How to Trap a Raccoon

By: Contributors  | 
A raccoon in a metal trap.
Raccoon traps are methods or a device used in catching a raccoon. Utah-based Photographer Ryan Hou / Getty Images

Raccoons are cute from afar, but they make poor neighbours, and even worse houseguests. Whether they're rooting through your garbage cans or terrorizing your pet, sometimes they've just got to go. Fortunately, you can learn how to trap a raccoon, and do it successfully, with little more than a collection of household items and a little bit of patience


Understanding Raccoons

Raccoons are incredibly smart, but you know that by now. They can adapt and thrive in a variety of habitats due to their remarkable ability to solve problems and remember solutions for as much as three years [source: Bradford]. Native to North America, these nocturnal animals are opportunistic omnivores, which basically means they'll eat just about anything that's put in front of them.

Not only are they highly intelligent, raccoons have highly dexterous front paws which they often use to open containers, turn doorknobs, wash their food, and even untie knots. In the wild, they've been known to live up to 5-years, with females giving birth to litters of little racoons every spring.


Legal Considerations

Just because they're annoying and invasive, doesn't necessarily mean that you're allowed to trap raccoons. Every place has local wildlife and trapping laws, which can vary substantially from region to region. In many of these areas, trapping a raccoon without a permit is illegal [source: WDFW]. Others have specific regulations to ensure a humane approach.

There's also the matter of relocation. Some jurisdictions have laws regarding the relocation of trapped raccoons that are designed to prevent the spread of diseases and ecosystem disruption. All of that is to say that, before you start trapping raccoons, you're encouraged to read up on the local laws and regulations regarding raccoon trapping.


Choosing the Right Trap

When trapping any kind of wild animal, the choice of trap is essential effectiveness, but also to ensure humane treatment of the animal. The live cage trap is generally the most recommended type, due to their ability to trap raccoons without causing any harm. A live cage trap uses bait and a trigger plate to trap the animal alive.

Traps should be sturdy and large enough to hold a sizable raccoon. You don't have to buy one either. You can build an effective homemade raccoon trap at little or no cost. Below you'll find two ways to build a live trap with a few every day household items.


Picnic Table Trap

You'll need the following items:

  • A tall, sturdy garbage can
  • A picnic table or other long object that is at least as tall as the garbage can.
  • A plank of wood
  • Bait (e.g. scraps of meat, fish or even marshmallows!)

Let's set up the trap:

  1. Place the garbage can close to the end of the table and secure it with rocks or bricks, so it can't tip over.
  2. Fill the garbage can about one-fourth to one-third with water.
  3. Place the plank on the table with one end hanging over part of the garbage can. The board should stay on the table, but be able to tilt and fall when the raccoon steps out onto the overhang.
  4. Put the bait on the overhang. Do this close to nightfall so birds or other animals won't take the bait [source: Picnic Table Raccoon Trap].
  5. Check the trap the next morning. If the raccoon is there, carefully take it to a distant location and release it. Remember, the raccoon may be vicious.


Trap Placement

Where you put the trap can be just as important as the trap itself. As mentioned above, raccoons are incredibly clever and cautious, which makes trap placement critical. The more you know about the raccoon's behaviour, the more strategic you can be about placement.

In general, it's recommended that you place the trap near popular food sources, along common travel paths, or close to the raccoon den itself. Again, you'll want to pay close attention to local laws and regulations before setting live traps on or around your property.


Baiting the Trap

Choosing effective bait is a crucial step in successfully trapping a raccoon. They have a strong sense of smell, and are attracted to a wide variety of foods. The ideal bait entices the raccoon into the trap without harming it and is resilient to smaller animals like cats or birds. Effective baits for raccoons include:

  • Sweet foods
  • Protein-rich foods
  • Eggs

While baiting is a necessary part of trapping, it should be done ethically [source: Greenberg]. Avoid using bats that could be harmful if consumed by other wildlife or pets.


Checking the Trap Regularly

Regularly checking the trap is the only way to ensure that you're operating in the most humane way possible. Leaving an animal trapped in a cage can cause undue stress and pain. Many jurisdictions mandate regular trap checking too.

Trapping wild animals is a serious responsibility, and should be treated as such. As such, traps should be checked at least once every 24-hours. Raccoons are nocturnal animals, so checking in the morning is usually the most effective.


Keep in mind that the trapped animal may be noticeably stressed and incredibly hostile. Approach the live trap with caution, wear protective gear like gloves, and have a plan for the animal once it's caught.

Relocating Raccoons

Relocating a captured raccoon is complicated and can be dangerous. It involves more than moving the animal to a new location. Compliance with local laws, choosing a suitable release site, safe transportation, and ensuring a safe release all deserve careful consideration.

If possible, ask for help from local authorities to ensure the safety of the animal and all those involved in trapping, transporting, and relocating raccoons the animal.


Prevention and Next Steps

Trapping a raccoon can be a necessary task, but it should always be approached with respect and care for the animal. Successfully removing a raccoon from your property also doesn't mean much if you continue to maintain a hospitable environment for another unwanted visitor.

To prevent raccoons from returning, secure your trash bins, and keep pet food and water sources properly sealed. Raccoons, like all wildlife, play an important role in our ecosystems. If trapping is the chosen method, ensure that it is done in accordance with local wildlife laws.