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Some Tips on Traps

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The shortest day—well, as least the day with the least amount of daytime—has come and gone. As I get older, the lack of daylight really gets to me and come mid- January I start to feel like Jack Torrance, the character played by Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” My wife starts to worry when I wander around the house yelling, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”

I keep my sanity in the winter months by getting some exercise, taking vitamin D, and venturing on a little vacation to somewhere sunny.  

One of my favorite winter activities is snowshoeing, although I have to admit I hit the gym every week. Although after last week’s incident at the gym they may not let me back. I accidently spilled some water from my water bottle down the front of my shorts. I thought it would be a little embarrassing to work out looking like I peed my pants. So I brilliantly decided to use the hair dryer in the locker room to dry the offending water. Well, I found it’s more embarrassing to have someone catch you blow-drying your crotch in the locker room. Oh well, I think I’ll stick to snowshoeing for a while.

When I snowshoe, I typically check trapper’s lines and it gives me quite the work out! That was my long segue into the sport of trapping in Idaho.

Most people don’t really know much about trapping and have images and ideas from other sources, including the Internet. There are a lot of misconceptions and myths surrounding trapping that come from a society that’s increasingly becoming more urbanized and disconnected from the natural world.  A large misconception is that trapping poses a threat to animal populations, especially endangered animals. This may have been true 200 years ago when we did not have the North American Wildlife Model in place; the lack of regulations in our natural resource use at that time led to decimation of many animals. But times have changed and trapping is a highly regulated use of a renewable resource.  

Our main furbearers in Idaho include marten, fisher, mink, otter, beaver, muskrat, bobcat, lynx, red fox, raccoon, and badger. Because their numbers are low and the animals are considered rare, we do not have season for fisher and lynx. Additionally, lynx are listed as a threatened species. These furbearer populations are monitored through trapping with management goals to keep abundant populations available for public interest and trapping uses. Fish & Game Managers use trap data along with trend counts by using snow-track surveys to determine presence and densities of these critters in our wilds.

During trapping season I receive quite a few calls from concerned folks regarding traps and their children and pets. Here are few tips to protect against an accidental capture.  

First, have a good understanding of the trapping seasons. In our neck of the woods the majority of trapping occurs from November through March, depending on the style of trapping. Be sure to know who owns the property; if it’s private, ask the owner if they allowing trapping or know if anyone is trapping on the property. Public land managed by the State of Idaho, Forest Service, and BLM, is all open to legal trapping so just assume that there could be traps around if you are recreating on the land. Control your dogs: state law does not allow dogs to be at large running through the country side. It only takes common sense to realize that dogs running at large, even if you are accompanying them, can have detrimental effects on wildlife during winter, especially elk and deer.  

If you do come across traps with your children or pets, simply trace your tracks back out and leave the area if you are concerned.  Some of the types of traps that you will come across will be foot hold traps, bodying gripping traps (conibears), and snares.

 Do some research on those type of traps and learn how to manipulate the traps to release your pets. Foot hold traps do just as their name says, the two arms snap up to hold the animal by their foot pad.  There a lot of myths that these traps snap the leg and/or the animals chew their leg off to get out. If you were a trapper and wanted the fur to sell, do you think you would want the fur or structure of the animal damaged in any way? Nope. Some of these new style traps actually have rubber lined arms in the trap to reduce the possibility of damage. Trapping has come a long way since the days of David Thompson.

So if your dog does get trapped in one of the foot hold variety traps (the most common you’ll see out there) follow these simple steps. Secure your dog by pinning it to the ground or holding it in an upright position. Depending on the individual, the size of the trap, and the size of the dog, you may be able to grab both levers with your fingers and, using the palms of your hands, stabilize the bottom of the trap or base plate. Once this is accomplished, pull the levers of the trap toward you with your fingers using one continuous motion. This will release the pressure on the jaws of the trap enough for the dog to pull its foot free or to allow the foot to fall out from between the jaws of the trap. The trap jaws do not have to be completely opened for the dog to free its foot. The duration of time the dog was held in the trap may determine the extent of its injuries. Foot or leg hold traps are designed to hold an animal alive with a minimal amount of damage to the foot. If you are with your dog when it is caught and are able to release it immediately, you should expect minimal injury to the dog’s foot.

Please report any traps you come across, and let us determine if they are illegal or not. It’s illegal to disturb traps in Idaho so don’t get yourself in trouble!

Enjoy the winter, take some vitamin D with your doctor’s recommendation of course, go on vacation to somewhere sunny, and get some exercise. When you’re out in the woods getting your exercise, keep your dog on a leash, be on the look out for traps, and have a plan for those traps.  Please respect the traps and the trapper’s rights even if you don’t agree!

Leave No Child Inside­­­‑or in Traps.

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

Tagged as:

traps, The Game Trail, trapping, furbearers

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