"I've got a fox killing my chickens, and I need your help," the voice said on the other end of the line. "They are killing my chickens faster than I can replace them."

I listened as the landowner, whose property was in the city limits of my small Delta hometown, described how he was working in his shop one night and heard a commotion outside. He stepped out the back door to see a red fox standing on the roof of his barn some 15 feet in the air.

Yes, on the roof! As I went to investigate the next day, my first question was if he was telling the truth about the fox on the cold tin roof, and my second question was how in the world a fox gets on a roof. We walked around behind the barn into a small woodlot on the edge of town. There was a tree that had fallen against the rear of the barn. On that tree trunk we could see what appeared to be a muddy trail that led up to the roof. Inside the barn, in the loft, there were still-wet canine tracks above the poultry cages.

As we investigated further, I noticed a hole where a piece of tin had been torn back by the weather. After much discussion, we both came to the conclusion that those foxes were running up the fallen tree trunk, crossing the roof and entering the loft through the hole where the tin was absent. That theory was confirmed the next day when the landowner called me.

"You can come get this fox," he said. "He's dead in the snare on that tree trunk behind the barn."

Just as we had suspected, the foxes were using the fallen tree to get into the barn. I set several more snares around the woodlot, and caught two or three more foxes over the next several days, but it was that first fox on the tree trunk that I was most proud of. I also caught someone's darling tom cat, and was able to release it. The cat was unharmed, mind you, but I was not. If you've ever tried to release a ticked-off tom cat from a snare, or from any contraption, or if you've ever tried to make a tom cat do anything it didn't want to do, you know what I mean.

But that's why I chose snares for this location in the city limits because I figured cats and dogs were going to be in the area. I definitely didn't want to use body-grip traps and even though foot-hold traps would've been relatively harmless, I didn't want to take the chance of catching a pet by the toes.

Snares are a very effective tool in the trapper's bag of tricks. They are lightweight, relatively inexpensive and super easy to use. Snares can be used to catch all sorts of critters apart from foxes, including coyotes, beaver, raccoons and others. Several dozen snares occupy the same space in your vehicle or pack as a half-dozen traps. You can build your own snares with aircraft cable, sliding locks and supports, or you can order all of your supplies pre-made.


Snare set-up

For the beginner, I suggest purchasing pre-made snares so that you don't have to buy an assortment of parts and put them together. You can order snares already rigged and ready to go from various trapping supply companies, and they come shipped to you virtually ready to go to the field. But if you decide to make your own, you will need to purchase a spool of cable, locks, swivels, wire cutters, nuts and support wire.

There are several parts to a snare setup. You have the snare cable, a lock, a support collar or wire, the support wire, the swivel and the anchor. A 3/32-inch snare cable will work for a variety of species, said Joe Brown from Vicksburg.

"You can use a size smaller like a 5/64-inch, but I think the 3/32-inch is a good, all-around snare size," he said. "It will catch coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, otter, beaver and other animals. The next thing you want to consider is whether to use a relaxing snare lock, which you need if you want to catch your targets alive, or a locking lock to quickly dispatch your catch.

"You can also buy snares with pre-made snare supports on them, or you can make your own. I've started buying mine with plastic tubing supports already made on the snare. This is the piece that holds the snare loop to the support wire you stick in the ground.

"For support wire, I prefer 9-gauge wire, or if you can find some old, abandoned telephone poles, the copper wire left on the pole makes excellent support wire.

"The other thing I add to my snare is a swivel. The pre-made snares come with wire swivels on one end, but I attach another swivel to that. This keeps the snare from kinking when an animal is in it trying to get out. A kinked snare is the quickest way to lose a catch.

"Finally, you must anchor the snare to something. I sometimes use a 2- to 3-foot length of rebar with a flat washer welded to the top. You run the rebar through the open end of the swivel, and hammer the rebar into the ground until it is flush. You can also use an earth-anchor style anchor, which is hammered into the ground until only the swivel is exposed."

It is also important to note that if you leave any obstructions within reach of the caught animal, it can entangle itself and die before you return. In many cases, as in my city limits fox-trapping job, you may not want this to happen in case you catch a non-target species or pet.

"Depending on the size of the animal you are after, you will need to adjust your loop size and loop height," says Brown. "If you are trying to catch a coyote, you want about a 10-inch diameter loop, and the bottom of it should be 10 to 12 inches off of the ground. If you are after beaver, I'd go with about an 8-inch loop and a 6- to 7-inch loop for coon or otter.

"With a beaver or otter, you want the bottom of the loop just an inch or two from the ground. Ditch crossings are my favorite places to set for coyote and bobcat, but if there are any deer tracks in the trail, I avoid setting snares there. You can make jump sticks to guide deer over the snare or you can fit your snares with breakaways that will release larger animals, but I just try to avoid trails with heavy deer sign altogether."


Where to set

Snare placement is as easy as finding a trail with good sign and making your set. You aren't using scent or visual attractors to lure the animal to your set, you are "setting blind," as trappers say, and putting your snare on a pathway. If you are trapping coyotes, find a ditch crossing or a vehicle track through a grass field, and set there.

A good beaver snare location can be in a chokepoint in a waterway, a dam crossing or a beaver run that leads out of the main stream.

Coon sets can be made on trails through the brush or crossing logs. A good location to snare many animals is under a barbed-wire fence, or where a trail passes under a log. Just about any animal can be snared. All one needs is a general knowledge of the particular species' habits and some fresh sign.

Bobby Warren from Jackson describes the first time he set a snare for coyotes.

"I was looking around in this grown-up field that was about waist-high grass," he said. "There was a recent set of truck tracks around the edge of the field, right next to a deep ditch. I noticed several trails crossing that ditch, and the coyote tracks also followed the truck tracks in the field.

"I found a spot on one of those ditch crossings where I could set a snare and blend it in with the natural vegetation. I also found a weedy spot on the truck tracks that would hide another set. I really didn't have a clue how high to set the loop or what diameter loop I needed, so I looked at my dog and saw how high his head was above the ground. I made the loop about 10 inches in diameter, and set the bottom of the loop about a foot off of the ground. I walked down the truck tracks a few feet, then called to my dog. He turned toward me and trotted right down that trail, and his head went right through the loop and it cinched up tight around his neck.

"Of course he just thought he had somehow been put on a leash, and he stopped as soon as the loop tightened on his neck. I fell out laughing at him, and took the snare off of his neck and remade the set.

"I set the second snare on the ditch bank just like the one I caught my dog in, but I put the loop a little closer to the ground. I figured if a coyote the size of my dog was coming up that ditch bank, he'd have his head a little lower coming up that hill than he would walking a flat trail.

"I bent a few stalks of grass over the top of the two snares, poked some sticks up beside the loop and around the sides to hide it and we left. The next afternoon I came back to my snares and there in the snare set on the ditch bank was my first wiley coyote!

"Boy, was I excited. He had torn up all of the bushes in a perfect circle around the stake, and was barking like a fool at me as I walked up to him. He pulled on that snare so hard that he passed out. I quickly took the snare off of his neck and loaded him into my dog box before he came to.

"I ended up releasing him a couple of days later. The hides down here aren't worth much, and I really just wanted to see if I could catch a coyote. Well, I caught one with the first snare I ever set for one, and I was pumped!"

The best way to learn the finer points of trapping is to tag along with a trapper in your area. The Mississippi Trapper's Association can provide you with contacts. The MDWFP also has contacts with nuisance trappers. There are several informative websites on the net where one can drastically shorten the learning curve with trapping knowledge from trappers around the country.

In Mississippi, snares are traps, and anyone using them on land other than their own must have a commercial trapping license. Trapping season starts Nov. 1 and ends Feb. 28. All traps must be checked at least once every 36 hours.

Nuisance animals such as coyote, fox and beaver can be trapped year round on private lands. Check www.mdwfp.com for more details on nuisance animals, fur-bearing animals and other trapping regulations.