Although trapping has been part of Missouri’s heritage for generations, the best locations and methods were historically guarded. This was undoubtedly a habit carried over from the days when trappers made their living by catching furbearers, when they needed the secrecy to ensure their own success. Times and people have changed. Lifelong trappers are now eager to share their experience with beginners in order to sustain the trapping tradition.
Individual trappers, members of the Missouri Trappers Association and the Missouri Department of Conservation conduct trapper education clinics across the state. The workshops encourage novices to try this challenging but rewarding way of pursuing game. They’ve resulted in a new generation of people who are interested in trapping and understand the vital role that it plays in maintaining healthy populations of all species of wildlife.
Trapping was born out of necessity. Early settlers did not wallow in the luxuries and abundance of goods that we have today. They trapped to reduce damages to their crops and livestock and to supply themselves with clothing, food and money from selling furs. The fur-pursuing lifestyle spurred the opening of trade routes and western expansion. Accessibility to the Mississippi and Missouri rivers led to the creation of a trading post in what is now St. Louis. That trading post became the center of fur trading in this country. Missouri remains important in the fur trade industry, with furs valued at more than $8.5 million taken annually.
Historically, families who trapped taught the next generation, but good trapping locations and tricks of the trade were rarely shared with outsiders. This secrecy, along with the availability of manufactured synthetic products, shrinking backyards and an overall reduction in the connection to nature, led to a decrease in trapping participation over the past several decades. Trapping was becoming a lost skill set, only to be read about in historical documents.
Passing it On
Rather than watch their passion for trapping diminish into fond memories, dedicated trappers are arranging clinics to share their knowledge with anyone willing to learn. “The mindset of trappers has evolved from protecting their livelihood to sharing their love of the outdoors with others,” says John Daniel, Missouri Trappers Association member and trapping clinic instructor. “We have seen trappers go from those that cared more about the bottom line and the money to those that understand their role as a trapper in managing wildlife and maintaining a healthy balance of predator and prey populations.”
The trapping clinics draw a variety of people with varying degrees of skill. “We have four basic groups of people that attend,” says Doren Miller, fur buyer and vice president of the Missouri Trappers Association. “First are those that are not interested in trapping themselves, but just want to learn what trapping is about. Then there are young kids that are not physically able to trap yet. They want to see and feel the fur and learn about trapping. Another group consists of the newcomers that truly want to learn how to trap, how to sell the fur and everything in between. The last group is the experienced trappers. They know the basics of trapping but are looking for little tips and tricks to put more money back in their pocket and make their trapping more successful.”
Clinics provide an opportunity for participants to ask questions, learn about everything from setting traps to tanning hides and get practical handson experience. Learning stations can include preparing and dying traps, styles and types of traps, using lures, scents and baits, fastening traps securely and trapping gear and tools.
“Trapping is a skill that is difficult to teach yourself,” says Andy Barnes, Lawrence County conservation agent and trapping clinic organizer. “You won’t find trapping supplies in most sporting goods catalogs, and getting started can seem like a daunting task. It’s impossible to learn everything about trapping in a two-day clinic, but we want to show them how to begin without getting overwhelmed and give them a good foundation to build on.”
According to Aurora resident and clinic participant Clint Vaught, the information and skills gained at the clinics are valuable for anyone interested in trapping. “My son came home from school with a flyer and was really excited about the workshop,” says Vaught. “I had never trapped, but we both enjoy the outdoors, and I try to do things with him that he gets excited about. We brought along a friend of mine who was an experienced trapper and all three of us walked away from the course having learned a great deal.” They plan to attend another clinic this year as a refresher.
The instructors often enjoy the clinics as much as the students. “We take the students out to check the traps and they are just mesmerized by the fact that we caught something,” says Daniel. “They are even excited about an opossum. It refuels me as a trapper to share that. Watching them experience their first catch is like reliving my own first. You almost feel that same sense of pride that you felt when you caught your first animal.”
Ethics and Science
In addition to trapping skills, the clinics provide an opportunity for students to learn values that apply to all aspects of outdoor activities. “During a clinic, I put a great deal of emphasis on the code of ethics,” says Miller. “If a student can learn to respect the animals, respect other people and their property and respect themselves, the other skills will come with time and practice.”
The trapping clinics also help correct misconceptions about trapping. Modern trapping methods, including padded and offset jaws on foothold traps, along with the Best Management Practices for trapping created by the International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, allow trappers to be selective in their harvest and release animals unharmed that are unwanted species or those with low-grade fur. Class participants get to see firsthand as released animals return to the woods unscathed.
If an animal is selected for harvest and dispatched, a modern-day lesson in “going green” might be in order. Non-trappers sometimes tout the faux pas of wearing fur, but Jeff Beringer, resource scientist and furbearer biologist for the state, puts it into perspective. “If you are wearing a jacket made from synthetic materials derived from oil products, animal habitat was damaged or destroyed to produce it,” he explains. “On the other hand, trapping is renewable. If you go to that same habitat and remove a raccoon, the next year another raccoon is there and the habitat is unharmed. In this day and age when people are trying to be ‘green’ and concerned about their footprint, using these renewable resources makes more sense.”
The Department of Conservation and other wildlife agencies use trapping as a means of research and wildlife management. “Without trapping, the reintroduction of wild turkeys and otters in Missouri, and the success of wolves in the western states, black bears in Arkansas and black-footed ferrets in South Dakota would not have been possible,” says Beringer. “To perform any kind of wildlife restoration or population study on a meaningful scale requires the use of trapping. Anytime you are trying to figure out the natural history of an animal, home range, habitat use, or survival rates, trapping is used. It is the best method to determine how populations are changing, which in turn helps us to set season lengths and limits.”
The once-locked vault of trapping knowledge has been opened. The trappers of today are not only willing to share information, but often go out of their way to get beginners started. “For our previous clinic, we had instructors from seven different counties. Some of them drove over 300 miles just to help with the class,” says Barnes.
An experienced trapper’s love for his craft cannot be underestimated. “My biggest fear is that trapping will die on my watch,” says Daniel. “That it wouldn’t pass on to the next generation. … I don’t want it to be something that slips into the category of ancient history because I didn’t do my part to make sure that enough people experienced it and knew it was out there as a way to enjoy the outdoors.”
With enthusiastic mentors available and training classes for all levels, now is the perfect time to learn more about trapping. It’s no secret that it’s another great way to enjoy Missouri’s outdoors.
DISCOVER TRAPPING WITH MDC Class availability varies depending on time of year, public interest and instructor scheduling. Check with your local regional office (see Page 3 for phone numbers) or visit www.MissouriConservation.org/regions for upcoming trapping clinics or to express interest in having one in your area.