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Is there a place for you in trapping?
By Mel Liston*

Generally speaking, trapping breaks down into two categories, fur trappers and damage control trappers. Fur trappers pursue legal furbearing mammals during the seasons and according to the regulations established by our state conservation agencies, based on wildlife science and input from the public. Generally speaking these seasons would be in the fall or winter when the fur is at its prime. The hide with fur (known as the pelt) is most valuable to the clothing or apparel industry when in prime condition. This type of trapping and the industry that encourages it started in the early 1600's when the Europeans found it economically beneficial to trade with the Native Americans for pelts. The earliest fur trade business in New Hampshire would have been conducted by the French in Canada via the inland river systems, by the English first from their Isle-of-Shoals fishing outpost and soon after by the Puritans from the south with various trading locations along the coast and up the Piscataqua River. The fur industry played a major part in the early history of New Hampshire as it did in all of New England and North America for that matter; it was the economic incentive for some of the earliest exploration and settlement.

Fur trapping as an industry or occupation has seen its ups and downs throughout the last four centuries. The numbers and types of furbearers in New Hampshire has been constantly changing over that four hundred year period due to a host of variables, and the value of the pelts has fluctuated drastically based on the whims of style around the world. Presently furs are not exceptionally valuable and a lot of trappers would do well to break even on expenses. Generally the pure fur trappers in New Hampshire who set traps even when fur prices are down are doing it for reasons other than monetary. Perhaps the most significant reason is a love of fur trapping and all that it is for the individual trapper. Whether it's a part time occupation, an avocation, or purely a hobby, fur harvesting definitely is an opportunity for the modern trapper to practice his or her woodcraft. It's an eye-opening experience into natural wisdom, and can satiate that inner desire for closeness with mother earth. For some it may be a sport with goals they have met or actively pursue and for others it may be a defining element of their life or character.

Presently in New Hampshire as elsewhere fur trapping is practiced more as a hobby/sport than as an occupation. Although there are a handful of trappers who account for the majority of fur taken, there are a lot of trappers operating on a more modest scale with more modest goals. All trappers are limited by the number and types of furbearers in the territory they may gain permission to trap in, by the amount of time and energy they have to expend in the effort, the experience and equipment they can bring to bear and all the natural variables which makes trapping exciting and challenging. In this environment there is a growing interest in fur trapping as a sport by a previously uninvolved outdoor segment of individuals who find themselves intrigued by the craft and the challenges. This segment of sportsman approach trapping like the fly fisherman approaches fishing, they want to get into the sport in a lot more depth, designing their trapping endeavor in a limited but specific way. Because of hectic modern lifestyles and commitments to family or career, the allotment of time to tend traps is very limited. Generally this trapper's goal is not to run a long line or catch great numbers of furbearers but more specifically to catch an individual specimen for which he or she will be greatly self satisfied. In some cases the catch will be released unhurt after posing for a picture, in others it will be harvested to be tanned or perhaps mounted to enhance the trappers den. These trappers will devote many enjoyable hours attending trapping seminars and demonstrations, reading all available manuals on trapping technique, studying their target furbearers biology, scouting their trapping territory looking for sign and set locations, purchasing and altering traps and equipment. As in fly fishing the goals is not to catch and consume as many as you can, but to bring as much knowledge, skill, technique and advanced specimen specific equipment to bear in an effort to trap your target furbearer. This might not sound like much to you at first, but I assure you that if you chose to approach trapping from this angle you will be amazed at where it may take you, the satisfaction you may realize, and the new obsession which will be yours.

For those of you who are even more goal oriented there is the concept of Grand Slam Trapping. In short this means that you would catch at least one of each legal furbearer all in a single trapping season. In New Hampshire there are twelve legal furbearers you can pursue, they are; beaver, otter, mink, muskrat, skunk, weasel, opossum, fisher, raccoon, red fox, gray fox, and coyote. Chances are it would take you a few years to learn where and how to catch all these critters and longer to take them all in any single season. Should you get to this point and need more challenge there is marten, bobcat, and bear trapping as close as Maine for non-resident trappers.

When I first started this article I told you that trapping broke down into two categories. We have discussed fur trapping, now lets discuss damage control trapping. First of all this is not a sport in any way but purely a growing and thriving industry. Thinking of animal damage control might bring forth thoughts of government trappers, coyotes, the sheep and cattle industry out west, but it is a lot more than that. Animal damage control work has a history as long as fur trapping.

Early European settlers destroyed certain wild species off handedly because they caused crop damage and later there were efforts to eradicate wolves and bears because of predation followed by a long history of various local, regional, or statewide bounties on certain predators. With the passing of time the wolves are mostly gone, the bears are managed and the bounties have been discontinued. New Hampshire is now less agrarian and more densely populated, but animal damage and predator problems are still with us. Modern animal damage control efforts involve many methods utilized to eradicate, relocate, or deter all kinds of problem animals which might include all the wild furbearers and other wild species such as woodchucks, porcupine, squirrels, bears, deer, rabbits, crows, geese and a bunch of others like bats, mice, shakes, moles, snapping turtles, etc. Abandoned or poorly managed domestic pets such as dogs and cats can also become someone's problem. Individually these species would be classified as pests when they are causing problems. A major tool of this industry is the trap and because of that there is considerable crossover between the people who work in this industry and fur trappers. Many fur trappers will only do prime season trapping and are not interested in off-season damage control work.

Confronted by a landowner who has a problem with a wild furbearer such as a beaver many fur trappers would prefer to conserve the resource and will try to encourage the landowner to be tolerant until the regular seasonal trapping when pelts are prime. But circumstances such as a flooded driveway, damaged trees, etc may require action. Conservation officers know licensed trappers who are willing to trap problem animals for the public. The public should not assume that they would do it for free. Some fur trappers do limited animal damage control work for specific species, others are into this work more extensively. There are animal damage control businesses in New Hampshire that are quite extensive and professional. Individuals in the wildlife damage control industry may or may not be involved additionally in fur trapping, they may have animals they specialize in, or they may tackle any problem situation that comes along.

Based on this discussion you might find yourself interested in one or more aspects of trapping but not know when or how to get started. Perhaps your next best step might be to join your state's Trapper Association. It's an opportunity to know and associate with other trappers, attend monthly meetings, fur sales, fairs, seminars, demonstrations, and be kept up to date on trapper education courses and pending legislation.

*Mel Liston, from Strafford, New Hampshire is a freelance writer, Trapper Education Instructor, Director for the New Hampshire Trappers Association and a member of the National Trappers Association and the Fur Takers of America.

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