Guest post: snare success

While visiting my in laws this past summer I wanted to put in some dirt time to train for my Pathfinder certification.

One of the requirements is survival trapping skills where you have to construct a trap and demonstrate its functionality. 

I also wanted to practice my tracking skills and the local area is lush with wildlife. My in-laws live in Northeast Ohio on a 23-acre plot of land that is mostly wooded and has a large lake fed by a number of smaller streams. I realize this isn't even close to remote, however I never pass up an opportunity to practice my skills.

This story is a bit graphic so please read at your own discretion.

While on a scout, I noticed animal scat by the waters edge while gathering firewood. I took a mental note of it but didn't investigate it further. Two days after,  I saw the same type of scat and about the same size a few days later and realized that the area is frequently visited by the same animal.

raccoon scat
I scanned the area, looking for tracks and noticed a small trail worn in by presumably the animal I was after. 

I decided to make a spring snare trap and lay it across what I thought was the path that the animal took. I didn't use any bait because I wasn't really trying to catch it, just mostly wanted to practice. There was a small white oak sapling relatively close to the trail which would make a good trap engine. It was only about an inch in diameter and I de-limbed of any branches that would slow the rate of speed of the the trap engine.

I then found a small forked stick and drove the Y part into the ground leaving about an inch of space between the crux of the Y and the ground. Across from the forked stick I drove in another stake that I would wedge the trigger stick across. The next step I took was to make a small toggle and tie it to the oak sapling with a small piece of cordage forcing the sapling to bend. The next step of the trap, I placed the toggle between the Y stick and the ground, then holding it in place between the toggle and the stake adjacent to the Y with the trigger stick.

This is the trickiest and most dangerous part of the trap because it can spring back at you at any time. 

Since the trap was loaded during this step I made sure I was always away from the bent sapling in case the trap went off while setting it. Knowing that the trap was properly adjusted I allowed the sapling relax by undoing the trigger and tied a separate piece of cordage to the sapling and made a simple snare by tying a bowline knot and running the tag end through in to form a loop. The snare was placed on the trigger stick and then I reset the trap.

This is a trap similar to the one I used here.
Notice the toggle under the Y stick to the right, being held in place by the trigger stick
I then set about doing some other tasks and forgot about the trap.

The next day I returned and to my surprise I actually had caught something; it was a raccoon! 

Since it was my first time trapping, I didn't really think I was going to catch something however there it was. I then became extremely saddened because it was a small raccoon and it was clear that it had died. The small sapling, which I thought would just be enough to spring the trap and allow me to release the animal simply by cutting the rope. This was not the case, the sapling had lifted up the raccoon off the ground about 3 feet it must have died struggling. The trap however worked perfectly and would have prevented any ground dwelling animal from taking my catch.

I decided that even though I hadn't intended to kill the animal, since it was dead I would honor its sacrifice in any way that I could.  The best way I could do this was by eating the meat, using the fur, and learning as much as I could from this experience.

I actually prayed for this sounds weird but I felt it was the right thing to do. 

I honestly did my absolute best however this would be my first time processing game. The animal had already begun attracting flies so i knew I had to move fast. So the first thing I did was make a fire to allow me to cook the raccoon eventually, but more immediately chase away the flies while I worked. Since I was close to my camp, I fortunately had a tripod already made which I tied the raccoon upside down and began to process him.

I have to say at first I was completely flustered and very sad that I killed this animal, however I realized how much I could learn from him and once the skinning process began it became much easier.

I first cut a ring around each ankle and followed the cut to the anus or "vent". I began peeling the skin from the legs making short cuts to the fatty membrane that attaches the skin to the muscle and was surprised at how easy it was. I then followed the cut down the belly being extremely careful not to puncture the organ sack and rupture anything that would taint the meat.

I wasn't sure what to do about the tail or head so I simply cut them off with my axe. I realized later that you can remove those cleanly with practice and skill in order to sell them.

I then decided to it was time to gut  the raccoon and made a small incision with just the tip of my knife in gut cavity and realized how careful you have to be because I could clearly see almost a full bladder of urine as well as feces inside the animal's large intestine. Not really sure how to do that I simply squeezed the end of the bladder to pinch it closed then cut behind my fingers to remove it, I repeated the process for the large intestine. I also checked to see if there were any funny looking spots on the organs.

I remember thinking that even though this was my first time dissecting a small mammal, the organs are very similar to those of people. We all know the different organs of the body from Biology class and I was able to identify the liver, heart, and lungs and they all looked healthy.

If I was in a survival situation I would have saved the urine as well as the organs to bait other traps; in this case, I simply threw them into the lake. The turtle and carp were delighted I'm sure. 

Once all the fur and entrails were removed I then removed the head and tail. I discarded the head but tried to save the tail, it didn't work. I then quickly made a spit with green wood and began to roasting. Now I've never eaten raccoon and had no idea how it would taste or if they were even edible, however I decided to quickly look it up on my phone and it said they were considered delicacies in the south. I then tied him up with some jute twine I had, to keep him from rotating on my spit and roasted him for about an hour and a half.

raccoon on the spit
I figured the legs would be the most well done. So I took my first bite and I have to say it wasn't completely gross. I could definitely taste that he was from the water because it had a bit of a swampy flavor but it really just tastes like dark meat on chicken...big surprise right? I read later on that raccoons that are more inland do not have this taste. While the swampy flavor was undesirable it wasn't overpowering and had I brought some spices, it would have been quite good.

After eating I turned my attention to the skin. Using the same tripod as before, I took my cargo needle and used no. 36 bankline to stretch the skin out. I wasn't sure how to do this since I've never been taught. I just remember seeing pictures of Native American tribes stretching deer hides in museums and did the same thing. I tried scraping as much fat as I could with my knife however I didn't want to puncture the skin, so I lowered the tripod over the fire and basically smoked the thing for about an hour.

stretching the pelt
After eating I figured that was the best attempt at processing I could do and went home to go over my experiences and research the whole process by experts. I consulted my survival books, Youtube, and my instructors at the Pathfinder school.

The whole reflection continues on even today, especially after I realized despite smoking and scraping the skin, I found maggots on it the next day and had to throw it away.

Since then I've watched the process of skinning, gutting, and preserving animals numerous times. I feel much more confident now how to properly do it. You can skin all the way to the nose if you want, it just takes skill and patience. The tail can be removed by using a tool that basically pulls the fur away from the muscle by creating a tight circle around the muscle and pulling down all the way. This tool could be easily recreated in the woods.

As for the skin, it needs to be not only stretched but thoroughly scraped. I've watched several people do this and the best way seems to spread the hide,  fur side down on a stripped log and taking a split stick or bone and scrapping all the lard off the skin then letting it dry in the sun on a stretching rack. You can also smoke it apparently but it takes much longer.

In retrospect, I learned an incredible amount from this experience and I know for next time the things I did right and the things I did wrong, making the lesson of the raccoon incredibly valuable. I don't believe in taking the lives of animals for no reason, however if you do accidentally or are in a survival situation, honor the animal by learning and using as much as you can.


  1. Thanks for posting man! I think I get the snare set-up, but to clarify:
    There are 4 pieces, right? The forked stick, the stake, the trigger stick and the toggle? I think I can see only 3 in the picture.

    I also see a pipe in that picture, I think, which is old school and awesome.

  2. Not a problem, I'm glad you enjoyed it and hopefully can learn something. Yes, there are 4 pieces, all parts are in the picture. The toggle is underneath the forked stick on the right being held in place with the trigger stick.