Build a Livecatch Trap to Capture Rabbits, Squirrels, Woodchucks, and Other Garden Pests

Instruction to build a simple live trap to humanely capture and remove larger garden pests such as rabbits, raccoon, squirrels, possum, woodchucks, etc.

Mammal Pests in your Garden and the Live-Catch Trap

Rabbits in the garden can destroy your setting plants. They will nibble and consume your vegetables. Squirrels in the flowerbed will dig-up and eat your bulbs. Setting out devices to frighten these creatures away often do not work. Raccoons are a problem in the garden too, and notorious for getting into municipal and residential trash cans, tipping them over, spreading bagged garbage and causing havoc.

Plastic owls that sit on the edge of garden fencepost intended to frighten away birds and squirrels make a convenient perch for some creatures; the very ones that are intended to be frightened away. Most day-dwelling animals are not intimidated by the night-dwelling bird of prey. A plastic peregrine falcon, -a day-dwelling raptor, might have better results.

Often the best if not the only way to get rid of larger mammal marauders from the garden is to trap them in a 'live-catch' device and remove them to another location far away.

Commercial Live-Catch Traps

I was never satisfied with the commercial live-catch traps. These are usually made of combinations of metal siding and wire mesh. The trapped animal will often injure itself on these devices trying to escape. Plus, the open-air design of commercial mesh-side traps leaves the animal exposed to the elements and possibly prone to harassment from other interlopers; a dog or cat may come by to investigate. Or if the live-catch trap contains a rabbit, a fox or raccoon may try to open the cage and access the free meal. Usually unsuccessful but most certainly stressful to the captured prey.

Here is a device that I first learned about when I lived in Virginia. The old-timers called this a 'rabbit gun.' While this is not a 'gun' in the familiar sense, it does have a 'trigger' giving rise to its name the same way that a 'staple gun' or 'pop-rivet gun' is named.

The device is fairly simple to build. I shall omit certain dimensions as size is not crucial. Functionality is unaffected.

Live-Trap Construction Begins with Four Long Boards

four clean boards to create an oblong box, the main part of the live-catch trap

These boards could be 7 or 8-inches wide, and for our build, 24-inches long. Exact dimensions are not critical but the four boards should all be the same sizes.

Assemble to Create a 4-sided box

Using either long wood-screws or nails, assemble these four boards into a box as shown below. This is the main chamber of the live-catch trap.

create a oblong box with the four board, nailed or screwed together

I use nails to hammer these together but if you want to drill holes and use long wood screws, that works fine too.

Cover Rear of Trap with Wire Mesh, and Drill Holes in Roof

the live-catch trap dimensions, where to drill the required one-inch diameter holes on the top roof section

Using a heavy close-mesh screen, cover one end of the trap box and nail it securely in place. This end can be a solid wood panel but I have found that a screened mesh is more inviting for the wild animals to enter the trap because they can see through the other end. If inclined to do so, you could just nail vertical wood cleats side-by-side but I would avoid this. It encourages the caged animal to get their feet entangled. Even a solid wall is better than this.

If they attempt to enter the trap that has a solid walled rear panel, they are more wary and if they trigger the release mechanism but manage to escape the trap, they are spooked and will usually avoid the trap in the future no matter how attractive the bait inside is. You should strive to capture the animal successfully the first time.

Drill Holes on the Roof of the Live-Catch Trap

Next, drill two perpendicular holes that are one-inch (1.0 inch) in diameter into the top side of the trap. The first hole in this 24-inch long box is drilled approximately 5-inches from the screen end. This can vary slightly, this measure is not important. But the remaining length from this hole to the entrance end must be divided into equal halves.

In this case, the remaining 19 inches of the length (24-inches minus the 5-inches from end of trap) is divided by 2. So we drill the second hole halfway between the first hole and the entrance. Here, this distance is 9.5-inches from the first hole. This distance/spacing while not critical, is fairly important. We want to have the same distance (give or take a half inch at most) between the 'entry' or front of the trap to the fulcrum hole, as from this hole to the trigger hole, the hole closest to the screen mesh. This is done for reasons that will be shown and explained later.

Create a Chute for the Dropping Trap Door

live-catch trap top-view and side-view

Create a chute to align around the entry end of the trap. The width should be just slightly wider than the intended drop-door. Note the alignment beam (blue) on the TOP of the trap. This will help guide the drop-door down when the mechanism is tripped, but this part can be omitted it you desire.

Install the Fulcrum and Trigger in the Live-Catch Trap

Here is where it all comes together. A door that is slightly taller than the height of the trap, and a 'trigger switch,' are tied via strong string or rope to a hardwood straight balance stick that is as long or slightly longer than the distance between the two drilled holes.

cross-section view of wooden live-catch trap and trigger mechanism

Here we see a split view of the interior of the live-catch trap. The trapdoor is held open with a strong rope or string tied to the balance stick, which sits upon a fulcrum. Hanging also by a string on the other end of the balance stick is a straight, notched pole which acts as the trigger mechanism. The trigger pole must be straight with no other catches, notches or slivers except for the carved notch, as shown.

The pesky creature in your garden (in this case, lovingly depicted with a rabbit-shaped animal cracker) enters the open end of the trap and approaches the bait. Upon brushing against the notched trigger stick it is released by the weight of the trapdoor. The trigger pole jumps up out of the trap chamber and the door in turn, descends, capturing the varmint.

Notice that the trapdoor has a 'T' board attached across the top. This prevents the trapdoor from dropping completely through the chute if the trap is lifted off the ground with the caged animal still inside. When the trapdoor is down, the "T" rests against the blue 'block' which we attached to the roof (top) of the trap earlier. This block of wood (shown in blue) helps guide the door straight & true in its vertical descent.

Variations of this design are many. In my builds I sometimes attach a short smoothed cleat of wood on the floor just inside of the entrance to prevent the trapped animal from lifting the door. Also, a cleat of wood nailed to the floor just before the place where the bait is laid will help prevent a creature with longer and more dexterous arms and fingers (possum, raccoon, etc.) from merely reaching around the trigger stick and accessing the bait without triggering the trapdoor.

I have used this design for years back in rural western New York. It is an effective trap and I have captured many squirrels, rabbits, possums and woodchucks with this. Notably, being wooden and dark inside versus an all-mesh and steel of a commercial trap, the caged animal remains calmer and won't injure themselves. Calmer also makes it easier to move the pest to a preferred release location. Do however examine the specie captured before release. If you have captured a skunk you may wish to take additional precautions in your release strategy. In a word, jerk the door open and RUN!

(all awesome graphic images by author)

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