A trapper's best friend!
A drop trap is a more sophisticated version of the old box propped up on a stick with a string attached. When a cat goes under the "box" to reach the bait, the trapper yanks the string (or pushes a remote control button as the case may be), causing the trap to drop down over the cat. We call it a "trapper's best friend" because it is great for catching cats who absolutely refuse to enter a normal box trap no matter how hard you try to tempt them.
The reason a drop trap works so well has to do with cat psychology. A feral cat is naturally wary of entering the narrow, closed confines of a regular box trap, which is why you have to withhold food the day before a trapping - to get him hungry enough to overcome his fear and go in after the bait. But cats do not fear going under something. Most will go right under a drop trap with little hesitation. Their lack of fear also means they don't have to be extra-hungry to lure them in. If you just don't feed that day, you'll usually be ok.
Drop traps are good for more than trap-shy cats. If you need to pick out one cat from a crowd, you can leave a big bowl of bait, let other cats come and go, and wait until your target arrives before dropping the trap. This kind of selective trapping might be desirable if you're after young kittens, a pregnant female, an injured cat or the one colony member you missed when you trapped the rest. At Neighborhood Cats, we like to break out the drop trap towards the end of the first day of a mass trapping when there are just a handful of cats left milling about who won't go in the regular traps. It can save having to come back for the holdouts the next day.
The Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap
Neighborhood Cats teamed up with Tomahawk Live Trap to design the first mass-manufactured drop trap, making this kind of trap easily available and affordable. It's all metal, folds up flat in a suitcase style and has an optional remote control. A sliding door on the side allows for transfer into a box trap with a rear door, transfer cage or feral cat den. Order Model DT1 from Tomahawk Live Trap.
For step-by-step instructions on how to set up and use the Neighborhood Cats Drop Trap, read our guide. Many of the instructions apply to make-it-yourself drop traps as well. One word of caution worth emphasizing - don't use a drop trap for the very first time on that female cat you've been after the last five years. Practice once or twice on cats you've already fixed, including dropping the trap and transferring out into a box trap. If that's not possible and you still need a volunteer, try your pet cat in exchange for a treat or two. After you've gone through the process and made any learning mistakes, then you'll be ready for prime time.
Build Your Own
If you're handy and know basic woodworking skills, you can build your own drop trap. Laura Burns, one of the pioneers of using drop traps for TNR, has provided instructions on how to construct a non-foldable drop trap out of wood and netting, For other designs, including traps made out of PVC pipes, visit the Drop Trap Design Bank where you'll also find video of a drop trap in action. Making a drop trap that collapses and folds flat is more complicated and requires more construction know-how. Also keep in mind that it can be difficult to disinfect a home-made trap.