are standing right there when it fires off, this trap is a very serious threat to cats and small dogs which might otherwise be unharmed if entangled in a modern leghold trap or a snare.

In my opinion, a Conibear should only be used in a water set on muskrat (#110 Conibear) or beaver (#330 Conibear) or in a tree set for coon. If you are looking to get rid of a nuisance raccoon, consider a cuff-type trap (sometimes called an egg trap) as there is zero by-catch with these devices.

Having said my peace about Conibear traps, if you have a groundhog problem they are a very good fix, especially if the problem is in a location where there are no cats and small dogs around (do not presume -- know).

The right sized Conibear trap for groundhog is the same used on raccoon and fox -- a #220. The setup is described below, with the trap fixed to a stake right at the burrow entrance.

There is no cheaper source for traps than ebay; just make sure the things are not rusted, have good springs, etc.

A simple dirt den set, as shown above, is very easy with a Conibear, but it is not as safe as it might be.

To improve on safety for small dogs and cats, rig up a "bucket set" or "pipe set" as pictured below.

This is a simple #220 Conibear inside a square plastic bucket or PVC pipe, with slots for the the spring ears, as shown.

For groundhog, cut both ends off the bucket so that the groundhog has to exit his den through the bucket, with the trap close to the dirt side of the hole and dirt mounded up around it to keep the bucket in place, and the light out.

To see how the trap is set up in a round paint bucket (and how safety can further be improved by putting the bucket up a tree if you are trapping raccoon), click here).

If you are trapping anything, you will need a trapping license and your traps need to be tagged, and there may be other restrictions as well, especially on Conibears. See your state wildlife agency or Department of Natural Resources web site for more details. Do it right!

Never trap near a road or path, never use bait with a ground set Conibear, and remember that barns and outbuildings attract cats as well as racoons and groundhogs.

Since we're about to enter trapping season, those who do not trap but who take dogs out into the woods should know how to get their dogs out of a trap if it comes to that. Click here for simple instructions.

The previous link was cited by The Anchorage Daily News who went on to use it to develop the very nice graphic, below, on how to get your dog out of a Conibear trap. Remember, that if there are no safety catches on the trap itself (there generally are), your shoelaces are a tool that is always with you in the woods!



Tenacious T said...

My JRT, Bandit, got caught in a Conibear trap in the WMA behind our house last summer.

Someone had set it up in a bucket with a dead rabbit inside to bait coyotes and, being a JRT, he had to check it out.


It came down right onto his head. Fortunately, the trap itself was in poor condition and wasn't operating at full strength.

Bandit had a giant lump on his head and was laid up for a week or so, but other than that there was no permanent damage. I feel VERY fortunate.

smartdogs said...

Conibear traps can even kill medium to large-sized dogs. I lost a wonderful, 60-lb Australian Shepherd to a baited, untagged Conibear trap set next to the rural road I walked him on every day.

I didn't know how to open the trap and had to watch helplessly as my dog died a slow, horrible death from suffocation.

Thanks for giving me permission to share the information on how to release these traps.

PBurns said...

NOTHING gives trapprs a worse name than the fools who get Conibears and do not know how to set them.

YES, post this information all over the place, and save a few dog and cat lives. That's the idea!

For the record, this post was triggered by Mark who has a nice new place with a serious groundhog problem. I went out to his place, and he may lose his pole barn if the groundhogs keep undermining the posts. My dogs went in and busted one out (a big one!) but it's a sold concrete pour under most of it and no way to dig. A trap is the only way.

I am dead against baiting a Conibear unless it's up a tree. If you bait a ground set, you WILL get dead cats and dogs. That coyote trapper was simply incompetent. A coyote is best trapped with a regular old leg trap. They works great, but no trap should ever be in a WMA or near a path, road, or place where humans live and a dog or cat can reasonably be expectted to find access. Alltraps should be checked at least once a day, and better twice a day.


Heather Houlahan said...

I've had dogs caught in baited legholds, and been caught in them myself, in places where NO TRAP HAS ANY BUSINESS BEING.

Next to a ski trail in a state park, next to a dam at a YMCA camp where little children were fishing, in a field in a state gameland where dozens of hunters train their pointers. The bottom feeder who was trapping the the last location didn't even bother to check his traps as required by law -- easily proven, as the light snow cover was four days old, and there were no human tracks anywhere near.

Fortunately, thus far, the injuries have been slight -- it has been the bigger dogs who got caught. Plenty of drama and screaming, though -- and some from the dog, too. The biggest trap is the coyote set that got my boot, which was stiff leather and protected me well from all but the surprise and anger.

I live in fear of a conibear on the ground (they are only legal for water sets in PA, though legal obviously doesn't figure into a lot of these guys' practices) or a dog working the water's edge on a search or training getting caught.

I bought a couple different styles of leghold and conibear, and periodically give short hands-on classes in releasing them. There really is no substitute for practice, and traps are cheap.

It's that time of year -- I'm going to practice with them this week.

As for the conibear being the result of "animal rights" anything -- only if Ingrid Newkirk has a time machine.

The philosophy of "animal rights" and the resulting political apparatus and ideology dates back only to the 1970's. You can pretty much date it to Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation.

Any organization that was working for better treatment of animals before that time should properly be classed as an "animal welfare" entity.

PBurns said...

Frank Conibear's story is told pretty well here >>

As it notes at the top, Frank said: "“I have a dream - a dream that someday my trap will
become the SPCA of the forests."

Production of the first 50 traps were financed by the "Association for the Protection of Fur Bearing Animals" which is now, I believe, this organization >> It is opposed to all trapping.

After inventing the trap, Conibear was given an award by American Humane ( )

Where animal rights starts and animal welfare stops, I will let others debate. I know the history pretty well as it starts with Kit Burns and Henry Bergh in New York City, and the issue they were fighting over was the "welfare" of the rats in rat pits. Somehow I think that qualifies as the start of the animal rights movement, but I will allow that there is a lot of wobble in the language,

In any case, the story of the Conibear trap remains a classic tale of unintended consequence.

Fewer and fewer people are trapping at all, of course, as wild fur prices have fallen through the floor, and doing almost anything else pays better and is far easier (including begging on the sidewalk).


Lee said...

Last week some antler hunters found my wonderful Lab-Greyhound cross caught in an untagged bucket set and baited conibear trop less then a quarter mile from our home. The folks who found him removed his collar and brought it to me and told me where to find him.

Ike disappeared on Feb. 15 and was not found until March 17 because we were not looking for trapping areas as we are surrounded by farm ground or wildlife refuges. It was odvious that the traps had not been checked for some time.

These traps were less then a quarter mile from several homes, all of whom have pets and some of whom have children. Law enforcement were contacted and they came out to the sight. Photos were taken and I removed Ike from the sight.

I doubt that anything will be done about the untagged and baited traps unless I push it. A wonderful dog was lost and a family is grieving the loss. This is something that did not need to happen, much less go several weeks undetected. There is no trap season open and there is no home or livestock to be protected by the traps in that location.

While I respect ethical trappers I can not use the words that I feel for the person that set the trap Ike was caught it and killed. They are just lucky is wasn't a curious kid.

Nancy said...

I live on a 10 acre farm right next to newly established WMR where trapping and hunting is allowed. My 40 pound Golden mix was caught in a leg-hold trap last weekend, but I was able to release him and he seems unharmed. We were both a bit freaked out by the experience, though! The trap was located in an area it shouldn't have been and was tagged with a totally blank tag.

Two years ago, when the WMR was first being worked on (former cropland), I spent a very useful 40 minutes at a trapper supply outfit where the counter man showed me a variety of sizes of leg hold traps, snares, and the conibear. (He also believes conibears should not be allowed on any land open to the public.) I learned how to release the leg-hold and the snares, but the conibear defeated me. I used the techniques recommended by our state trappers' association (heavy duty zip ties), but am not strong enough to get the springs compressed. I recently saw a video from the Idaho Fish and Game department ( where a woman used a leash to compress the springs. I'm going to buy a 220 conibear and practice till I can do it quickly.

I'll still work my dogs in the WMR. I talked with our local DNR guy (who's a trapper) and viewed the Idaho videos several times, and feel much better educated on locating and avoiding traps.

I never, ever let my dogs out to run without me, and they are well-trained enough to return when called. They both wear bells and blaze orange vests, and I am always very aware of where they are. I can't express strongly enough how dangerous it is to let your dogs run loose, whether in the country or in the city. From cars to coyotes to poisons, there are too many ways to end up heartbroken.

itstherightone said...

I just wanted to say thank you very much for what you posted about unloading the trap. I had caught my first groundhog today and didn't know you had to compress the springs again to open the trap. Great illustration. Thanks again.

Nancy said...

I posted earlier about trying to learn how to release a conibear trap. I bought a 220 and tried every method I could find and was unable to get any of them to work in time to save a dog. Even using both hands and feet, sitting on the ground, I could not muster the strength to compress the spring and get the safety catch on. Now, imagine this with a 60 pound Lab struggling and thrashing around! I might be able to release a smaller conibear, so I still carry what I'd need, but I'm not confident at all...

I've given up using the WMR and am worried & cautious when walking the edge of my own property. I'm using a shock collar to train my dogs to stay out of the bordering tree line. I'm working to get the MN legislature to pass a bill with stronger protections for dogs (letters to the newspapers, a petition (, appeals to our Governor and state legislatures). I'm sharing ideas with a MN non-profit that has been working on this issue for years, Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping MN ( ).

I'm not trying to eliminate all trapping - just the use of the conibear on public land. I lose sleep remembering the stories, photos, and videos I've seen of dogs caught in these traps. Education is painful...

PBurns said...

Condibear are kill traps; what they were designed for and what they are expected to do very, very quickly. In most states they are only allowed to be set in/on water for nutria, beaver, and mustrat. Some states allow settes that are put up high in trees inside buckets. Minnesota limits conbibears to a waterset, unless the trap has a inside measurement of under 6.5 inches, which is a 150 or 160 conbibear set for mink or muskrat. In my opinion, there is no reason to use a conibear on land ever. They make good species-specific raccoon traps that have zero by catch of other animals, and muskrat and mink are water animals.