8 Effective Primitive Traps for Large Game - Survival Sullivan

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You often hear trapping discussed in the context of long-term sustainment for preppers. Traps have been used for millennia in order to catch all kinds of game, typically of the smaller varieties be they fowl or furred.8 Effective Primitive Traps for Large Game - Survival Sullivan

Traps are undeniably effective, especially when set in large numbers and methodically inspected. But you will typically only hear trapping advocated for the catching of small game.

As it turns out, traps can be employed on larger game, even dangerous game. This, as you might imagine, is an entirely different endeavor than catching a muskrat, a raccoon or a rabbit. The larger the animal, the stronger it is, and the greater the fight it can put up.

Many traps effective for the catching of small game will not scale for the catching of large game. Specialized knowledge of trap construction and employment is necessary for success if you are after larger quarry.

Nonetheless, history furnishes us plenty of ancient designs that can be employed in austere and primitive environments today to successfully hold or kill large animals.

In today’s article, we will be looking at 8 trap designs suitable for large game.

The Challenges of Trapping Large Game

Trapping larger animals presents many unique challenges compared to trapping smaller ones. Larger animals are always, by virtue, more powerful, and typically possess more stamina.

The ones you’re probably going to hut by means of a primitive trap are:


… and anything else that you either want to eat or defend yourself from.

Getting an instant kill on a larger animal with a primitive trap is often impossible. That means any animal caught by your trap is likely to fight ferociously.

If you are not near by to dispatch the quarry, it will have the capability and the time to potentially free itself, even if it is wounded. If you are nearby waiting to dispatch the game you will have to take care of it and that might entail danger for you, the trapper.

Lacking a firearm or a bow, or some other long-range lethal weapon, you will have to close in with the animal and attempt to dispatch it the old fashioned way.

All told, successfully trapping larger game will be a severe test for your trap theory, design and construction skills.

Luck always makes a difference when it comes to trapping, but after large animals you will have precious little room for error.

You owe it to both yourself and the animal to succeed; you would not see the considerable amount of effort required to construct a trap for large animal wasted, and you would not see a maimed animal get loose to die in pain and misery later.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

It must be said that trapping should only be undertaken when you have sufficient skill, and are within the confines of the law.

The legality of trapping, and what species may be trapped under what circumstances with what specific traps, varies country to country and locale to locale.

It is up to you to learn and understand these laws before employing any trap, unless you are truly in a dire emergency survival situation.

Also, one should keep in mind that any trap suitable for the catching or killing of large animals is also more than a match for a human being.

Any trap should be placed with maximum caution and marked in such a way a human being will see it if the trap is camouflaged.

Great care should be taken to ensure that no one can accidentally encounter or trigger the trap.

Also, the setting of any trap on this list for deliberate use against a human being is likely a felony anywhere.

But, if one is in a serious survival situation where the rule of law is no longer in force, traps may be just the ticket to keep marauders and scumbags away from your shelter location.

No one feels gung-ho about raiding for supplies after they see their buddy catch a sharpened spike in the chest from a whip trap.

8 Primitive Trap Designs for Large Game

All the following trap designs are suitable for the taking of large game, either containing them, holding them in place or killing them outright.

Not all trap designs, though, will be viable or feasible in all environments. It depends on how much time and manpower you have for construction and the variations in local terrain.

A pitfall is about as simple as a trap gets for large game. A pitfall trap is simply a hole in the ground, one deep enough to completely prevent the animal from escaping or climbing out and ideally deep enough to injure or kill the animal when they fall in.

All such traps will have straight, vertical or nearly vertical sides to make it difficult for the animal to climb out. With enough time, the sides of the pitfall may be lined with smooth planks to make it even harder for the animal to get out.

Pitfall traps come in two varieties: wet or dry. Dry traps are exactly what they say on the label.

Wet traps are filled with water to drown the animal after it becomes exhausted. Keep in mind that wet traps that are overfilled may assist the animal in getting out of the trap.

Pitfall traps can be constructed anywhere that large animals are found along known routes of travel, and work best in soil that is easy to dig and shape.

Alternatively, they may be placed and the animals herded or driven into them. Stony or frozen ground will make the digging of a pitfall trap extremely laborious.

Other potential complications arising from the use of a pitfall trap include getting a large or heavy animal out of the trap once you dispatch it.

A trou de loup (or “wolf hole” in French) is sometimes known today by another name, the punji pit, after the vicious Vietnam War-era variation on this ancient trap.

A trou de loup is an ancient trap, and was first described in the writings of Julius Caesar in his journals chronicling the Gallic Wars.

A wolf hole is a simple, often shallow, sloping hole with a sharpened spike or spikes embedded further into the ground at the bottom of it.

Trou de loup trap diagram. By Sakurambo – Own work, CC BY 2.5, Link

The walls of the hole are often conical to act as a funnel directing the limb, or the entire animal, onto the spike.

Variations on the wolf whole include multiple spikes at the bottom or crafting them as large, pitfall style traps studded with spikes across the entirety of the floor or walls. This latter XL variation is also known as a tiger trap.

To increase effectiveness, the holes may be concealed by thin woven coverings and further camouflaged with local vegetation.

Alternately, thin wicker coverings can be constructed that will break with little effort when stepped on.

Historically wolf holes were used as defensive fortifications around fortresses or prepared ahead of advancing armies.

One devious variation involves using them in fields that were known to flood or that could be flooded, so they would be completely concealed by swirling water, and add an element of danger from drowning to those so affected by them.

The adaptability of wolf holes makes them ideal for the taking of large game. They are simple to construct, and can be employed across a wide area relatively quickly, increasing your chances of bagging quarry.

You can also construct a wolf hole in such a way that secondary spikes will pierce the leg or body of anything caught in it, preventing them from getting free.

One shortcoming of wolf holes is their propensity to maim instead of hold or kill outright. Care must be taken to ensure your trap inflicts a truly debilitating wound on any animal that steps into it.

Primitive nets can prove surprisingly effective against large game, especially when woven with, care and weighted around the perimeter.

Such a net that is dropped from above or blundered through will severely entangle, slow and potentially immobilize even a large animal. Only the most powerful animals will be able to tear themselves free in short order to escape.

The obvious drawback of using net traps is the time, skill and care, not to mention raw materials needed, to construct one effectively.

In most circumstances, a net is completely ineffective at killing the target animal on its own; you’ll need to be ready to deliver the coup de grace if you don’t want your quarry to get away.

On the other hand, nets are often easily reused and they only need a little repair before they are good to go again.

Assuming you have the right terrain or are willing to babysit the trap, triggers for the dropping of nets are relatively easy to construct and they can always be manually employed from a high vantage point.

Snares are ancient, simple and highly effective traps utilizing a noose and slipknot arrangement to close a loop of rope or cord around an animal using either a trigger mechanism or the prey’s own movement.

Ancient snares made from cord or rope can easily be deployed in quantity to increase the chances of a successful capture and are easily constructed and reset compared to some of the other traps on this list.

Snares are available in two broad types, limb-hold or neck-hold (sometimes body-hold). The former is used to immobilize the animal until it can be dispatched by the trapper.

The latter, constructed properly, is most often lethal via strangulation or sometimes the breaking of the neck.

Snares can be employed in all kinds of places and use a variety of triggers depending on the animal that one is after.

The type of snare and the corresponding trigger must be tailored to an animal’s behavior and the overall strategy in order to increase the chances of success.

Some snares will be used with bait, either to lure the animal close enough to get its limb or neck caught in the snare, while others won’t be, relying on the animal’s travel habits along a trail or similar path to snag it.

Snares can be constructed entirely out of found material, and if one has skill at rope making snare lines of shocking strength can be created and employed using nothing but primitive materials.

It is even possible to construct a snare with a sort of stopper on the noose that is intended as a non-lethal snare or only to temporarily restrain an animal, useful for rounding up large livestock that has gotten away or capturing a potential beast of burden without injuring it.

A deadfall trap is one that uses a heavy, suspended weight to crush the target animal. This weight is most often a large log or boulder, but could be made from other materials, such as mud compacted and left to dry in slabs.

Deadfalls may be manually triggered by the trapper, but are often victim triggered and can rely on any number of common, primitive trap triggers for activation.

The general rule of thumb with a deadfall trap is that the weight should be five to seven times heavier then the target in order to ensure a clean dispatch and immobilization of the target in the case of a partial hit.

For larger animals, this means coming up with a weight heavy enough to ensure a clean kill may be challenging, to say nothing of moving, and placing and staging it.

Deadfalls may be constructed close to the ground, levered up and propped in position by the trigger mechanism itself, or hoisted over a branch or other pulley system to be suspended freely.

Deadfalls set closer to the ground are harder to escape from in time but do not pack as much punch as one that is suspended over head.

Great care must be taken in their construction and placement, since anything heavy enough to be effective against a large animal is certainly effective enough to inflict terrible injuries to a human being.

A whip trap is a particularly brutal one that relies upon the elastic properties of a branch bound by twisted rope or a green sapling held under tension with a crown of spikes or a single large spike.

When activated, a whip trap will propel this sharpened spike or group of spikes into the target animal. Whip traps have the advantage of inflicting grievous wounds before the target can react in most circumstances.

Constructed and emplaced with knowledge of the quarry’s habits and size, a whip trap can inflict a wound on an animal that can severely hobble it or prevent it from escaping entirely.

These traps can be technically challenging to construct, and depending on the amount of supplies and natural resources in your area may not be a feasible choice.

Whip traps are usually placed horizontally and are intended to strike the vital area of the quarry. Occasionally, they will be constructed in a vertical fashion, striking from below by rotating or whipping upward and even more rarely placed over head to swing down.

In most circumstances, horizontal whip traps will provide you with the most flexibility and greater effectiveness and ease of placement, no pun intended.

Great care must be taken with whip traps, however, as any mistake in construction or emplacement is likely to only wound an animal before allowing it to escape and then die miserably later.

Whip traps are also extremely dangerous to the trapper even while they are being set.

You don’t have to be in front of the business end to be injured by a whip trap, as any breakage of a load under tension is likely to hurt you one way or another.

A rarely-used type of trap that employs features of both snares and deadfalls, a drowner trap is designed to entangle and drag an animal into a body of water where it will subsequently drown, hence the name.

Drowner traps are highly situational, and depend on an animal being enticed close to a sheer drop off into a body of water that they cannot merely walk out of.

A drowner trap works by utilizing a snare connected to a heavy weight that is subsequently sent toppling into proximal body of water, dragging the unfortunate animal with it.

The water must be deep enough for the animal to actually drown in, and isolated enough to not be potentially carried away by any current.

Drowner traps have the advantage of keeping the animal entirely intact, barring any damage from the fall into the body of water.

They do not pierce or mutilate the quarry, keeping all meat and fur intact and eliminating the chance that intestines or other organs might be ruptured upon the triggering of the trap.

The disadvantage of the drowner trap include being very difficult to set up and completely dependent upon ideal terrain conditions.

You will rarely have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to make effective use of a drowner trap, but if you do they are one of the most efficient and certain killers among the traps on this list.

A foothold is a sort of primitive bear trap. It relies upon planks, branches, or small logs configured over a foot size hole in the ground.

When the animal steps into the foothold trap, the jaws formed by the planks or branches are leveraged shut, either under tension or using simple mechanical leverage.

With their foot or leg caught or even crushed by the jaws of the foothold, the target animal will be hobbled and held in place.

These traps pretty much exclusively are used to hold an animal in position until the trapper can come along and finish it and are reasonably effective against most larger prey species, but less effective against most predators which have the strength and natural tools to free themselves in most circumstances.

Foothold traps are also hampered by their comparative intricacy compared to some other traps on this list.

Nonetheless, foothold traps have a very small footprint (heh) compared to other traps and require drastically less manual labor to employ.

If you’re more of a technical wizard then a deep woods strongman, a foothold trap variation might be a good one to add to your large game repertoire.


Primitive traps are not just for the catching of small game and birds. Larger animals have been successfully held and dispatched by traps for millennia, and you should not discount the ability of these specialized traps do the same thing for you in a survival situation.

They all require considerably more investment of effort than their smaller cousins, but the results may be well worth it.