M44 (cyanide device)

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The M-44 consists of a capsule holder, a cyanide capsule, a spring-activated ejector, and a stake. Bilingual signs warn about the device.
When the trap is set, only the capsule holder and capsule protrude above ground level.

The M44 cyanide device (also called a 'cyanide gun' or a 'cyanide trap') is used for the elimination of coyotes, feral dogs, and foxes. It is made from four parts: a capsule holder wrapped with cloth or other soft material, a small plastic capsule containing 0.88 grams of sodium cyanide, a spring-powered ejector, and a 5-7 inch stake. To install the trap, the stake is first driven down into the ground, and then the capsule is put in the holder, screwed onto the cocked ejector, and secured to the stake. The wrapped capsule holder is smeared with scented bait to attract coyotes and make them bite and pull on it. (The use of a bite-and-pull action makes the trap less likely to be set off by non-canine wildlife.[1]) When the trap is triggered, the spring propels a dose of sodium cyanide into the animals's mouth, and the sodium cyanide combines with water in the mouth to produce poisonous cyanide gas.[2] In addition to the cyanide, the capsule contains Day-Glo fluorescent particle marker (orange in capsules used by the Wildlife Service, and yellow in capsules prepared for other users) .[3]

The M44 was invented in the 1960s to replace a similar device known as a 'Coyote Getter', which had been in use since the 1930s. The Coyote Getter used a .38 Special pistol cartridge case to contain the sodium cyanide mixture, and ejected the cyanide with a primer. That design made the Coyote Getter quite hazardous, because the wad and cyanide were ejected with great force. For example, in 1959 a 15-year old boy lost one eye when he accidentally set off a Coyote Getter by stepping on it, in 1966 a man was hit in the left hand and died from cyanide poisoning, and between 1965 and 1971 at least 17 humans were injured by Coyote Getters. Therefore, in the early 1960s the Fish and Wildlife Service started to develop a safer, spring-based replacement device. Much of the work was done by James Poteet, a Predator Control Specialist in Midland, Texas who received a patent for the device in 1967. The new device was gradually phased into Federal management programs beginning in 1967, and by November 1970 it had substantially replaced the the Coyote Getter.[3][4]

Since its introduction, the M44 design was updated several times to solve problems such as caking in the cyanide capsules or malfunctioning ejectors. One effort in 1977-79 resulted in a completely new, slightly larger cyanide ejector called the M50. However, a field evaluation in 1982 showed that the older Poteet-designed M44 actually performed better, and the M50 was phased out. In 1984, the M44 ejector body and capsule holder were redesigned as it became necessary to replace the dies that had been used since 1967 to cast those metal parts. That model is still produced today, with some minor adjustments.[3]

Use of the M44 device has been criticized by animal welfare and environmental groups, as the devices have many unintended victims, including pets and endangered species; strongly indicative of a lack of selectivity, instead of the supposed high level.[5] In 2003, Mr. Dennis Slaugh of Vernal, Utah, was on public lands and mistook an M-44 for a survey marker. When he pulled on it, the device shot sodium cyanide powder on his face and chest causing him to become violently ill.[6] In February 2006, an M44 device killed a man's dog in Utah, as the dog and owner were walking through public land. The man was also affected by the cyanide in the device, and is seeking compensation from the US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service, along with the Utah Department of Food and Agriculture.[7] In 2017 a 14 year old boy in Idaho was injured, and his dog killed, by a M44 which was detonated near his home. [8]


  1. ^ Shivik, John A.; Mastro, Lauren; Young, Julie K. (2014). "Animal attendance at M-44 sodium cyanide ejector sites for coyotes". Wildlife Society Bulletin. 38: 217. doi:10.1002/wsb.361. 
  2. ^ Wildlife Services (May 2010). "Factsheet: M-44 Device for Local Predator Control" (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture,Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Blom, F. Sherman; Connolly, Guy (2003). Inventing and Reinventing Sodium Cyanide Ejectors. A Technical History of Coyote Getters and M-44s in Predator Damage Control (Report). U. S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services, National Wildlife Research Center. Retrieved 19 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Lee, C. "Status of M-44 Device". Archived from the original on March 19, 2005. Retrieved 10 May 2007. 
  5. ^ Olsen, Jack (1971). Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671209964. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Secures EPA Investigation of M-44 Sodium Cyanide Poisoning
  7. ^ Utah Man Demands $10,000 for Poisoning Death of His Dog
  8. ^ Pocatello boy watches family dog die after 'cyanide bomb' explodes