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Trapping Merlins

When it comes to trapping merlins on the beach the Dho-gazza reigns supreme. I carry a variety of net sizes with me when I head out trapping but I typically use a pair of three foot by six foot nets arranged in a shallow “V”, with the point of the “V” aiming north (or the direction the merlins are coming from). Some situations may call for different configurations like a three-sided “backstop”or even four nets when the direction they'll be coming from is not predictable.  but the “V” rarely fails me and makes the nets harder to see.

There are numerous ways to attach the nets to the poles and different types of trigger mechanisms but using steel rings attached to each corner with cloths pins for triggers is a very simple and reliable method. Each corner of the net is cable-tied to a small steel ring, these rings then slide onto half-inch galvanized conduit poles. The top rings have two-inch long pieces of monofilament tied to them. I attach a wooden clothespin to the top of each pole to act as the trigger mechanism. The clothespin holds the piece of monofilament, holding the net up. When the bird hits the net the monofilament pulls free from the pins and the rings slide to the ground collapsing the net on the merlin.


The lure bird pole is placed in the corner of the “V” and the lure bird is given just enough line to reach the ground. Next, I have a pole, straight back, twenty feet from the first pole, with an eyebolt at the top. I run my lure line from the lure bird, through this eyebolt and back to the blind. This allows me to position my bait bird exactly in the center of the nets and it’s not necessary for my blind to be directly behind the nets.


The English sparrow is the best bait bird and sometimes I use a lure pigeon on a separate pole about ten feet from the nets. The pole for your lure pigeon should be at least 10ft high (mine is 15ft high) so you can get the pigeon high into the air. The pigeon is used to lure in birds from a distance, once the bird is close enough to see the sparrow drop the pigeon and bring the merlin in to the sparrow. It’s important for the pigeon to be out of sight when it’s dropped, either into tall grass if available or you can even provide a bucket for it to hide in or dig a hole for the pigeon to hide in. Otherwise the merlin may keep coming at the pigeon and never see the sparrow.

The background is the most important element for success. It’s very important to make sure you have a dark background. Stand about five feet away from your nets, on the side the merlin will be coming from, and get down on your hands and knees so you can see what the merlin will see. If you see sky behind the nets they are too visible. You need a dark background to make the nets disappear. If you don’t have such a natural background available there are a few props you can take with you. I have several small artificial Christmas trees I carry with me and I have found the best and easiest solution is camouflaged cloth stretched between two poles.

Making Dho-gazza Nets

Like most merlin trappers, I started out using nets made from cutting sections out of standard multi-filament gill netting. Gill netting works just fine and thousands of merlins have been caught using it. However, it requires much more attention to where your nets are set up and more effort to camouflage them with a good background. 

But, hand tied nets are far superior, allowing you to use thinner thread sizes to make the nets harder to see. I started out tying nets using button thread or upholstery thread from a local fabric store and my success ratio was much better because the nets were harder to see. 

If you want to try your hand at making your own nets I would suggest starting with button or upholstery thread using the videos below for reference. It's very satisfying to catch a bird in a net you made yourself. 

In 2016, after many years of trying, I finally came up with techniques for tying nets using very thin braided fishing line. Currently, the merlin nets that I use are made with 10lb Piscifun Lunker braided fishing line in black and my peregrine nets are made with 15lb line. These nets are nearly invisible to an incoming merlin and I have yet to have a bird see these nets while trapping. 

My merlin nets for beach trapping are 31.5" tall and 5-6ft wide with 3.5" squares. The 3.5" squares make the net harder to see and have the advantage of allowing you to remove birds from the net head first. You merely slip the net over the shoulders of the bird, untangle the feet and it's quickly removed. 

For portable sets, used when "road trapping" I use 18" x 33" nets with 3" squares, also made with 10lb braided fishing line. 

(you can usually find portable nets for sale in my store when available) 

The “Wise Cannon Net”


If you’re like me, a “gadgeteer,” you’re going to love this trap. I don’t know exactly how this thing was conceived, but I can say it’s the type of gadget guys dream up in the wee-hours of the morning after a few dozen beers. Fortunately for all of us, they remembered the beery conversation and built it.

The trap uses a shotgun primer to project a net downward to catch a raptor. The device is attached to a kite line approximately one thousand feet below the kite.  Hanging from the cannon, thirty inches below, is a sparrow in a harness. When a raptor grabs the sparrow and applies the selected amount of pressure the trigger releases, firing the shotgun primer and projecting the net towards the bird. The whole thing weighs less than one hundred grams and fits in the palm of your hand. It’s fairly complex so I won’t even attempt to give step-by-step instructions on how to build one, but the trap is made up of three basic components: (1) the trigger, (2) the exhaust chamber and the net.

The trigger (1) sits at the top and is connected to the kite string. It has a setscrew (b) that adjusts the amount of pressure it takes to release the firing pin (a). Once the proper amount of downward pressure is applied the spring loaded firing pin releases. The pin contacts the shotgun primer (c) expelling the gases down four exhaust tubes.


The exhaust tubes are welded into the main exhaust chamber pointing down at 35-degree angles. Each has a rubber o-ring on the tip that a plastic cap (d) fits snuggly onto.


The net is a two foot square piece of two inch gill netting. A string is tied to each corner and then to a plastic cap (d) that fits onto the exhaust tube. The net is gently stuffed into a small plastic canister (e), the size of a film canister, which sits in the center of the four exhaust tubes and each cap is placed onto its appropriate tube.

The sparrow is suspended from a string thirty inches below the trap. The string tethering the sparrow runs through the net canister and attaches to the main body of the cannon net. When the net is packed into the canister this string runs through the center of the net. So when the net fires it travels down this line.


When the shotgun primer fires, the exhaust gases shoot the four plastic caps off, pulling the net out of the canister. When the net hits the sparrow and merlin it stops and the plastic caps act as boleros twisting around each other entangling the birds. When you lower your bird to the ground, you do not untangle it from this net – you merely cut the net off the bird.


Does it work?


Necessity has spawned a trap with enormous potential. Although it only trapped one merlin during the 2003 migration I see many more in it’s future. (This trap has since trapped dozens of merlins) Its lack of success was mostly because we spent much of the year working out technical issues, rebuilding and missing good trapping days. But the only bird that bound to the sparrow was captured.

On September 28th, 2003 we had two dho-gazza sets stationed fifty yards apart and the cannon net was flying fifty feet overhead. I was manning my dho-gazza and the cannon net was directly over me.


I saw a merlin flying south and began to lure it into my nets. I soon realized the merlin had her sights set on the sparrow, now fluttering, high above my head. Anticipating this event, I had my camera around my neck, ready to fire.

I pulled the camera to my eye, held down the shutter and watched through my 300mm lens. The merlin came straight to the sparrow, grabbed it and POW; like the crack of a .22 rifle, the cannon fired and the merlin was netted. It all happened in a split second. Stumbling over the uneven ground and one another we raced to lower the merlin into my hands.


I don’t know if this trap is a replacement for all existing trapping methods, but with further use I think it will prove very effective. We encourage falconers around the country to experiment with other kite trapping devices. We have tried several configurations: suspended noose traps, harnessed birds, and have drawn up others: small suspended Dho-gazzas and other strange contraptions. But I’m sure someone will come up with another great idea. For now this trap reigns as the all time “coolest” trapping gadget known to man.

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