The 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.

a Paiute deadfall trap
a Paiute deadfall trap

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.

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.

Paiute Deadfall Trap in Action! Catching Rats and Mice. Bushcraft Survival Skills.

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!

Deadlfall trap made by one of our writers, Ryan Dotson, using two sticks and a wide piece of wood:

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 bears 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 state’s 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 fed 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.

The Three Parts of a Snare Trap

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.

Part 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.

Part 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.

Part 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
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.

paiute deadfall trap diagram

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.

deadfall trap trigger diagram

Closer view of the connection of cord and the trigger:

DIY Paiute Deadfall trap paiute cord

Real-Life Example of the Paiute Deadfall

So far you’ve only seen diagrams, so here are some photos that show how to make it. We start with the materials:

Paiute Deadfall Trap Items Needed

…and this is the set-up viewed from different angles:

Paiute Deadfall side view


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.

Paiute Deadfall Trap close-up

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 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’m 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 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!

paiute deadfall trap pinterest

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