THE WESTERN RED SQUIRREL
Note: Although references are to the Western Red Squirrel in British Columbia the snaring methods would apply anywhere. All pictures toward the end of the article can be enlarged by clicking on them.
First off I spent a long time with Joe Carty, prior to his passing, discussing red squirrel snaring. Joe had winters of over 5000 snared squirrels. Secondly I spent some time with Wayne Sharpe one February to observe about 20 of his poles and discus his methods (probably Wayne was one of Joe's squirrel snaring students). Not sure how many he had that day but it filled his pack sack.
A bit about the Western Red Squirrel:
The Western red Squirrel is one of British Columbia's most prolific fur bearers. They may have up to three litters per year, two litters is common, depending on available food supply. Litters average four young and may consist of as many as six. They are born helpless, hairless, and blind. Many squirrels do not live to be more than two years of age but the odd one may live as long as eight years in the wild and ten years in captivity. They mostly succumb to predation. They are sexually mature the following spring mating with many males during estrus. Populations vary with the available food supply which is primarily cone seeds of conifers or nuts from deciduous trees. The squirrel is an opportunist and will also feed on fruit, insects, birds and eggs. The Western Red Squirrel population in British Columbia varies form 10 million to 20 million.
Squirrels cache food in the fall for winter, mainly conifer cones, nuts, and mushrooms. They do not hibernate. The caches are at middens (squirrel dens if you will). Middens are easily identified by the mounds of cone bracts or nut shells which have accumulated over the years. Nests are built in the ground under these piles, in hollow trees, logs, or made from grass and moss in the branches of trees.
The squirrel is solitary, territorial, and shows defensive behavior. They continually travel from one midden to another within about a half mile circuit. Seldom is more than one squirrel seen at a midden at one time except during breeding periods, or if there are young of the same litter which have not yet left home. They are weaned at seven to eight weeks and feed away from their birth-shelter at ten weeks, dispersing at about 18 weeks.
Historically trappers harvest and average of 150,000 squirrels annually in BC. A record number of 648,701 squirrels were harvested in the 1941-42 season. During the period 1939 to 1955 over 300,000 were harvested annually. All totaled in these 16 seasons 7 million squirrels were harvested without any apparent damage to the populations. It is estimated that British Columbia could produce 1 million squirrels annually. Red Squirrels are abundant and not of conservation concern throughout much of their range through out most of Canada and the United States.
Squirrels are harvested mainly by shooting or by snaring. Due to damage by shooting and loss of animals which are not killed outright, it is recommended that squirrels be snared or trapped using killing trapping systems.
Now About Snaring Squirrels:
Squirrel snaring, which is what really prompted me to write this article, is the method used by the trappers who are most successful in both numbers of squirrels harvested and dollars per pelt. And, as a good friend of mine used to say "you can not argue with success"
Squirrels are snared on a horizontal pole between to trees at a squirrel midden with 24 gauge brass wire or with 26 gauge stainless steel wire (stainless fishing wire). Wire size is of the utmost of importance. I have a personal preference for the brass wire, but many friends prefer the stainless wire.
Usually there are about 3 dominant trees at a midden. Trim all the lower branches from the trees to height of around six feet. Clear any brush away from under the trees. Cut a straight dry pole, preferably with the bark still on it, approximately 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter to fit from one tree to another. Clean the pole of all limbs and knots. Dead lodgepole pine in an old burn that have died from natural thinning make the best poles. The bark holds your snares firm on the pole whereas they will slip on a smooth pole. Drive a 4 " nail into the tree, leaving enough sticking out to rest one end of the pole on, at just under six feet from the ground. Fasten the other end of the pole to another tree by nailing it solid. In deep snow country the pole can be placed higher or moved as the snow gets deeper. By having one end over a nail or the stub of a branch it allows the pole to move when the wind blows. Otherwise your pole would break or come unattached from one of the trees. A second and third poles can be attached to other trees with one end resting on the first pole.
When a squirrel comes to a midden they do two things, first they find something to eat, and secondly they go up a tree to the first comfortable spot to eat. You have now created that first comfortable spot. If there is an old stump or limb sticking up in the middle of the midden they often use that, place a pole from there to a tree.
Some say to use a leaning snare pole but that is not without it's problems. If you observe squirrel behavior you will note that he holds his head in different positions when going up a leaning pole as to going down it. If you set at a height for him going up, or at a height for them going down, the snares will be all flattened or pushed up in the air if the first squirrel went the wrong way. A horizontal pole is the simplest and is used by trappers who harvest the most squirrels. As well the caught squirrels are hanging uniformly above the ground on a horizontal pole as opposed to a leaning pole.
The small diameter pole forces the squirrel down the center of the pole. A wide pole is like a two lane highway to the squirrel and he will go around the snares and knock them to one side. Sometimes you will find they even jump over a snare or two and get caught in another snare. For a long span you can use a forked stick in the center to rest the snare pole on so as to take the bounce out of it. If you have to use a pole too thick on one end so as to be long enough to reach, just don't set the thick end.
The wire is cut from a roll into 16 ½ inch lengths and a 1/8 th inch eye is twisted in one end. I use a board with two nails 16 ½ inches apart to wind the wire on. I then cut the wire off at about 5/8 th of an inch on each side to partially form the eye. Before cutting I put a couple of small bits of wire around each group of snares on each side. Four rolls of made up snares are then put together and wrapped in foil. I have a special belt made up to take that bundle of snares where I can grab a loop and pull them out one at a time, without tangling them up. Never use snares more than once, they may have a nick and will break on second use. There are no locks made for squirrel snares, nor are they necessary.
After extracting a snare from your bundle, thread through the eye and make 1 ¾ inch loop and twist the wire onto the pole so the wire comes up the side and the snare eye is near the top or even past the center of the top. The height of the snare should be about 3/4 to one inch above the pole. The first snare must be about 12 inches from the tree, then 16 inches apart, and no closer than 12 inches from the second tree. Remember to stay 12 inches away to either side of a forked brace if you used one also. This is so a caught squirrel can not reach the tree once caught or interfere with another snare. Also once off the pole they can not grab a caught squirrel next to them. This is important because if a squirrel ever gets back on the pole he will never jump off again, and will twist off or break the wire.
You can catch up to nine or ten squirrels at one midden at one time at one checking. A good midden will produce thirty in a season, and next year the same amount. I have seen nice middens go for a month without a catch, then all of a sudden every snare has a catch. Probably a wise old squirrel camping the midden and not letting others near. Check your snares often as foxes, coyotes, ermine, marten and birds of prey will have a free meal.
You do not use bait for snaring squirrels.
There is also a different eye for squirrel snares used in Alberta. It is basically the start of a simple knot pulled down to about 1/8 th inch with about a 1 inch tail sticking out. The loop goes near the top of the snare loop and that 1 inch tail sticks up above the snare.
A few words from my good buddy Pete Wise:
The Alberta eye, as it has been coined, also provides 2 extra advantages. 1. It makes it much easier to remove a snare from a Squirrel once caught..... 2. The tag end sticking up in the air makes the squirrel want to dive through the snare rather than trying to jump over the set. The neat thing about Squirrel snaring is that you can do your own trouble shooting as to why you are not catching them. If the snare is pushed off to one side or the other the pole is too big. You have to make sure that the snare is set in the middle of the pole. If it is flattened out the loop is too small. If you take him around the hips the loop is too large.
I treat squirrel poles as a complete trap station. I will put in a Marten box, and an ermine set, as well I will look to see if I have other species visiting. If you come into your sets and the wire has been snapped off straight then you have a predator issue. I have taken many Lynx, Coyote and Bobcat off of Squirrel stations. I throw a bunch of branches under the pole leave space at either end which I hang snares in as well I will snare up the surrounding trails coming into the set.
Wind the wire onto a board, nails 16 1/2 inches apart.
Cut the wire at the mark at each end at the line on opposite sides.
Twist the eyes. This is the eye that I use.
The Alberta eye which many use and recommended in the Alberta Trappers manual.
Bundle the snares together.
Squirrel snare belt. Open the eye end of the bundle once in the belt so you can remove one at a time.
Make up snare at the pole as needed, the loose end is then wrapped around the pole and twisted to hold solid.
Pole resting on nail
Two poles at a squirrel midden.
Some squirrel catches.
Notice the one snare still set, gives you the idea of how they are set with the eye of the snare over the top.
98 squirrels in one day.
103 the next day on the same poles (February snaring).