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A brief history of trapping in North America*

The history of trapping dates back to the earliest days of mankind. For as long as people have tried to protect themselves from the elements, they have used the skins of furbearing animals. When the first humans arrived in North America, during the Ice Age some 11,000 years ago, much of the continent was covered by glaciers. These people would not have survived without their fur clothing.

North America has always provided a wealth of furbearing animals. The first European settlers to reach these shores quickly observed this. Fur became an article of trade in North America in the early 1600s. In the year 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company was established in what is now Canada. The aim of this company was to buy fur pelts. This makes the harvest of furbearing animals one of the oldest industries in North America.

The furbearing animals, and the trappers who followed them, played a large role in the development of this country. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Merriwether Lewis and William Clarke to explore the land known as the Louisiana Purchase. One purpose of the Lewis and Clarke expedition was to report on the natural resources available in this region. They discovered a large number of furbearing animals in these lands.

The beaver was one of the most sought after furbearers during this period. The trappers who pursued these animals were largely responsible for opening up the western half of the United States for settlement. These were the famous “Mountain Man” trappers. These trappers were often the first non-native people to visit and explore the vast wilderness. Their travels mapped the trails that settlers would later follow.

As the country became more settled, trappers continued to harvest furbearing animals for their pelts. However, trappers began to play another equally important role. As more and more people spread out across the land, problems between humans and wildlife became more common. Trappers helped control the population of some wild animals that might otherwise have caused damage to the settlers’ crops and livestock.

While the days of expansion and settlement in this country have passed, trapping still serves two important purposes. First, regulated trapping provides a method for harvesting and using the pelts of furbearing animals. These animals are a renewable resource. Secondly, trapping provides a way to help control the population of certain animals. This helps reduce conflicts between these animals and mankind.

Today, trapping provides a good source of outdoor recreation for many individuals. Also, as it was for trappers in the past, the sale of pelts provides a source of income. The public also benefits from trapping because it reduces the frequency of disease and damage that may come with an overpopulation of animals.

*Editor's note:  This information has been copied from the Ohio Division of Wildlife's website and Trapper Education Manual.  The ODNR's copyright policy states "Information presented on this (Ohio Division of Wildlife) site is considered public information and may be distributed or copied unless otherwise noted. Use of appropriate byline/photo/image credits is required."  Wild-About-Trapping.com has taken all possible steps to comply with the ODNR policy and thanks them for the generous use of this information.  We sincerely hope that young trappers will make the best of this information to increase their trapping enjoyment and success.


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