Raccoons are one of the worst pests that bother homesteads. Whether it’s raiding a garden for corn and melons, or eating poultry and rabbits, or just digging in trash and making a mess, raccoons are often a problem.
Traps are the easiest way to deal with problem raccoons, but traps can be expensive to purchase. The good news is that you can easily build a raccoon trap from scrap wood found around your homestead.
Anyone with basic carpentry skills can put together a box trap that will catch raccoons, opossums, and other four-legged homestead pests. Find some lumber, grab a hammer and nails, and let’s get started!
Table of Contents
To build a raccoon trap, you will need the following materials:
- Lumber 1×12 inches x 36 inches – 3 bottom and sides
- Lumber 1×12 inches x 34 inches – 1 top
- Lumber 1×12 inches x 13-1/2 inches – 1 end
- Lumber 1 x 11-3/4 x 11-3/4 inches – 1 gate
- Wood strips 1/2 x 3/4 x 10 inches – 5 for gate channel
- Eye bolt to screw into gate
- Wood strip 3/4 x 3/4 x 12 inches – 1 for trigger base
- Wood strip 3/4 x 3/4 x 30 inches – 1 for trigger top
- Dowel or wood strip 1/2 inch thick x 16 inches – 1 for trigger
Tools and hardware
- Crosscut saw to cut lumber to length
- Rip saw (if you need to rip plywood to width)
- Hammer and nails
- Screwdriver and screws
- Eye hooks
- String – about 48 inches
- Drill with 3/4 inch bit
DIY Raccoon Trap Steps
Live catch raccoon traps are also called box traps because they are just a large box with a door on one end. This trap will be three feet long and one foot square. One end is solid, while the other end is a sliding door.
You can make the box with 1×12 lumber or strips of plywood a foot wide. Make sure the plywood is at least 3/4 inch thick to that it is strong enough to hold a raccoon.
Form the Box
Start by cutting three boards 36 inches long and a fourth 34 inches long. The three-foot boards will serve as the bottom and sides, while the shorter board will form the top.
The sides should rest on the ground, outside of the bottom and top. Nail the boards together with the sides outside the edges of the end pieces. (The box in the pictures is missing a side so that I can get good pictures of the trigger and gate)
Make all four boards flush at one end, like this:
The 34 inch board should be on top. There will be a little gap at the end because it’s shorter. This is where you will fit the gate channel later.
The resulting box will be 12 inches tall and 13-1/2 inches wide (assuming you are using 1×12 lumber, which is actually 3/4 inch thick). Cut an end piece to match the width of the box and nail it to the four sides.
The last piece of the box itself is the gate. It should be about 1/8 inch narrower than the gate opening so that it can slide without binding. Screw an eye bolt into the top of the gate, dead center.
Build a Track for the Gate
The gate to the trap slides down from the top behind the raccoon. You have to build a track for the gate to slide in. Use strips of trim 1/2 inch thick, 3/4 inch wide, and 10 inches long to make a track for the gate.
You will need two strips along each side of the gate for the channel. You also need one at the bottom on the inside to keep the raccoon from lifting the gate.
Space the track a little wider than the thickness of the gate so that the gate can slide easily without binding. Test the gate a couple of times to make sure it will slide.
The trickiest part of the trap is the trigger mechanism. There are three pieces of wood in the trigger mechanism: a trigger stick, a pivot stick, and a lever. You also need a piece of string about four feet long.
Start by drilling a hole in the top of the box 3/4 of an inch in diameter. The hole should be along the center line of the box, six inches from the back wall.
Make sure to clean out any tearout or splintering from drilling so that the hole is smooth and clean.
The pivot stick should be fourteen inches long and about 3/4 inch square. The pivot stick is attached to the top of the box sticking straight up.
The pivot should be halfway between the trigger hole and the gate. Use a nail or screw to hold the pivot stick in place. (If you don’t attach it, it is too difficult to set the trap.)
For the trigger stick, you just need a thin strip of wood or a dowel about sixteen inches long. Cut a notch in the trigger stick about eleven inches from the bottom.
Tie a string to the top of the trigger stick. If the string won’t hold, put a nail through the top of the stick for the string to catch. If you can, pre-drill the hole for the nail. You can see in some of the photos where my stick split from the nail.
The notch in the trigger stick holds the stick in place against the weight of the gate. When the raccoon bumps the trigger stick, the notch comes loose and the gate drops behind him.
The lever rests on top of the pivot stick. It is not attached. The black mark is the center of the lever.
The lever should be about thirty inches long. It rests on top of the pivot stick. The role of the lever is to keep the string pulling straight up from the trigger and the gate. If you use the string without the lever, the angle of the string tends to either bind up the gate or pull the trigger loose.
To make setting the trap easier, put a distinct mark at the exact center of the stick. Pencil is best because it doesn’t leave an odor behind. Being able to find the center of the stick will make setting the trap.
The lever isn’t attached to anything. The fewer attachment points in the trigger mechanism, the better. It would be best if the pivot stick were loose, too, but that makes the trap too hard to set. easier.
String it Up
Tie the string around the top end of the trigger stick and to the eye bolt in the top of the gate. You will probably have to play around with the length of the string a little to get the trap to hold the gate fully open while the trigger is caught. Notice in the photo how the string is nearly vertical above both the gate and the trigger.
Finish the Trap
You will notice in the photos that some of the wood is painted and some is raw. The painted wood was scrap laying around the shop; it was painted months ago for another project. If you have already-painted wood laying around, it’s fine. However, don’t use freshly painted wood for the trap, and don’t put any kind of new finish on it.
The odor of fresh paint, stain, or varnish will keep raccoons from entering the trap. To minimize odors, don’t put any kind of finish on the trap.
Baiting the Trap
With this trap, it is easiest to bait the trap before you set it. You need to reach into the back of the trap to place the bait. If the trap is already set, you can accidentally trigger it when placing the bait. You can also tip the trap up on one end if it’s not set, which makes it easier to see what you are doing.
Raccoons have similar tastes as humans, so chances are you already have something the raccoon will like in your kitchen. Marshmallows, melon, fish, peanut butter, and canned cat food are all popular raccoon baits.
Since the bait isn’t highly visible in this trap, I recommend something with a strong smell. My favorite baits are peanut butter, anchovy paste, and sardines. Peanut butter is my favorite because of the texture. You can smear it on the trigger and the raccoon has to really work to eat it. This guarantees that your pest will move the trigger enough to spring the trap.
The trap will be most effective if you put it somewhere the raccoon will travel anyway. If the pest is getting into a chicken coop or other building, place the trap with the opening up against the spot you think he is using to enter. This will force him to enter the trap on the way to his raiding.
If your pest isn’t entering a building, or if you don’t know where is getting in, look around for trails he may be using. Place the trap right in the middle of the trail with the opening facing the raccoon’s likely home. This will get him to at least come by and check out the bait you have set up.
Setting the Trap
To set the trap, run the string up from the gate, over the lever, and down to the trigger stick. Slide the trigger stick down into the hole and catch the notch on the edge of the hole.
The weight of the gate pulling down on the string pulls the trigger stick up. The notch in the trigger stick catches on the edge of the hole and keeps the gate open. It helps set the trap if you work in stages.
Step 1. Start by putting the gate in the closed position in the channel, then dropping the trigger stick into the trigger hole.
Step 2. Hook the notch in the trigger stick to the trigger hole. Once it’s in the notch, keep gentle pressure on the string to hold the trigger stick in place. Pull up with one hand on the string to keep the trigger still.
Step 3. With your other hand, place the lever on top of the pivot stick. This is where having the center of the pivot stick marked comes in handy.
Step 4. While you hold the pivot stick in place, stretch the string from above the trigger to the end of the lever, then along the lever to the middle over the pivot stick. When you are done, you should be able to hold the string and the lever in place above the pivot stick with one hand.
Step 5. Use your other hand to lift the gate by the string until you can get the string along the end of the lever.
Step 6. When the weight of the gate is resting on the lever, and the lever is held in place by the trigger stick, the trap is set.
When the raccoon enters the trap and bumps the trigger stick, the notch slips out and the string pulls up. The lever and the gate fall, and the raccoon is trapped.
To make catching the raccoon more likely, you can even put some bait on the trigger stick itself. When the raccoon grabs for the bait, he will trigger the trap.
Once you have trapped a raccoon, you have to decide what to do with it. Check your local laws before trapping the raccoon. Some jurisdictions let you choose what to do with it.
Others may require you to either kill a nuisance raccoon or release it alive unless you have a trapper’s license. Have a plan in place before you catch the raccoon.
Resist the temptation to handle a trapped raccoon. It may look cuddly, but raccoons are ill-tempered and do not like to be handled. If you try to touch it, you will get bitten. You will probably need stitches and rabies shots if you get bitten. Don’t touch trapped raccoons.
If you are going to release the raccoon alive, you will need to take it a good distance away before opening the trap. If you don’t take it far enough, it will come back. When it does, it will also know better than to enter your trap again.
Wear long sleeves and heavy gloves when handling the trap. Trapped raccoons sometimes reach out to grab people who handle the trap. Haul it in the bed of a pickup if you can.
At the very least, make sure the door of the trap is butted up against a wall or door in the car to prevent the raccoon from escaping in your car.
Take the raccoon to an environment similar to the one where it was caught. Make sure that water and cover are nearby for the raccoon to use safely. Gently place the trap on the ground, facing away from you.
Stay behind the trap as you lift the door. Once the door is open, back away from the trap and let the raccoon go on its way.
You may also have the option of delivering the raccoon to an animal rehabilitation organization or humane society. Check your local resources to see if this is an option.
Killing the Raccoon
Check your local laws before setting the trap to find out whether you can kill the raccoon, and what methods are legal. If you are in a rural area, shooting the raccoon is the easiest and most humane way to kill it. If you are in a city, you will have to find another solution.
Think this through before you set the trap. Raccoons are smart, and if you trap one then release it in the same area, you will still have a problem raccoon, AND it will know better than to enter your trap again.
By-catch is the fishing term for hauling in individuals of an unwanted species. By-catch can also happen when trapping. Cats, opossums, small dogs, and skunks might also wander into your trap.
Since this is a live-catch trap, you can just open the door and release your by-catch. If you are worried about non-target species, you can make some adjustments to your set.
Cats and Dogs
Domestic animals are attracted to savory bait, but not to sweet ones. If you are worried about cats or dogs, use cantaloupe, molasses, marshmallows, or other sweet treats. Avoid fish, meat, and peanut butter.
If you are worried about catching a skunk, set the trap somewhere off the ground. Skunks aren’t climbers, so you can avoid catching them with an elevated trap.
This trap is particularly good if you trap a skunk. Since he can’t see you while trapped, you have a chance to let him go safely. Peek in the trigger hole to see what kind of animal is trapped.
If it’s a skunk, don’t disturb it any more than necessary. Stand at the back of the trap, away from the gate. Gently lift the gate all the way out of the slot. When the gate is up, run away.
Don’t let the skunk know you are there. The skunk will leave in its own time without spraying if it is never threatened.
Opossums and raccoons have similar tastes and both are climbers. There isn’t anything you can do to avoid catching opossums in this type of raccoon trap. Fortunately, opossums aren’t particularly aggressive or dangerous. If you catch one, just shoo it out of the trap and re-set it.
Other Homemade Traps
There are other types of homemade traps shown on the internet. These include:
- A tall trashcan with a weight in the bottom to keep it still. Raccoons are quite athletic, so the can would have to be tall indeed to stop it from jumping out. These seem unlikely to work.
- A trashcan with water in the bottom and a breakaway bridge across the top. This would probably work, but it drowns the raccoon. Drowning is a slow, cruel way to kill the raccoon and in not recommended. This trap also should be avoided.
- PVC pipe with screws poking in around the top. This style of trap was described in the book Where the Red Fern Grows. It seems unlikely to work. Trapped raccoons get panicky, and will probably pull their arm out despite the screws.
Box traps like the one described in this article catch huge numbers of raccoons every year. There is no need to copy strange designs for traps instead of using a solid box trap.
Raccoons can be a big problem, but it is easy to build a trap to catch them alive. Make sure you have a legal plan in place for your trapped raccoon, whether to release, rehabilitate, or euthanize. Best of luck to you!