How to Make a Deadfall Trap (With 3 Tutorials)

Need to catch dinner in the wilderness? Go set a deadfall trap.

Trapping is one of the oldest ways to get food in the wild. People have been using traps to catch small to medium-sized game in between major hunts. Learning how to set a few good traps in ideal locations can cut your chances of starving significantly.

Primitive traps like the deadfall are especially popular among survivalists and bushcraft enthusiasts because they’re straightforward and relatively easy to construct. They also come in different variations that can fit your individual situation and skill level.

Need to brush up on your primitive trapping skills? Read on for easy-to-follow tutorials and tips:

Primitive Trapping Basics

a man is using a bow and arrow

Any prepper or bushcrafter worth his salt should know how to trap animals for food, fur, and other purposes. Actively hunting for game is always best for fresh meat, but trapping can save you a lot of time and energy, especially if you find yourself in a survival situation with little to no modern tools.

Before we look into the ins and outs of making deadfall trap configurations, here’s a quick refresher on the basics of trapping:

What are you trapping?

Your trap depends on the size and species of animal. As a trapper, you have to know what type of animals frequent the area. Watch out for tracks and pawprints, disturbed vegetation, and droppings to identify the critters.

Deadfall traps, in particular, are great for catching small to medium animals like rodents, squirrels, and prairie dogs.

Finding the perfect location to set your trap

Location is crucial when setting traps. Once you’ve identified the kind of animal you want to capture, you can now zero in on where to put your trap. Construct it near the animal’s habitat (outside its burrow or hiding place), or in places where it usually gets food and water.

Set the trap to make it look as natural as possible by covering it with soil or leaves. Unlike humans, animals have a very keen sense of smell, so remove or mask any human trace by wearing gloves and handling the trap as little as possible.

Skills needed in trapping

As mentioned earlier, you have to know what type of animals live in the area, so a sharp set of tracking skills will come in handy when making traps. Trapping requires other bushcraft basics like whittling, making cordage, and tying effective knots, as in the case of most deadfall traps. And, of course, field dressing and bushcraft cooking skills will ultimately come in handy when it’s time to eat.

What’s the best type of bait to use in trapping?

a deadfall trap is a primitive trapping mechanism that's simple but effective

Not all baits are created equal. Use one that will attract your target animal. Most small mammals like rats and squirrels love to munch on nuts, seeds, and fruit, so use those when baiting your deadfall trap.

Safety precautions to follow

Constructing deadfall traps can seriously hurt you if you’re not careful. When setting one up, put a temporary support rock to hold up the deadfall weight. This way, you don’t accidentally activate the trap and crush your fingers.

Local trapping regulations

Some areas regulate or prohibit trapping animals for food or other purposes, so check local regulations before setting out traps.

A Closer Look at the Deadfall Trap

People have been using the deadfall trap since the dawn of civilization to catch a meal—and it remains one of the best primitive traps to this day.

The reason?

Deadfall traps simply work.

This primitive trapping mechanism uses a heavy rock or logs propped up by sticks to capture prey. Once the animal takes the bait, the sticks collapse, and the animal gets instantly crushed beneath the weight. It’s an effective and straightforward way to catch a meal, especially if you don’t have modern supplies at your disposal.

Types of Deadfall Traps

There are three main types of deadfall traps, namely the Paiute, Figure 4, and Split Stick. You’ll find detailed tutorials of these variations below:

Paiute Deadfall Trap

The Paiute deadfall trap is believed to have been invented by the Native American tribe of the same name. It’s also arguably the most popular among the deadfall trap varieties since it’s easy to set up and has a very sensitive trigger that allows you to catch prey in a snap.

The Paiute deadfall trap uses a total of 4 wood components:

  • One long diagonal stick to support the deadfall weight
  • One shorter vertical stick that holds up the diagonal portion
  • One small twig that serves as a trigger stick
  • A small piece of wood that will act as a toggle

What sets it apart from other configurations is that it uses cordage to hold these components together. You can use any available cordage, including dry fibers from plants like milkweed or stinging nettle.

In the video above, you’ll see a detailed tutorial on how to build an effective Paiute deadfall trap using primitive materials and methods.

Traps like these usually take a bit of trial and error before you get it right. Consider vital factors like the angle of the rock, the height of the trap, or the placement of the bait. Adjusting any of these can significantly improve your chances of catching the target animal.

Figure 4 Deadfall Trap

It’s pretty safe to say that the Figure 4 deadfall trap is the Paiute’s less trigger-sensitive cousin. Many find the Figure 4 quite challenging since it needs a sharp set of carving and whittling skills. It also needs some time to master and doesn’t deploy as quickly as the Paiute.

Still, when made correctly, it does a decent enough job, so knowing how to make an effective Figure 4 should still be part of your skills arsenal.

To construct a Figure 4 deadfall trap, you need three sticks:

  • 1 long diagonal stick that holds up the deadfall weight
  • 1 horizontal stick that goes near the base
  • 1 shorter vertical stick that holds everything together and acts as the trigger

All three sticks should be straight and of roughly the same diameter.

Notice that instead of cordage, the Figure 4 deadfall trap uses notches carved into the sticks to hold the entire structure together.

This is the tricky part: each notch should be carved just right and must fit well with each other to support the trap. It’s like making your own puzzle pieces. Carving notches takes considerable skill, so if it’s your first time making this trap, be patient.

The Figure also needs a balance between strength and sensitivity. The trigger, located at the base of the trap, should be strong enough to support the trap’s weight but sensitive enough to deploy quickly.

Because the Figure 4 deadfall trap doesn’t deploy as easily as the Paiute, it’s important to create as many traps as possible to increase your chances of catching food.

Split Stick Deadfall Trap

The split-stick deadfall trap is basically a cross between the Paiute and the Figure 4. It’s got a very sensitive trigger like the Paiute but, similar to the Figure 4, it doesn’t use any cordage.

The principle behind this trap is quite simple.

Take a long stick and cut it roughly in half. Next, carve notches on their meeting points so they loosely fit together. Make a larger notch in one of the sticks to make the trap more sensitive. Then put a small, thin stick in between these two components. This will serve as your trigger mechanism. Once the target animal takes the bait, the entire structure collapses, and the animal gets crushed beneath the deadfall weight.

It’s as easy as that.

Perhaps the only disadvantage to the split stick deadfall trap is that it could easily collapse due to other factors, like the wind. Nonetheless, it’s a good way to practice your bushcraft trapping skills and also catch an animal in the process.

Quick Facts About Deadfall Traps

To sum things up, here are the things you should know about deadfall traps:

  • Deadfall traps are ideal for small- to medium-sized animals such as rabbits and squirrels. 
  • The three main types of deadfall traps are the Paiute, Figure 4, and Split Stick traps.
  • Depending on where you live, rigging up a deadfall trap may be illegal, so check local regulations first. 
  • Be careful when you’re setting up a deadfall trap. It can seriously harm your hands if you accidentally trigger it. 

Final Thoughts

People have been trapping since the beginning of civilization. Although most modern traps are now manufactured, nothing beats knowing how to make primitive traps for prepping and survival.

These traps will be indispensable when you find yourself in a survival situation with little to no modern tools at your disposal.

Deadfall traps require no more than some sticks and a flat slab of rock to make. The Paiute, Figure 4, and Bait Stick deadfall traps are relatively easy to construct and are effective in catching small to medium-sized animals. They’re a good fail-safe in case you can’t catch a meal when hunting or fishing.

Continue practicing your deadfall trap-making skills and you’ll be able to catch small game for dinner in no time.

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