Raccoons can be friendly visitors from wild or clever, powerful, and ruthless adversaries that resist every effort at entrapment. Homeowners considering the questions of how to catch a raccoon, however, can choose among methods that work that range from a no-cost method that requires a lot of work and results in the capture of an angry raccoon, to a moderate-cost method that requires almost no work and results in the capture of a happy raccoon waiting to be relocated.
No matter which method of catching raccoons you choose, it’s always best to set your traps at the right time and in the right place. In the northern United States and Canada, the best time of year to set raccoon traps is in November, during the early winter, when raccoons are putting on body weight to survive winter cold. In the southerly reaches of the United States where there may be little or no cold weather during the winter, the best time to set a trap is during a drought or at the end of winter when food supplies are scarcest. Raccoons are hard to catch when their food supplies are especially abundant. A raccoon that has its choice of thousands of pieces of fruit is not likely to go for the apple you set in the middle of your garden baited with a dried up apple or a few kernels of corn.
The best place to set a trap for catching raccoons is always at the exit of their dens. Nineteenth century trappers would set up fences leading raccoons leaving their dens through a funnel into the mouth of a trap. Southern coon trappers still set sometimes set spring traps at water’s edge where they expect raccoons to wash their food. Traps set out indiscriminately sometimes still capture raccoons, but in abandoned houses or attics where raccoons are abundant. A raccoon that ranges as far as 10 km (6 miles) from its den to look for food is not especially likely to walk into a trap set in the middle of your lawn.
How can you locate a raccoon’s den? Raccoons leave tracks. Raccoon tracks going in both directions indicates a path to a den. In wooded areas, the den is likely to be inside a hole in a tree. In locations that do not have a lot of trees, the den is likely to be in an abandoned building, an abandoned beaver lodge, or a small cave underneath an embankment alongside a road or stream. Raccoons also sometimes nest underneath bridges. Be sure you have permission to set your traps if you locate raccoons on public property or land belonging to someone else.
It’s also important to avoid catching other animals that may share habitat with raccoons. In most the United States, raccoons and skunks share the same habitat. In the northern United States and Canada, raccoons may also coexist with porcupines.
Catching a skunk in your raccoon trap can be a very unpleasant experience. Raccoon tracks look like imprints of human hands, with an impression running the full length of each "finger." Skunk tracks show look like imprints of human hands that show only the "palm" and the "fingertips." A porcupine—also an animal you don’t want to trap without special preparation—leaves tracks that look something like a computer mouse behind five oval dots.
Catching Raccoons the Hard Way
The method of trapping used to capture raccoons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the snare. Snaring raccoons requires little or no expense but several hours of effort.
All that is needed to build a snare is a 2-foot (60 cm) length of appliance wire, a wooden stake, a nail, a peg you whittle from a small piece of wood, and from 6 to 10 feet (2 or 3 meters) of a stiff but flexible wire like a clothes line. The snare consists of a lasso made of copper wire attached to a stake, to keep the line and the trapped raccoon in place, and a line tied to a tree to pull the lasso tight. Most people who make snares use electrical cords salvaged from broken household appliances. In the USA, electrical cords consists of two strands of 16-2 or 18-2 copper wire.
Remove a two-foot (60 cm) section of electrical cord from a junked lamp, toaster, or similarly inexpensive household electrical appliance. Cut the insulation separating the two halves of the cord to unwind a single, continuous strand of cord still covered by insulation. Then, using a pair or pliers and a knife to get started, pull the insulation off the copper wire inside to reveal the core of twisted copper fibers inside. Discard the insulation.
There should be 40 to 55 strands of hair-like strands of copper inside each of the two two-foot (60 cm) coils of wire. Divide each of the two coils of copper wire in half, 20 to 30 strands each, taking care not to get them tangles. You will now have four, two-foot sections of wire a little less than a quarter as thick as the original appliance cord. Each of these four sections can become a snare.
To make the snare, twist one of the smaller strands of wire you just made tight so that the individual copper wires are in close contact with each other rather than lying loosely on each other. Tie a loop about the size of a US or Canadian dime, both of which are about 18 mm or 3/4 inch in diameter. One loop will connect the the lasso to the spring pole, and the other loop will serve as the lasso itself.
Now pull one loop through the other. If you have a little trouble visualizing this, think of a hangman’s noose. The circle of wire created as one loop goes through the other becomes the lasso. The loop that passes through the top of the lasso is later attached to the spring pole. Draw the wire just tight enough that to let the spring wire pass back and forth through the loop. You don’t want to pull the wire so tight that it won’t pull tight when the raccoon passes through it. Leave enough slack that the raccoon can get caught.
The next thing you will want to do is to find a springy sapling or young tree limb to act as the spring pole. The spring pole is what pulls the lasso taut around the raccoon’s foot when raccoon springs the trigger. The springiness of the pole is a very important consideration. Some saplings will lose their ability to spring back up when they are bent over. You need to choose a young tree or soft branch that will spring back into upright position when tension is released. If you cannot find a live sapling that is already rooted in the ground, you will have to secure the branch you use for the trap securely in the ground to make sure the raccoon cannot just carry it and the trap away with it. It may be necessary to trim some limbs off the sapling to set the trap. To catch raccoons, you will probably need a limb that is about five feet (150 cm) long.
Attach a length of clothesline or similar wire to the sapling or tree limb with enough pressure that you believe that it would jerk a 10 to 20 pound (5 to 10 kilo) weight upward if the cord were released suddenly. Cut the cord so that when it is pulled to the right tightness its end will rest about 1 inch(25 mm) off the ground.
Now you will need to make your trigger. Hammer a nail into a wooden stake, leaving about an inch of the nail exposed. Drive the stake into the ground about an inch (25 mm) away from the end of the wire suspended from the sapling, the stake between the wire and the sapling. Whittle a trigger peg so that it rests on the nail extending from the side of the stake. Then tie the end of the trigger peg to the line extending down from the sapling, securing the other end of the peg against the nail. Tie one end of the lasso to the wire hanging down from the sapling, leaving the circle of the lasso on the ground.
Cover the lasso with a thin layer of leaves or bark. When a raccoon runs across the lasso, it pull the trigger wire off the nail and the lasso will pull tight, hoisting the animal into the air.
Snares are an extremely inexpensive way to catch raccoons, but lots of things can go wrong. Adjusting the tension on the snare to catch an animal the size of a raccoon takes some experience. A strong wind can trigger the trap.
Also, snares do not discriminate among potential catches. A snare can trap a skunk, a baby porcupine, your dog, or the neighbor’s cat. Moreover, snares trap but usually do not kill. Snares seldom capture animals around the neck. When you come back to inspect your trap, you will still have to deal with a hungry, scared, and angry animal that has teeth ad is not in the mood to be your friend from Mother Nature.
A Better Way of Trapping Raccoons
If you have a serious problem with raccoons but you don’t have the time and skill to make a snare, and you don’t have any compunctions about killing raccoons, a relatively simple method of trapping is the Duke Dog-Proof Coon Trap. This trap holds a bait inside a long cylinder. The raccoon reaches into the cylinder to get the bait and the top and bottom of its paw is trapped as it pulls the bait back. If the trap is securely chained to the ground, a live raccoon is trapped for later killing or removal.
What makes a dog-proof trap truly dog proof? The best way to make sure you don’t catch your pets or your neighbor’s pets in a raccoon trap is to use baits that appeal to raccoons but not to cats and dogs, such as marshmallows, grape jelly, or berries. These are foods that are never "in season," so raccoons seeking novelty for their diets will be attracted to the trap and pets will not. The length of the cylinder is such that a dog cannot reach inside—but the trap may in fact trap and kill a small house cat.
The Coon Dagger Trap by Sudden Valley Supply operates on the same principle as the Duke Dog Proof Trap, except it captures the raccoon’s paw as it goes in and as it pulls out and the trap presses down on the paw from four directions. This trap also comes prebaited and preset. It is intended for use by fur hunters.
The Coon Cuff trap can be set to capture various kinds of animals. It can used on the ground or in shallow water. If it is set properly, it will capture raccoons and not dogs but it is not "cat proof."
What If You Don’t Want to Kill Raccoons?
The problem with the less expensive raccoon traps, ranging in price from $10 to $20, is that they all require killing the raccoon. These traps may be the most effective way to get rid of raccoons from small spaces and they may trap more raccoons with less effort over large areas, but all of them require you to kill an angry animal and to dispose of the body. The Havahart Company makes a variety of traps for capturing raccoons that don’t injure the animal and that can even be set to leave the animal with food and water until you come by to remove it to another area.
Havahart traps come in 1-door and 2-door models. A 1-door model can capture only one animal at a time. A 2-door model is a little more expensive, but it can capture two animals at the same time. If you have pets you may prefer the 1-door model to avoid the possibility of your cat or dog getting captured in the same small trap with a hungry and more powerful raccoon. Here are some of your best options:
- Havahart 1079 Live Animal Professional-Style One-Door Raccoon, Groundhog, Opossum, and Stray Cat Cage Trap. This is the least expensive of the one-door traps for small ground animals. The spring for the trap takes a little oomph to operate. It is large enough to trap raccoons in California and the Southeastern states, but a large model is better for use in Canada, the American Midwest, and Texas, where adult raccoons grow to considerably larger size.
- Havahart 1089 Collapsible One-Door Live Animal Cage Trap for Raccoon, Stray Cat, Groundhog, Opossum, and Armadillos. This model differs from the 1079 only in being collapsible for easy storage when it is not in use. Because of the way it folds for storage, some people need to use both hands to operate the release gate.
- Havahart 1085 Easy Set One-Door Cage Trap for Raccoons, Stray Cats, Groundhogs, Opossums, and Armadillos. This is a sturdier and somewhat more expensive trap for larger raccoons. If you live in Minnesota, the Dakotas, the Prairie Provinces of Canada, or Texas where raccoons can grow very large, you are probably best off starting with this trap.
- Larger traps tend to be harder to set, and are not necessary to for catching raccoons. Most people who use these traps get good results, but you need to plan for success.
- Raccoons and other animals pee and poop when they are trapped. You will need a method of preventing spillage onto the trunk or floor onto your vehicle as you are transporting the animal for release.
- Traps can catch pets. (One of the major uses of these traps is capturing cats when homeowners are moving and the family cat does not want to make the trip.) Make sure you inspect the trap daily to make sure your pet or your neighbor’s pet, if caught in the trap, is well taken care of.
- Skunks like the same foods that appeal to raccoons. To transport a skunk, fist find an old blanket or large towel large enough to completely cover the trap that you do not intend to use again. Put the blanket or towel over the trap and leave for 10 or 15 minutes. Then, making sure that the skunk cannot see you coming, cover the entire trap, skunk and all, and carry to the transport vehicle. It is best to transport skunks in the open flatbed of a pickup truck than in an enclosed car. Carry some kind of pole and hook to remove the covering and open the trap to release the skunk. Do not stick around to watch the skunk get out of the trap. Come back later to to fetch the trap.
You can read a review of the best traps and repellents and how to use them by following this link The Top Three Raccoon Traps & Repellents.