Pre-Season Trap Dying and Equipment Preparation
Caleb Thompson: Ohio ODJ Contributor
With the 2013-2014 trapping season rapidly approaching, the time for the trapper to begin preparations for his or her prospected trap line is at hand. The task of preparing everything for the season can, very quickly, become an overwhelming endeavor fit to make a new trapper squirm. But, when broken down into several smaller, more easily managed tasks, summertime preparation can be, not only easy, but also a great deal of fun. This is not to say that all work involved is easy by nature, as some of it has the potential to be difficult and tedious. But, if you have truly dedicated yourself to being a trapper, the rewards of your toil will be worth their weight in gold come season’s end. Now then, the specific order of these tasks can be left entirely to the discretion of the trapper, and provided that these pre-season preparations are started within a reasonable span of time before the season opens, you won’t find yourself scrambling to accomplish necessary maintenance along with stringing out your line.
Needed preparations for the trap line include cleaning, dyeing, and waxing your traps, ensuring that all of your other equipment is in proper working condition, re-stocking any lure and bait you plan to use, and the scouting/planning of your line. I shall describe these steps in the manner that I prepare my personal equipment. These methods are simply ideas to help get you started and they are the particular methods that work for me, it is up to you to discover and pursue your own personal style.
First, in order to remove all factory grease, dirt, rust, etc. from traps before the season opens, I use straight Muriatic Acid. A quick dip in a couple gallons of muriatic acid will clear your traps of everything and also etch the steel in preparation for dyeing. A trap need not be in the acid for more than a minute before it is stripped down to bare steel. Use caution when working with muriatic acid because of the vapors emitted from its reaction with organic substances and its caustic nature. The vapors will burn your nose and lungs and put you on the ground in tears if you get a big enough whiff. After dipping your traps in the acid, remember to dip them into a bucket of clean water and baking soda to neutralize the acid and render the traps safe to touch. Besides using muriatic acid, traps can be de-rusted and etched using vinegar (they will need a longer soak), and there are also several recipes for using wood ash solutions and lye baths.
After your traps have been cleaned of grease and rust, they should be hung outside to dry. Now that you have a good etch on the steel, it shouldn’t take more than one or two nights for the traps to accumulate a thin coating of rust which will allow them to take color. I have found that with a deep etch on the steel, a complete coat of rust need not be present for the trap to accept color. Once a light coat of rust has accumulated on your traps, they can be taken down and dyed/waxed. My method of dyeing traps is to mix two 4oz. bottles of Logwood Liquid Trap Dye into five gallons of water. (One bottle of dye mixed with three gallons of water is the recipe on the bottle, but I like to give my traps a jet black finish.)
I have used walnut hulls to color my traps in the past with success, although this method is more time consuming. In order to utilize the walnut hull method, you will need to gather a good amount of walnuts you find laying around on the ground still encased in their hull. Next, grind or chop up the hulls (I advise wearing gloves to avoid staining your hands) and mix into a few Gallons of water. A recipe used for many native wood dyes is to mix ½ lb. native wood dye (in this case your walnut hulls) into each gallon of water. I let this solution sit for about a week to allow walnut dye to leech into the water. At the end of the week, the hulls are strained out and the water is brought to a boil and left to simmer over an open flame while traps are colored.
After the traps have been dyed they should be waxed. Simple paraffin wax can be used, although several suppliers carry trap-specific wax. The wax is melted in a pan over an open flame; no water is added, because wax will adhere better to a dry trap than to a wet trap. Wax is flammable, and it will burst into flame if allowed to become too hot. This is the drawback of using an open flame; you lack the ability to control the temperature with any degree of accuracy. Simply keep the wax a liquid and you should be fine.
Make sure that before you wax your traps, they are the color that you want them because it is a pain if you change your mind after the process is complete. Once a trap has attained the desired color from the dye solution, it should be brought out with a metal hook of some sort and allowed to dry. This will not take a great deal of time since the trap will be hot. After the trap is dry, and while still warm, submerge into the wax for fifteen to twenty seconds. It doesn’t take very long to gather a functional coat of wax on a trap. I have found that it is helpful to dye and wax traps while they are set to allow complete submersion in a shallow wax pan and to allow all parts to be exposed to dye and wax. If not, place a nail between the jaws so wax can coat the insides. Use caution that you do not trigger the trap and splash hot dye or wax on yourself. After the traps have been waxed, hang them up somewhere to dry and cool. It is very important that you hang your traps in an area free of strong human or machine odor.
Now that your traps have been colored, waxed and hung to dry, the time has come for the rest of your equipment to be cleaned and inspected for the upcoming season. Ensuring all of your tools are clean and in proper working order is essential to a successful trap line. Gloves, boots, clothing, knives, firearms, baits, lures, and anything else you plan to take along with you on your trap line all need to be cleaned, repaired, replaced, and restocked before the start of the season. Ensure all of the knives you plan on using are free of dirt, rust, and there is a good sharp edge on them. To ensure that your knives remain free of rust during the season, spraying a small amount of WD40 on the blade is a great little trick for keeping them rust free while they are sitting in their sheaths. A knife sheath is a great place for moisture to accumulate.
Taking care of these simple things and making sure your traps are properly cared for will allow things to flow so much smoother out on the line and provide a more enjoyable experience in the long run. Invest a little bit of money to make sure you have everything you need out there and the rewards will be worth every penny. Never forget to take an apprentice with you, even if they’re a good friend learning the trade right along with you. Please don’t allow trapping to die out from our lives and fade into history. Happy trapping and much fur to you!