What Can You Catch With A Deadfall Trap?

Our early ancestors lived during some challenging times when the world was wild. They were hunter-gatherers, employing many different techniques to catch animals for food. The use of traps became a popular practice. A trap that is still useful in survival situations today is the deadfall trap. But what can you catch with these traps?

Small to medium-sized mammals are the most commonly caught animals with deadfall traps. However, you could also catch similar-sized reptiles and birds. Deadfall traps are only as effective as the bait you are using (as determined by what species you intend to target); you can also modify them.

Simple yet effective, deadfall traps are simple machines that were developed to make hunting easier. But how do they work, are there variations in the design, how can they be modified to work better, and are they limited in their efficacy to “less intelligent” animals?

Deadfall Traps, What They Can Catch, And How Effective They Are

Deadfall traps can be used to catch a variety of different animals. The most critical factor in any particular design, however, is the bait that you use.

Commonly Caught Species When Using A Deadfall Trap

These traps can catch almost anything that fits under them.

In the table below are some examples of species that are caught in deadfall traps.

Animal typeSize classExamplesBait
MammalSmallRats/miceSquirrels(Other rodents)Nuts, berries, seeds, and fruit
 MediumPossumsDeer (juvenile)RaccoonsPrairie dogsMinkMuskratsRabbits  Nuts, berries, seeds, fruit, fish, and insects  
BirdsSmallQuailsPartridges DovesNuts, seeds, and berries
 MediumPheasantsTurkeysDucks/GeeseSeeds and berries
ReptilesSmallLizardsSnakesInsects, fruit, and meat (rodents, birds)
 MediumAlligators (juvenile)Meat (fish, bird, red meat)

These are some examples of what you can catch with a deadfall trap.

Although most people target small to medium-sized mammals, there is almost no limitation in catching other similar-sized, non-mammal species.

The most important variables would be the bait used, along with the location of the trap.

I.e., you want to place a deadfall trap in an area that the animal should/does occur in. Whether it is close to a burrow/nest or along a trail with their spoor, by having an understanding of the movements and feeding of the chosen animal, you increase your chances of catching your quarry.

The Construction And Effectiveness Of Deadfall Traps

There are a few designs for deadfall traps (Paiute, Figure Four, and Split Stick, etc.), with specific materials used when building them.

Deadfall can be as elaborate or simple as needed. These traps are, in essence, a weighted killing tool/part (deadfall) attached to a release mechanism (trigger).

Common items used to make deadfall traps are:

  • Rocks
  • Sticks
  • Branches/logs
  • Rope/rope-like material
  • Knife (to cut the sticks and rope as needed, which could also be a sharp rock)

Factors Influencing The Efficacy Of Deadfall Traps

In their simplest of forms or most elaborate designs, deadfall traps effectively catch small to medium-sized animals.

The animal takes the bait, activates the release mechanism (trigger), and the weighted rock or log falls on them, killing them instantly (that’s the goal, but at least injuring them enough so that you can quickly finish them off).

Some factors that influence how effectively these traps do their jobs


  • The expertise of the trapper. As with most hunting, the hunter’s skill will play a major role in how well the trap works. Things like the quality of the knots, ropes (if they needed to be handmade), and how well they assembled the deadfall trap will be pivotal.
  • The location of the trap. Prey animals are cautious and skittish by nature. They would rather not move too far from the safety of their homes or feeding places. A trap should be set close to one of these areas to maximize its effectiveness.
  • How well the trap is hidden. By covering the trap in leaves, soil, or other natural materials, you hide it visually, but masking your scent is another important factor. If an animal smells something suspicious, chances are, it won’t take the bait.
  • The number of traps set. Trapping is a passive form of hunting, where your time can be spent elsewhere, which can be a huge benefit IF the probability of finding your desired prey is equal to or higher than if you were actively hunting. i.e., the greater the number of deadfall (and other) traps that you set, the higher the likelihood of catching something becomes.

In terms of efficiency, this is also where expertise comes in; if you can make good quality traps quickly (20 to 30 minutes a trap), you can set enough of these over a larger area.

  • The weight of the deadfall. It is common to make sure that the deadfall stone/log is at least three times the weight of whatever you are trying to catch. This ensures that the animal is either killed outright or injured enough to dispatch it quickly once captured.

Modifications To Deadfall Traps

Although there are three or four “archetypes” for deadfall traps, there are some modifications and leeway in their construction. This is generally due to what is available to the trap maker.

Some deviations include:

  • Swopping the “deadfall” for a less-lethal trap.

When it comes to catching g birds, there is often a slight modification. Instead of a weight to crush the bird, a basket is usually used to capture them. The trap still uses the same trigger system, but the part that falls is different.

  • Digging a hole under the deadfall.

If you are catching something that you wish to keep alive but don’t have the means to make a “cage,” the same effect can be achieved by digging a hole in the ground, which is slightly smaller than the deadfall. The animal takes the bait (placed inside the excavated area), the trigger is activated, and the deadfall closes the animal in the hole.

  • Changing the size of the deadfall.

If you are not content with catching small to medium-sized animals and would rather target larger game (deer, wild boar, etc.), then increasing the overall size of the trap is an option.

This can be dangerous, as a trap big enough to catch a large game animal is substantial enough to apprehend/kill a person. Very clear signs need to be placed to prevent accidental injuries, or worse.

Overall, it is not recommended to set big deadfall traps.

Limitations In Using Deadfall Traps

The biggest limitation to a deadfall trap is what resources are available. If you have a big enough rock and enough sticks, you can go for much bigger game.

However, this also has limitations. The bigger the rock, the stronger the sticks need to be, the stronger the sticks (release mechanism), the more difficult it is to release.

There are some legal parameters to consider as well. Not all states allow the use of deadfall (or other) traps, and so before using one as part of a hunting trip (unless it’s a survival situation), you need to check with the authorities on their trapping policies.


Deadfalls are a very simple type of trap, which have been in use since early man discovered how to make them, and are still popular today because they work (are effective) and can be made with very few resources. Deadfall traps can catch a variety of small to medium-sized game, depending on the bait used, the location of the traps, and the expertise of the trapper. They can also be modified to catch other species as well.


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