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The DIY Paiute Deadfall Trap

This trap is named after the native Paiute people. They were nomadic hunter gatherers whose life revolved around animals, wild plants, and community. Hunting by trapping, snares, and deadfalls was a way of life. The Paiutes did start using horses after the Plains Indians introduced them to them, but they stayed in their natural way of life for many decades past the introduction of Europeans.

Sadly, this is what brought about their demise into a destitute tribe today. Illness and forced religious conversion. This is not the forum for that, but my heart breaks thinking about it. The Paiute were a richly traditional people who shared a history with animals, Manitou, spirits, jokes, poetry and storytelling passed down in the traditional way of oral telling.

An ancient Paiute Indian camp:

The Paiutes would have used twisted vines, leather lashings, or sinew from animals as the cordage in the type of trap. They were on the move and needed methods of catching game that moved with them and were quick to set up. Permanent pits or long treks away from the village were not viable options. They need ways to trap on the ice and all weather conditions, which was easy to harvest the meat for the women and younger warriors to help in collecting. The environment was arid and it was a harsh subsistence for the Indians, but they used the land and their love of it to live in harmony. I do miss the times when every man and animal was treated with respect and considered connected. It must have been quite different then.

Native American legends of the Paiute.

worm farming

Snares and traps like this have been used for centuries and spread to the North American settlements, their use blew up when fur companies were established and fur trapping was a highly paid trade as pelts gained an ever increasing value. Trapping is considered one of the oldest professions.

The use of snares to trap animals is an ancient art and actually predates recorded history. I guess when man saw animals get entangled in some vines, his primitive brain set out to find a way to do it by his hand for the dinner bowl. Maybe the tribe’s thinkers saw how ill equipped man was to hunt with his non-claws and dull teeth, no matter the opposable thumb, so his brain had to be put to use for his survival. An opposable thumb and a reasoning brain were all that were allotted to man versus sabretooth tigers and wooly mammoths!

Paiute deadfall over a small pit, a variation on this one we are using:

Snares were found with pitfalls, spearheads, and other Stone Age weapons. The snare is found in Paleolithic artwork. Snares work well for most mammals as weather doesn’t affect them, and in dangerous situations with big predators like bear or mountain lions, it’s a lot safer than most traps. For such an ancient way of trapping, it is surprising that the Plains Indians method of snaring such as this Paiute Deadfall would rise in popularity again in 1972 when the US Fish and Wildlife service needed to contain predators and it’s listed as using 28% of its budget for snares for coyotes mainly that year.

Be sure to check your states laws and regulations when using snares to “hunt” animals in your yard or local hunting grounds. Look for things like scat, trails where animals have been, babies where a burrow or den may be close by, foliage that has been feed upon, food and water sources and sheltering cover like trees, shrubs and overhanging greenery. Small game will not be in the open for hawks and other predators to get them away from quick cover.

Most snare traps consist of 3 main parts or elements. These will of course be modified to the animal you want to hunt. But this is a basic overview of a snare set up.

1 The actual noose that will constrict around the animals neck, or paw, that is set up so the animal’s path comes across it. That may be for food, for passing, or hidden in a trail.

2 A triggering system that set the noose into action. The cord or string will be tied to the trigger in some way and when dislodged, a spring, weight, or counterbalance tightens the noose around the animals preventing it from escaping. If the animal struggles it may suffocate it, so it’s important to check daily if you can so nothing eats your hard work.

3 An engine or spring stick, which is connected somehow to the trigger. It can be a large branch to whip it back when freed, or a weight may drag it, or like in this deadfall trap, the bait activated the simple mechanics and signals the trigger to go off.

DIY Paiute Deadfall Trap

To make this trap there are 3 pieces of wood that are straight, then a smaller piece. Only 2 cuts are needed, one flat edge and one notched. Some traps need up to 7 cuts and pieces of wood. When we refer to the vertical, the diagonal, the smallest being the trigger, and the bait stick, we are talking about the 4 pieces.

DIY Paiute-Deadfall trap paiute materials
Photo: DIY Paiute-Deadfall trap paiute materials
  • You will use about one foot of cordage, string, rope or paracord. It doesn’t have to be the strongest cord, just something to tie things together with.
  • You will need the “Deadfall” part, the rock with one smooth side. A pretty good weight.
  • The diagonal needs to be about 2/3 the length of the vertical. Use a shape knife, be careful and any sticks will do. Branches or anything straight from the backyard should be good.

How it works

I will show you the finished Paiute Deadfall assembled and set up. It is a very sensitive trap, as it relies on balance. The baited stick is balanced very precariously between the trigger and your rock. The top notch of the diagonal has the weight of the rock bearing down on it. This makes the diagonal swings outwards when the trap is activated by the animal pulling on the bait stick.

The cord keeps it in place until activation of the trigger. When it’s activated, the whole assembly crashes down and flattens whatever is under the rock. It is very speedy and very humane as it happens so fast.

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap paiute complete

The precise cuts of the supporting sticks help it function in a quick and deadly manner.

This is the notch to be placed at the apex of the diagonal.

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap cut 2

The second cut is a flat 2-sided placed at the top of the vertical stick.

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap cut 1

A closer view of them locking together. This is a key mechanism in deadfall traps, the classic 4 stick deadfall we will explore at a later time but this is where the Paiute Deadfall charges ahead at only having a few pieces. The figure 4 deadfall has almost twice as many at this one! The less is better for me, so I like this one a lot.

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap join

Close up of the trigger mechanism. The upper part on the cordage holds the weight of the rock. This is quite a smart way of doing it, no wonder it has seen thousands of years of use! If it works, then by all means don’t change it.

Closer view of the connection of cord and the trigger:

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap paiute cord

I hope you enjoyed learning about the Paiute Deadfall, in which I have heard described as the “Roadrunner and Coyote” of traps as the animals gets a big “Whomp!” or gets squished with little legs hanging out.

I like to use and practice my survival skills so I know that if it ever came to when I needed to provide for my family, I could. You can dramatically influence your survival chances by using resources such as this site and trying a new things a few times a month. Building snares is something that does take a bit of practice and learning different snares and using different building materials is close to my heart. I am part Cherokee, maybe it harkens back to those days. I would like to think so, but in reality, there is an underlying anxiety that we may need to know these things and use them to survive. I like snares as they are simple but extremely successful in catching small game. This gives you time to focus on the other priorities like fire, water, shelter, etc. Plus snares are extremely low in pulls on time and effort to make them.

Many of the snares we will be exploring in our Land, Air, and Sea snares series can be modified into perimeter defense alarms and intruder welcome surprises. We try to post the most efficient way to build the most effective traps that have proven history throughout history. Thank you for building snares with us!

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About Dyann Joyce

Dyann Joyce
Growing up in the Bluegrass State, it was a point of familial pride to be able to shoot, trap, identify plants and track animals. Summer camps helped us be well versed in camping, weapons, and survival skills from a young age. We were surrounded by such a lush environment and we used the resources we had. I met my soulmate in my happiest place to be- a seemingly enchanted winding trail next to a beautiful wooded glen- where I spent as much time exploring as I could during daylight hours with my trusty four-legged friends. I thought I would be a natural scientist like Audubon and travel the world NatGeo style painting and recording the fantastical. I love to create and paint in many mediums. After 3 years following the nursing track, I switched to natural and holistic medicine as that is where my passion lies. I am hoping to finish my doctorate in homeopathic and botanical medicine to achieve my nMD in Naturopathic Medicine by late 2018 (hopefully). The bucket list includes living the days painting and writing on a fully self-sufficient homestead, off-grid with our animals and family and plenty of land for the significant other (who I think is a true artist at weapons and living that way) to shoot to his heart’s content. Naturally organic living for us and the animals is a goal.

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