How to Catch an Animal with a Havahart Trap

As much as we may dislike the thought, anybody who owns a house or other property will eventually be faced with small mammals that can become a nuisance. Larger animals like Opossums or squirrels can enter a home and even threaten housepets. Most municipalities will trap a larger animal like this for you if you call them, but you can't always trust your local government to treat the animal humanely. This article will show you how to catch a small to medium-sized animal humanely, and with minimal effort. You will learn how to obtain a trap, place it appropriately, and set it with useful bait.


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    Make arrangements. Know what you will do with the animal when it is caught. It is safe to transport and hold an animal inside the covered Havahart trap for a few hours, as long as you continue to feed and water it. However, you should be prepared to transport the animal immediately to a vet or wildlife center upon trapping, or release the animal in a new area where food it eats and water are readily available (see Warnings about feral cats). Contact your local animal control agency beforehand if you're unsure of what to do after trapping. Ask them what will become of the animal after you trap it. (Generally, wild animals such as squirrels or raccoons can be relocated to a wildlife management area, but feral cats are often euthanized.) Make as many phone calls as you need so that you will have a plan for where to take the animal once it is caught. Also, never make plans to trap a mother animal, which will only guarantee a miserable and agonizing death for the babies.
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    Obtain the Trap. Many traps exist on the market that treat animals with varying degrees of kindness. Experts generally agree that Havahart models are the most successful at catching animals and are regarded as the most humane traps available. They are well crafted, strong, and feature blunt trapping arms so they do not harm the creature. They are also regarded as inexpensive and low maintenance.
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    Place the trap. You probably have a spot in mind as to where you would like to place your trap--where you have seen the animals. Consider the following when placing your trap:
    • Human traffic. Place the trap away from human traffic. Animals usually have certain areas in which they travel regularly, and they generally stay away from humans and locations they have recently been.
    • Pets. Place the trap away from pets. Keep your own pets inside and tell your neighbors to keep theirs inside over the time you have the trap set out. A family cat or dog is an animal too, and they probably will be attracted to a baited trap. This trap could be set off, perhaps capturing or injuring pets instead of the intended target. It's also possible that trapped animals could be injured or tortured by family cats or dogs.
    • Houses. It is not a good idea to place the trap underneath a house or deck. You may forget about the trap, or it may be hard to retrieve a trap with an animal inside of it from underneath a house.
    • Water. Often, animals stay close to water sources like springs, streams, rivers, and lakes. If you are having a hard time catching any animals, try locating a spot close to a water source. Watch for footprints in soft soil, and place traps along these routes in shaded, dark areas.
    • Animal hot spots. Place a trap where you have seen animals congregate. If many squirrels regularly congregate in your backyard, then that is a good place to locate the trap.
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    Select the correct bait. Peanut butter is a good choice for an unknown mammal. Try some of these bait suggestions if you are trying to trap one of these common pests:[1]
    • Squirrels - Cereal, grains, nuts (especially peanuts), sunflower seeds, shelled corn, apples, mixed peanut butter and oatmeal, popcorn
    • Skunks - Canned fish (sardines), crisp bacon, cat food, bread crust coated with peanut butter
    • Raccoons - Fresh or canned fish, honey or sugar covered vegetables, watermelon, sweet corn, cooked fatty meat, crisp bacon, Marshmallows
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    Arm the trap. Cock the arming bar and fill the collection plate with a tablespoon of bait. Follow the instructions that came with your purchase. Keep in mind that the trap needs to be placed on fairly level ground for it to arm properly.
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    Cover the trap Wrap a sheet or towel around the full width of the trap so that both ends are uncovered. This covering will calm the trapped animal by providing a sense of protection from predators and thus prevent crying out and struggling, actions which could attract predators or cause it injury.
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    Check the trap as often as possible. It is unwise and inhumane to leave the animal trapped without attention for more than a short period of time. Do not leave the vicinity of the trap until the animal is caught - it may be the wrong animal or it may struggle despite the cover and hurt itself.


  • Be sure to select the right trap size. Some animals, such as raccoons, may injure themselves while trapped if they are allowed too much "wiggle room".
  • You may notice that your bait is being eaten (or even that it is not), yet you have not caught an animal. This is normal, as sometimes animals can retrieve bait without setting off the trap. Add more bait as necessary, but leave the trap alone. Animals must adjust to their new surroundings, and may take several days for an animal to “fall" for the trap.
  • Before releasing a wild animal, check to see if there is a farm around. Some wild animals will prey on livestock, and the farm or ranch owners certainly won't appreciate a fox or coyote, for example, being dropped off near his or her chicken coop.
  • Animals are very sensitive to human activity. They can smell humans long after one has left the area. Because of this, it is a good idea to wear gloves while working with the trap or bait. If the trap has had too much human contact, it might be prudent to place the trap underwater or in smoke for several minutes.
  • When transporting, darken the trap by placing a towel or blanket over it to help calm the animal.
  • If you have found a litter of abandoned kittens, but are unable to trap the mother cat, you can actually use one of the healthy kittens as "bait" by gently placing the kitten in the far end of the trap and securing it there with a small piece of hardware cloth as a divider. You must be very careful to place the trap in a shady spot away from the house. Do not leave the kitten there for a maximum of two hours. Generally, the kitten will sound a distress call for its mother and she will come running and enter the trap for the kitten. Be extremely careful handling the mother, place her and the kittens in a secure calm place until you can contact a local volunteer organization that can manage them for you. However, most animal rescue groups are inundated with calls for help and may not be able to help you. Be prepared to hold onto the cats until you can find a suitable option.
  • If you are having trouble catching animals, try placing bait around the trap, in addition to inside of it. This may help "lure" animals to the area. Try different combinations of bait and locations and with persistence you are sure to catch the animal.
  • You may wish to try "hazing" an animal before attempting to trap it. Hazing is essentially disturbing the animal enough or making your property unattractive enough to it that it will seek more pleasant environs elsewhere. There are a variety of fairly humane hazing techniques, including making noise, using ultrasonic deterrents, and erecting barriers.
    • If possible, remove food sources from the area. Pet food or birdseed left out can also attract unwanted visitors such as skunks and raccoons. Also, thoroughly cover and contain trash, especially food waste.
  • Secure the door before transporting (ex. with a zip tie). This will keep the door shut during transport, in case the road is rough or the vehicle must brake suddenly.


  • It is illegal in some states to transport an animal. Massachusetts is one such state. The concern is prevention of spread of rabies should the animal prove infected. Some states, like Oregon, require a wildlife transport permit.
  • If an animal does bite you, please contact a doctor immediately, and bring the animal. The doctor will ask to examine the animal for any diseases that it may have transmitted to you through the bite.
  • Do not trap females who you know to have been pregnant or are caring for a litter. Removing the mother will guarantee a prolonged, miserable death for the babies.
  • Do not release cats in a new area without first containing them for a couple of weeks. If you drop them off in an unfamiliar area, they will try to find their way back to the old place and may get injured or killed on their journey as they cross streets and face predators. It is generally irresponsible to drop off a cat just anywhere. Other people will not want stray cats in their neighborhood, and as such, all trapped cats should be taken to an animal shelter.
  • Be careful when transporting or releasing an animal. Wear thick gloves and clothing, in case the animal tries to bite you.
  • Check with your local fish and wildlife department before engaging in any trapping endeavor.

Things You'll Need

  • A Havahart trap.
  • Bait items like fresh vegetables, sunflower seeds, fresh liver, chick entrails, etc. Bait items depend on the type of animal you would like to catch.
  • Time. Catching animals is about persistence. Depending on your location, it could take you a couple of hours or a couple of weeks. Just remember - do not leave the trap set out without checking it often.

Sources and Citations

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