Hmmm, So You Want to Catch a Squirrel

Why do you want to trap a squirrel? Well, perhaps because squirrels are very tasty and a great protein source or it may be that they have invaded your attic or they are destroying your garden and plants. Whatever the case, this technique will end your squirrel problems, provide you with a great meal, or both.

If your primary motive to trap a squirrel is for use as a food source, then you are in luck. They are so tasty. In fact, I have a friend that came up with a great name for squirrels; he calls them “micro-venison.”

There are many online recipes for squirrel. Once you’ve trapped a couple, just enter “squirrel recipes” into your favorite Internet search engine and you will be astonished by how many different recipes and techniques there are. Google came up with 1,540,000 hits on the subject.  Better yet, just ask your nearest country Grandma for her favorite squirrel recipes. She will be thrilled that she can pass them on to the next generation. I think that the subject of cooking squirrel could be an article of its own.

Trapping squirrels is easier than you may think.  There are many ways to snare and trap squirrels. I’m going to describe a technique for trapping squirrels that was passed on to me by my Grandfather. It is an easy, humane method for trapping squirrels. It is also very effective. I find that snares, while effective, are less humane than this technique. This method also maximizes the yield from the harvested animal and preserves the hide.  Squirrel fur has many uses. It makes great paint brushes and can be used when tying fishing flies among other things.

One caveat, that I must make you aware of is that you should check your state laws and local laws concerning seasons and limits for trapping animals. I don’t want anyone getting in trouble here. Also, if you live in suburbia or an urban environment, you may want to be discrete when using this technique. The Russians have a great saying which goes, “You don’t buy your house; you buy your neighbors’ houses”. So if you are not surrounded by “like-minded individuals”, you might want to keep your squirrel trapping on the low down. No one wants their neighbors to be angry with them.

My Grandfather was born in 1896 and lived comfortably with my Grandmother through the Great Depression. How did he do this when so many other people were struggling? It was through his knowledge of “The Old Ways” as he called it. His parents owned a farm and lived off the grid. They had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing their entire lives. To put it in perspective, his parents were born shortly after the Civil War. They had no choice but to live off the grid because there was no grid yet where they lived. My Grandfather passed this knowledge on to me as a gift and now I am passing it on to you. If you like this article then I may be persuaded to do another on his “Bathtub Gin” recipe which he perfected during Prohibition. ;-}

I will give you both the Modern and the Traditional Methods for trapping squirrels. Really the only difference between the two method is that the Traditional Method is better suited for an off the grid or SHTF situation.

First we will need to gather some tools and components. The following is what you need before starting this project:

Modern Method:

  • 1 Old-School Wooden Rat Trap
  • A Cordless Electric Drill
  • Drill bits
  • Tape Measure
  • Marking Device/Sharpie Marker/Punch
  • A Phillips Head Nut Driver for the Cordless Drill (the ones that look like + signs)
  • 2 Screws about 3 inches long
  • 1 Tbsp. Chunky Peanut Butter
  • 2 tsp. Oatmeal
  • String (optional)
  • Scissors/Knife (optional)

Traditional Method:

  • 1 Old-School Wooden Rat Trap
  • A Brace and Bit/Push Drill/Hand Drill
  • Drill Bits
  • Yardstick or Ruler
  • Marking Device/Pencil/Punch
  • Claw Hammer or Phillips Screwdriver
  • 2 Nails or Screws about 3 inches long
  • 2 Tbsp. Chunky Peanut Butter or Homemade Nut Butter (recipe below)
  • A Mortar and Pestle
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp. Oatmeal
  • String (optional)
  • Scissors/Knife (optional)

It is a pretty simple list of tools and components and for the most part a very inexpensive way to secure a nice meal. For those of you who are not familiar with the drills listed in the Traditional Method section check this web site Garrett Wade. It is a wonderful site and company. They have every conventional woodworking tool that you can think of. Some of the traditional tools are more expensive than an inexpensive, cordless drill, but may be worth the price in an off the grid or SHTF situation.

Solar can be used with modern tools. I have successfully charged my drill battery via solar methods, but all batteries eventually go bad. You make the choice for what best suits your own situation.



Here is a picture of the gathered tools and components for the project:

This is a brief overview of the process:

  • Determine how to attach the trap to a tree
  • Prepare the trap for attachment
  • Find a tree
  • Attach the trap
  • Bait the trap
  • Set the trap
  • Catch a squirrel

Determine how to attach the trap to a tree:

The first thing that we need to do is to determine how we plan to attach the rat trap to the tree. In both the modern and traditional methods you have two choices depending on how you feel about screwing or nailing the trap onto the tree. Follow the directions in one of the next two paragraphs depending on your feelings and then continue with the remaining steps below. 

Prepare the trap for attachment

Trap Not Screwed to the Tree

This method requires you to drill two holes horizontally through the width of the rat trap base. To be clear, you will drill the holes through the sides of the rat trap not the painted face of the trap. The drill holes are parallel to the writing on the face of the trap. You will then run string through the two holes and tie the trap to the tree.

In the modern method you use your cordless electric drill; in the traditional you use your brace and bit, push drill, or hand drill. This can be tricky when using the traditional method.  It is best to put the trap into a vice if you decide to go the traditional route. Make sure that you use a bit that is large enough to allow the string to pass through but won’t split the base of the trap.

While this method works, it is not as secure as screwing or nailing the trap to the tree and it may take longer to catch a squirrel since they will have to get used to the trap and string being on the tree.

Trap Screwed/Nailed to the Tree

To screw or nail the trap to the tree, we drill two pilot holes in the rat trap base so that we don’t split it when either nailing it or screwing it onto the tree. Select a drill bit that is slightly smaller in diameter than the screw or nail that you plan to use. Drill the holes centered width-wise, about an inch and a half from the top and bottom of the trap. Drill through the painted face of the trap. In the modern method you use your cordless electric drill; in the traditional you use your brace and bit, push drill, or hand drill.

This is a picture of the trap with the marks for the pilot holes. They are the two small black dots in the center at the top and bottom of the trap.


This is a picture after the holes are drilled.

trap 2

This is a picture showing the screws in the pilot holes for reference

trap 3


Find a tree

The next step is to find a tree in an area where there are squirrels. The tree could be in your backyard or somewhere off in a forest. It is best to find a place close to home so that you can easily check your trap from time to time to see if you have harvested a squirrel or if the trap has been sprung.

How do you know if squirrels are in the area? If the tree is in your back yard, you have probably seen them scurrying around. Simple observation in the forest will tell you where they are. Find an oak, maple, or any nut tree, sit down, relax, enjoy the scenery, and watch for movement in the trees or the sound of scampering feet on the leaves. If there is danger nearby such as a hawk or other predator, the squirrels will chatter to warn each other.

Another pretty good bet is to find a tree with a squirrel nest in its branches. A squirrel nest is fairly easy to identify. They are usually high up in the branches of a hardwood tree. They are larger than most bird’s nests and are made of forest products like branches, leaves, and twigs. Usually a tall tree with a large canopy is the best. 

Attach the trap

Once you’ve found the perfect tree, it is now time to attach the rat trap to the tree.  Depending on your decision as to whether to screw/nail the trap to the tree or using the string method, follow the proper paragraph below and then move on to the next step “Bait the Trap”. Make sure that your placement of the trap is high enough off the ground that predators will not be able to get to your catch.

String Method

Simply take a ball of string and wrap it around your selected tree twice. Add an extra 18 inches to the length of the string, then cut the string a pair of scissors or a knife. Cut the length of string in half and run each of the pieces through one of the holes in the rat trap.

Position the trap at the proper height as described in the step above with the bail/back bow towards the sky. The bail/back bow is usually square piece of thick copper wire with two springs attached to it. It will be positioned at the top of the trap when the trap is not set. In other words, position the trap so that you can read the writing on the face of the trap.

Wrap the top string around the tree and pull it tight. If it is a large tree that you can’t reach around, you may need a helper or you can place the trap on the ground and wrap each end of the string around the tree and then move it into place.

Tie a knot in the string to hold the trap in place. A bow knot like you use to tie your shoes works well in case you want to move the trap to another location. Repeat the same steps with the string in the bottom hole.

Screw/Nail Method

Position the trap at the proper height as described in the step above with the bail/back bow towards the sky. The bail/back bow is usually a square piece of thick copper wire with two springs attached to it. It will be positioned at the top of the trap when the trap is not set.  In other words, position the trap so that you can read the writing on the face of the trap.

You may want to drill pilot holes in the tree. If you are using longer screws this will make it easier to attach the trap and you won’t strip the screw heads. You can use the holes in the trap as a template. Simply position the trap where you want it on the tree, place the drill bit in the top hole in the trap base and drill into the tree. Repeat the procedure with the bottom hole in the base.

If you are using the modern method, put the nut driver that matches the type and size of the screw head into your cordless electric drill. Place a screw into the top pre-drilled pilot hole and use the drill to screw the trap onto the tree. Repeat with the bottom screw hole.

If you are using the traditional method place a nail in the top pilot hole and use the hammer to drive it in. Repeat the same step with the bottom hole. If you are using the traditional method with screws, follow the steps in this paragraph above for the modern method, substituting a screwdriver for the cordless electric drill and nut driver.

This is a picture of a trap screwed to the tree. Sometimes you will need to place bark or sticks behind the trap to account for odd shapes and depressions in the trunk of the tree. If you want to make more work for yourself, you can screw small wooden blocks into the depression first and then attach the traps to the blocks. In my opinion that this too much effort; it doesn’t have to be perfect.

IMG_7_opt Bait the trap

It is best to use a combination of crunchy peanut butter and oatmeal in both the modern or traditional method. If you wish to follow the traditional method and want to make your bait from scratch, see the recipe for Homemade Squirrel Nut Butter Bait below.

Take a tablespoon or so of peanut butter and mix it with 2 teaspoons of oatmeal. The chunkiness of the peanut butter and the oatmeal will help the bait stick to the trap better.  Use a spoon to place the glob of peanut butter and oatmeal mix on the bait pedal of the trap.

The bait pedal is the rectangular, copper colored piece that is secured to the base of the rat trap typically in between the springs of the trap. Try not to cover up the locking bar with the bait; it will make it more difficult to set. The locking bar is the long piece of wire attached to the bottom of the wooden base. It has a crook at its free end.


Ok, here are the bait ingredients and the finished bait.






Doesn’t this look yummy?

bait 2

This is the baited trap. Notice how I didn’t follow my own advice. The bait pedal is covered. It will still set, but it will be more difficult to accomplish. It is best if this is your first try at this to wipe the bait off of the locking portion of the bait pedal with a paper towel. . It is the part that looks like a sideward “V” on the bait pedal. Leave bait on the rest of the bait pedal. You can see the locking bar hanging at the end of the trap.


Set the trap

Pull the back bow to the bottom of the trap and hold it down with your thumb. Engage the locking bar with your other hand by slipping it under the vertical piece of the bait pedal. It is where the bait pedal is attached to the base with a staple. Make sure that the top of the bait bar is towards you and not stuck to the surface of the base of the trap. You may want to practice this a few times before the trap is baited in case this is not something that you’ve done before. It is not hard; it just requires a little finesse in some cases.

Once the locking bar is engaged, gently release pressure on the bail/back bow and keep all of your fingers out of the way. Believe me when I say that you don’t want to get your fingers caught in a rat trap. The trap is now set and ready to catch a squirrel.

Here is the set trap ready to catch dinner, lunch, or breakfast. You will notice that the bait bar is totally covered by bait except the locking portion. IMG_9_opt

Catch a Squirrel

You are now all set to catch a squirrel. You need to check your trap periodically to make sure that the bait hasn’t been stolen or has fallen off and to see if you have a catch. Squirrels are most active just after daylight and just before dusk. After these two events is a good time to check your traps. Be very diligent checking your traps. You don’t want a catch to spoil or have a predator steal your catch.

Happy trapping! I hope that this has been informative, easy to understand, and fun for anyone who spends the time to read it. I really had fun sharing it. 

Homemade Squirrel Nut Butter Bait


Any local nuts that you find on the ground (Acorn, Hickory, Butter, Chestnut, Buckeye, etc.)

Vegetable oil




Shell the nuts and chop them

Dry the nuts several days or dry them in a solar or electric dehydrator.

Once dry, grind the nuts into the consistency of chunky peanut butter using a mortar and pestle.

Add just enough vegetable oil to the ground nuts if needed to make a thick paste.

Mix thoroughly.

Take about a tablespoon or so of the nut butter and mix it with 2 teaspoons of oatmeal.


Note: This article was an entry in our August – September 2014 writing contest. Click here to find out about our current writing contest.

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  • James Burnette says:

    I was just talking about doing this on the homestead. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Curt Henry says:

      Cool, give it a shot. It works. Multiple traps work will improve your odds and don’t cost too much. It works really well when they are getting ready for winter or when food is scarce. Good luck, let me know how it goes.

  • JJM says:

    Enjoyed. I was planning to purchase a couple live traps but the rat traps will be easier to store, set and use.

  • maria says:

    This article was easy to read and provided explicit detail. This method seems as simple as can be and even a great way to get your feet wet if you want to start trapping. As a mom who has thought of how she would feed her children in a pinch, i feel confident i could pull this off now. i always have a few traps on hand and in my pack and thought, “i’ll figure it out”, well, now i don’t have to, excellent how-to guide.

    1. Hi Maria,
      you know, I’ve been meaning to make a video that shows how to prepare small game (gophers, rats, small birds) in a way that makes it much more palatable. My biggest concern is making sure the animals were eating a clean diet. Rats living in NYC??? no way! LOL. And yes, as a woman I find it is very empowering to know I can catch and eat these small critters. Historically animals like deer almost went extinct with human hunting pressure during the depression. But not rats…

  • Vic says:

    I hope people will put these traps rather high up in the tree so curious dogs and cats don’t get “trapped.”

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