Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Variations on the Apache Foot Snare

The Apache Foot Snare was presumably designed to catch large animals like deer.  As depicted on a number of websites and survival manuals it consisted of a hole about two feet deep and four inches in diameter that was ringed by a number of wooden spikes either pushed directly into the ground or affixed to a loop made from either vines or braided cordage.  A small snare was laid on top of the hole over the stakes.  The object was to catch a deer’s leg when it stepped into the hole.  In theory, the spikes either force the deer to fight to free itself thus ensnaring its leg, or the loop with spikes attaches to the leg and when the deer extracts its leg from the hole it pulls the snare upwards and the deer is trapped.  But it has always seemed to me that both designs are flawed—at least as depicted in various photos.  Given the region that the Apache roamed it would seem easier solutions to this trap were readily available.

Koeberlinia spinosa

Ziziphus obtusifolia

Condalia hookeri

All three of the thorny hardwoods pictured above are located within the Apache’s former range from South Texas westward into New Mexico and the Mexican states of Coahuila and Chihuahua.  These plants have thorns ranging in length from about four inches in the case of Condalia (brasil) and Ziziphus (lotebush) to nearly eight inches in Koeberlinia (junco; hoon-koh).  Admittedly, these are dangerous plants to handle.  So here is my disclaimer: This post is for historical reference only.  Do not try this at home.  What do they say on the TV show, Myth Busters?…I’m a professional blah, blah, blah, or something to that effect.  Okay, now that we got past all that let me continue:  Some of the photos of Apache Foot Snares are laughable.  Spikes pushed directly into the ground will either work free when the deer steps into the hole and the overlaid snare will be shoved farther into the hole or will have no effect whatsoever.  And the spikes secured to a ring of vines or cordage will not have enough spring tension to hold onto the deer’s leg.  In other words, neither type snare is going to work…unless a spring device is attached to the snare via a spring-pole or other apparatus that will snap the snare backward when the deer steps into the hole.

It’s conceivable that the Apache used spring poles; and if they wanted their traps to be effective I presume they would have opted for something along those lines.  However, it seems more likely they would have simply cut a few branches of junco, lotebush or brasil and then carefully (very carefully) wound them into a tight circle that they then slowly inserted into the hole.  In this case a hole of two feet would be minimum.  A hole of about 30 inches would be preferred.  The spiraling ring of thorns is the same length as the hole.  It is pushed all the way to the bottom of the hole but extra care must be taken that none of the long thorns stick into the sides of the hole as that would impede the thorns ability to snag onto the deer’s leg.  The thorns must all face towards the middle of the hole.  When the deer steps into the hole the thorns catch onto the leg and when the deer attempts to yank its leg out of the hole it brings the entire ring of thorns upward with it.  The snare (made from any number of materials) will then snag tightly onto the deer’s leg because the mass of thorns will not allow the snare to slip off.

And that’s how I think the Apache Foot Snare really worked.  Surely, I’m not the first person to come up with this idea.  I’ll bet some perspicacious Apache or a member of some other tribe had that idea a few thousand years ago.  Now remember that snaring deer is illegal and I’m only discussing a hypothetical topic here.  But so many bits of advice printed in various “survival manuals” and depicted on any number of TV shows are simply concepts passed from one person to another with little thought as to their feasibility.  I submit that the Apache Foot Snares seen on YouTube and other places aren’t going to work as effectively as their makers claim.  I think the Apache figured those things out many centuries ago.


  1. I do think that you are correct. Why expend the effort to make something when you already have what is needed available and ready to use. I think that we have the tendency to over think things instead of keeping things as simple. The KISS principle in action.

  2. Yes. And those hardwood shrubs with their long thorns were probably also used for a variety of other traps including bird traps and small mammal traps.

  3. Excellent. I really respect your scientific approach.