How to Build a Live Animal Trap

How to build a live animal trap to protect your vegetable plot, including materials, diagram, how the trap works, and trap construction.

| July/August 1987

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    Matt's caught opossums, squirrels, rabbits, rats and even birds with his DIY live animal trap.
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    Diagram of plans to build a live animal trap.

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Matt wears stiff gloves when handling any animal—like this rabbit—caught in his garden-guarding live animal trap. He uses unshelled corn or pieces of apple for rabbit bait, and walnuts to lure squirrels. To protect his trap from human thieves, he always sets it in an out-of-sight, sheltered location. 

How to Build a Live Animal Trap

Having trouble with varmints in your garden? If so, you'll appreciate the Haight family secret I'm about to share. Back when I was seven years old, my dad taught me how to build a live animal trap that will catch rabbits, squirrels, rats, birds and opossums. He learned how to build it from his dad, and we really don't know where Grandpa picked it up. It works great, it's perfectly humane and it's easy to build. You can even make it for almost nothing if you salvage your materials, and it will capture the animals that raid your garden. Then you can simply haul them off and release them in the woods.


Using ¾ inch plywood or 1inch lumber (both are actually ¾ inch thick), cut two 19 inch by 8¾ inch pieces for the sides . . . one 19¼ inch by 7 inch piece for the top . . . one 20 inch by 8¾ inch piece for the bottom . . . one 8 inch by 7 inch piece for the front . . . and one 16 inch by 8¾ inch piece for the rear. You will also need about 2½ feet of nylon string, a handful of 2 inch nails, two 1-½ inch wood screws and a 6 inch by 6 inch piece of metal screen.

How the Trap Works

The trap is simple but effective. When an animal jostles the trigger by chewing on the bait stick, the string that holds up the top and front is released. Those pieces (which, nailed together as a unit, make the trap's door) pivot on their hinge in the back of the trap and fall down. The box then shuts like giant jaws closing shut.


Take the rear piece and cut it as shown in the diagrams, taking off two corners to form a modified V on one end and sawing a small notch at the V's end for the trap's string. Next, nail this piece and the sides onto the bottom. Nail them so they stand on top of the bottom piece (rather than having the bottom fit inside the sides and rear). That way the top will fit snugly on the trap when it closes. Also, as you nail the back to the sides, be sure not to drive your nails too close to the top of the sides. Stop 1 inch short to leave room for the wood screws that will make the hinge.

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