Sign up for newsletter updates!
Trappers' Corner: Nets
© 2006

WE HAVE A WINNER: My little masked buddy on the left is now officially known as "Roscoe". An entry submitted by a reader that (so far) wishes to remain anonymous, gets the prize.

What a great name for a stealthy, sneaky, totally self-centered and always hungry animal! I really like raccoons. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I wouldn't mind coming back as a raccoon. We're kindred spirits.

We had a terrific response to our "name the bandit" contest. I want to thank each and every one of you who showed enough interest to enter. Its gratifying to know there are others out there that think the 6-P's are important.

There are many ways to catch food in the wilds. This Trappers Corner is dedicated to an ancient system used ever since humans first spun plant fibers into string.


Many people don't want to go to the expense of purchasing heavy traps that they have to haul on their backs. I can understand that. However, it may be possible that they could use netting to trap animals, particularly larger animals such as deer, wild boar, Javelina, or even rabbits. I wouldn't recommend them for anything larger than a deer. A bear caught in a net will just get mad, tear the net to shreds, and look for the idiot that put the net in his or her territory. That would be you.

Netting game is almost without exception, illegal in this country. If caught, you could face stiff fines. I only point out this option so that, when all else fails, you have yet another source of food for you and your starving family. While tricky, netting birds is possible - but probably also illegal.

Netting fish, on the other hand, is not nearly as frowned upon. You can make and use fish nets in Florida (cast nets) with the proper permits.


Nets are designed to entangle any animal (including fish) so that they cannot escape. The holes in the net allow various body parts to get tangled up, over and over again, until the animal stops struggling out of shear exhaustion. Fish with their gills entangled in a net will eventually suffocate. They can't close their gills fully to pump water over the gill area, thus depriving them of oxygen. GAME: To be effective, most netting techniques require some sort of bait or lure for the game you are after.

Because of the entanglement, all nets need to be checked several times a day. A really large, mean boar may eventually break out of a net. If you don't get to him early, all you will have to eat is a torn up and smelly net. Not a good thing.


Today, most LEGAL netting for game birds is strictly controlled and used to collect birds for study. Nets are still used, but are more "high tech" than in the past. However, the principal is the same. You lay out bait until the birds get used to coming to one spot to feed. Then you spring a system of nets over them by whatever system you can use. In medieval times, this system was part of the sport of FOWLING.






Chasing a sage grouse with a fishing net




Perhaps the antithesis to the individual sport of falconry was the efficient gathering of fowl on a large scale. Unlike falconry, decoying methods relied on the participation of many individuals. This was more common in the later Middle Ages as the lower classes provided labor in return for their obligation to the nobility. This family of hunting methods is thought to have developed in the area of Eastern Europe (Poland, Northern Germany, and Hungary) and in the Lowlands of Flanders. Later in the medieval period it moves westward eventually reaching England in the late 1500's. The principle behind this method of hunting is to lure the wild flocks to a body of water, and then to lure or drive them into an ever narrower net, ending in a trap.

Netting In the Middle Ages:

In the Middle Ages, a variety of netting styles were used. Often netting relied on the use of a tame bird to lure in the wild birds.

Perhaps one of the most ingenious types of nets that was used was the double net. This type of hinged net would rest on the ground covered by leaves or grain. A bird would be used to lure in the wild fowl and then when the birds were in the center of the net area person would pull a rope to snap the two sides of the net together, trapping the birds between the hinged panels of the nets.

Another type of netting was the use of very fine mist type nets. These nets were usually employed to catch nocturnal birds, or birds that flew primarily at dawn and dusk. With the sunlight behind these nets or with them placed high in the flyways between trees these were intended to snare birds on the wing. Mostly this type of netting was employed to control bird damage to crop fields.


Birdlime, Rods and Lines

This method is well documented in early manuscripts and throughout the period. Even Shakespeare goes so far as to use it as a common reference in his works. For the modern reader, or re-creator, this is most likely the strangest theory on bird capture. It is in its simplest form, using glue.

The glue, called birdlime, was a mixture of mistletoe berries and holly bark that had been boiled down to form a gooey liquid. This liquid, or lime, would be spread upon rods for birds to roost on or spread across lines that were draped in areas where they ate. The use of rods was to attach the bird to the rod, so that the fowler could gather them later, and the use of lines was to glue the feathers of the birds together so that they could not fly.
Other stories recall how cones of grass or linen could be coated in birdlime and then a layer of dried peas or gravel and grain could be added to the cones. The cones would then be set out and the birds hungry for the grain would put their heads into the cones. The birdlime would then adhere to their feathers or the birds would not be able to back out because it forced their feathers to move opposite the direction that they lay.

On the other hand there is the practice of soaking bread in beer or brandy wine then setting that bread out where birds may eat it. By doing so they become intoxicated and unable to fly. The fowler may then easily capture the birds with hand nets.


During the nesting period for Mourning Doves (Early Spring), doves can be netted in their nesting trees without too much trouble. Doves don't have a fast reaction time to danger, and have been known to sit there and watch you until its too late to escape. The system used in North Dakota is a pretty good system. Using light "mist nets", nets made from light-weight fish line, the nets were mounted on 10-foot aluminum poles. Two people, each with a pole, would open the net about 50 yards from a tree and walk slowly towards a nesting tree. They would loosely surround the tree with the nets. One or more nets could be used. It proved best to approach the birds from the side. Sometimes the birds continued to sit on the nests. In that case, one person took a stick to poke him/her off the nest, flushing it into the net. The nets had to be kept fairly loose, because if it was too tight, the birds bounced off and flew away.


Source: PGC.State.PA.US

Game Commission personnel trap wild turkeys using a rocket net that, when detonated, shoots a large nylon, mesh net over them.

To lure birds out into a suitable situation for netting, bait is set out by Game Commission employees. Once a flock of birds begin using a bait site regularly, a trapping crew sets up the rocket net. A trapper waits in a blind for the birds to come in, and when they settle onto the bait, the net will be detonated and three small rockets will quickly shoot the net over the turkeys.

This is not exactly a survival-oriented practice, but it's interesting. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to trap birds." But, in this case, it would help.


Almost all the deer netting made today is to keep wild deer from turning your garden back into bare dirt. It keeps deer out. The nets have 4-inch spacing to deter the deer from pruning orchards before you decide to harvest the crop. However, the bright colors most come in are not really suitable to net deer.

The same type net used to catch any large game can be used to entangle deer who are chased and driven into the nets. Yes, it is strictly illegal. Yes, it works. However, if the deer even "think" there's a net nearby, they will turn on a dime and leap over or around the net. They are quick. Good camouflage is needed here so the deer won‘t spook at the net.

Like birds, deer can be lured into certain areas where food can be found (corn works well) . Once they become comfortable in the area, set up loose nets close to the bait, down wind. When the deer is in position, several people jump up and make a lot of noise, forcing the deer into the only possible escape area - that is, into a net. Dinner is served.

This same system was used thousands of years ago by early humans, only they drove the animals off of cliffs. They collected the harvest at the bottom of the cliff. It still works today.


Almost any animal can be lured into a net-type trap. Baiting and using decoys, including captured live animals, will bring the animals in to you. Your problem is to set up netting and/or fencing to force the animals to become panicked and run into the nets, entangling them for slaughter. How you do this depends entirely on your terrain. This is where the "sacrificial lamb" saying came from.

In hill country, there are natural valleys that can be used to trap escaping animals. Set up the nets at the place in the valley that is the narrowest, that is, the least likely area for them to get away. An interesting problem could arise when the same flush-and-net system traps other unsuspecting animal, such as mountain lions or bears. They will not take kindly to your attempt to trap them. Leave them alone until they get themselves out – or wait until you are ABSOLUTELY SURE they are hopelessly entangled. Then shoot them from 50 yards away.

I know, killing a wild cat sounds cruel since you probably won't want to eat it. But, it's a kinder end than starving to death in the net. If you try to go up to it and cut it out of the net, you are placing your life in real danger. The cat may not be like the Lion in Aesop's Fable – it will probably maul you.

In flat areas you will probably have to erect temporary fencing to direct the fleeing animals into the nets. These fences don't have to be terribly strong, they just have to appear like they are a solid obstacle.

Hurdles, seen here, are light weight fence sections of woven strips of bark or natural plants. They are woven between long sticks and appear much stronger than they really are. If a fleeing animal rams into one of these, it will not be injured and will probably knock it over and escape. However, the animals first instinct will tell it to run into a safer area, and lead it into the nets. These type fences are great projects for bored kids. The more you make, the bigger your "loop" will be to funnel animals into your trap.

Willow is the material of choice for making these fences, but any wood that is soft and easily bent will do. These are not permanent fences. Just weaving sticks together may do the trick. It only has to look solid, not be solid. Kind of like a Hollywood street with only fake houses in front.


After the trapped animals or birds are in the net, you have to cautiously approach the net and kill the animal. How you do this is totally up to you. Larger animals are best shot out of range of horns, teeth, hooves, or antlers. Once down, the nets can be carefully removed so butchering can begin.

Be prepared to repair the nets after a large animal is down. There will always be some inevitable damage to the nets from panicked animals. Sharp teeth, antlers or claws will probably shred sections of the net, enough to keep you busy for several hours, at least. Study your net and try to get your repair to match as closely as possible to the original size and design.

Next Week: Netting Fish