As hunters, we want a steady population of the animals we hunt. Turkeys are no different; I would venture to say they are a more vulnerable species to suffer from a declining population. Turkeys breed in the Spring, typically March through May, and lay eggs immediately after. Hens will tend to a nest for roughly 28 days. In these 28 days, hens will battle nest predators such as raccoons, possums, skunks, etc. They will battle even bigger predators like coyotes. And they will also battle frequent Spring rainfall, which can result in severe flooding. Trapping predators can be the best ticket to helping hens not suffer so greatly from these uncontrollable factors.
In my time as a trapper, I have found that raccoons and possums take a greater toll on declining turkey hatches than any other predator. These nest predators are “robbers” and will rob eggs with ease. Unlike a female goose, hen turkeys are not mean or vicious. Instead, they are very timid, making them even more susceptible to nest predators. Their main goal is to simply survive. Years ago, when I first started turkey hunting where I live now, I would come across multiple turkey eggs that had been broken and eaten, and even sometimes, I would discover nests that had been raided. I had watched some YouTube videos on how to trap and, before long, had purchased my first one dozen dog-proof traps. These are the best traps for catching raccoons and possums and not accidentally catching animals you don’t want to. It is quite simple to use these traps, and they are extremely effective.
Prepare Trap Baits
After you have bought some traps, the next step is finding the correct bait. There are many ways to go about this because raccoons and possums will eat a variety of stuff. What I have found to be cost-effective and results-effective is cat, dog, or catfish food combined with marshmallows. I tend to fill the trap with food about half full, just so the trigger handle cannot be seen. Then I take a medium-sized marshmallow and stick it on the top. This gives the nest predators something bright to look at. It’s attractive. They will eat the marshmallow and discover the remaining food in the trap. All they have to do is grab that handle, and they are caught. Most of the time, they will until they become wise, and then you begin dealing with educated nest raiders. At this point, tactics must change slightly. If this happens to me, I will break the marshmallow in two and put one half under the trigger. I will fill the rest with pet food and put the remaining marshmallow on top. Sometimes just changing what pet food you are using works well too. Use a variety so they don’t become wise to just one. Using lures such as raccoon urine or fish oil can also help your sets be more effective.
Find Trap Locations
Finding the most beneficial places to locate your traps can sometimes be the hardest part. Pinpointing den trees is a great place to start. As you know, raccoons live in these trees, so setting traps around them is an effective way to catch the first ones that are most vulnerable. Another great place to look is along game trails, especially areas where they cross a creek or stream. You will often find multiple raccoon and possum tracks in these places because they are trying to catch minnows, get a drink, or simply urging to cross. Culverts can be another effective place to locate your traps because these critters consistently use them to cross public roads or den. I have found that trapping around den trees and along game trails has been the best way to catch multiple nest predators.
My Trial of Predator Trapping
During the winter of 2016-2017, I decided to keep a tally of exactly how many nest predators I caught. In return, I would take a tally of how many hens I would see come June and later that had poults. Using two dozen dog-proof traps and the methods I just discussed, I caught 43 raccoons and 24 possums that winter. No skunks that season, thankfully. That was 67 fewer nest predators in the surrounding ecosystem. The following summer, I could not believe what I was seeing. About 80% of the hens I observed had a countable poult hatch. I can remember some hens having upwards of 20 poults. Now, whether or not all those poults survived is unknown to me. However, I know that Fall, I witnessed the most turkeys I had ever seen while deer hunting. It was not uncommon to see flocks of 50 to 75 healthy turkeys. The next Spring, I easily filled my Indiana tag on opening day.
Dispose of Trapped Nest Predators
The best way to handle and dispose of a trapped nest predator is using a .22 caliber rifle or handgun or something very similar. I always aim for behind the shoulder. This location is lethal, and the animal will not leave blood all over your set. In the past, I would take my raccoons to a local fur buyer and get a small amount of money for them. Unfortunately, there is no market for their fur that I am aware of right now. Often, I will give them to friends who enjoy skinning them out. Sadly, there is not a whole lot you can do with these animals. Trapping them is geared more toward population control. They have no real predators and can populate abundantly, causing more harm than good to other species, such as our beloved turkeys.