THIEF RIVER FALLS - Lucas Moen wanted to start trapping with his buddy, Ethan Barth, but there was a catch.
First, Moen, 16, needed to buy a trapping license. But to buy a license, he had to complete a certified youth trapper education course to learn proper techniques and ethics in the field.
Call it the trapping equivalent of a Catch-22.
When a trapping class was offered this spring in Thief River Falls, Moen and Barth, 16, both signed up for the course. A recent Minnesota law requires anybody born after Dec. 31, 1989 to complete the trapper education program.
The Minnesota Trappers Association offers the free courses in several locations across the state throughout the spring and summer.
“I had to get the license in order to trap anything bigger because it was just gophers and squirrels and whatnot” otherwise, Moen, Thief River Falls, said. “They were offering it, so I figured, ‘Why not? Let’s take it.’
“I had already purchased the traps; I just hadn’t trapped anything.”
There’s been a lot to learn, Moen admits.
“Nice thing about him, though, is he already has the equipment,” said Barth, who also signed up for the course. “Pretty much everything you need.”
On a recent early May evening, Moen and Barth were among nearly a dozen youths gathered at the Pennington County Sportsmen’s Club north of Thief River Falls for a firsthand look at water sets for catching furbearers such as beavers and muskrats and land techniques targeting critters such as raccoons, mink, fox and coyotes.
The class mandates eight hours of classroom and four hours of fieldwork study.
The students broke into two groups, and veteran trappers Dana Klos, 61, Thief River Falls, and Dallas Erickson, 70, Greenbush, Minn., led two, hourlong demonstrations at each site, Klos focusing on water sets and Erickson talking about using leg-hold traps and snares on land.
Klos, who’s teaching the Thief River Falls course, went through a two-day class in Duluth to become a certified instructor. He said the youth trapping requirement isn’t as well known in northwest Minnesota as it could be.
“I’ve had people from Red Lake Falls and Warren call me that didn’t even know this requirement existed,” Klos said.
Into the water
Donning a pair of waders, Klos waded into Pennington County Ditch 18, which flows into the Thief River not far from the sportsmen’s club, and showed the kids in his first group how to set a conibear trap, a neck- or body-gripping device named after a Canadian fur trapper by the name of Frank Conibear who originated the design.
After a quick demonstration in setting a conibear and placing it underwater, he showed the students how to anchor a floating set to catch muskrats. Basically a length of plank covered with chicken wire - a requirement to keep raptors and other birds from the trap - and camouflaged by swamp grass and baited with a couple of carrots, the makeshift floating device conceals a small leg-hold trap and is especially effective at catching muskrats, Klos explained.
A chain anchored to a metal pole driven into the streambed allows the trap to rise and fall with the water levels.
“The more you do it, the easier it becomes for you” to set traps in water, Klos said.
A well-traveled deer trail near the ditch presented an opportunity for teaching the students how to place a conibear trap on land to perhaps intercept a raccoon. When Klos asked for a volunteer to anchor the trap with branches, Barth was quick to nominate Moen.
After a couple of pointers from Klos, it wasn’t long before Moen had the conibear strategically anchored across the trail.
Klos explained the reasoning for placing the trap across the trail.
“When a raccoon is going down the trail, where’s its head?” he asked, answering the question in the next sentence. “On the ground. They know where they’ve been; they just want to get home.”
Less trial and error
Learning those kinds of tips, Klos said, will help the young trappers avoid some of the mistakes he made when he started trapping way back in 1966.
“The kids today have such a big advantage,” Klos said. “We had to learn by our mistakes.
“These kids are going to get so much information. I hope they take it in. It’s been a good thing. I’ve had fun with it so far.”
Erickson, who led the land-trapping portion of the field night, said it took him two years before he captured his first fox. Some 50 years later, Erickson is one of the top trappers in northwest Minnesota, serving as District 2 director of the Minnesota Trappers Association and working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services to catch problem animals.
“I learned a lot of stuff the hard way, but then you don’t forget,” Erickson said. “There are a lot of little things you wouldn’t think would do it, but they make a difference.”
Keeping the trap site clean, for example, and knowing where to set the traps.
“You can set all the nicest sets you can put out there, but if the animals aren’t there, you’re not going to catch them,” Erickson said. “The cleaner you can be, the better off you are.”
The class, which began April 3, was scheduled to wrap up this past Thursday night with a two-hour test the students will have to pass to obtain their certification.
It’s all about preserving a tradition and a way of life Klos and other trappers maintain is as relevant today as it ever was.
“What we’re trying to do is show them the right way and the proper way because of all the misinformation about trapping and that we torture animals,” Klos said. “If you do it right, there’s going to be a clean, quick kill.
“We have to have trapping to some extent - otherwise we’re going to have way too many skunks, raccoons and other animals that are going to cause problems.
“We’re scared to death we’re going to lose the opportunity to trap,” he added. “We get a lot of support for trapping (in northwest Minnesota); it’s when you get down in the metro area that there’s problems, and it’s an image thing, too. … We keep trying.”
Rules and regs
Unlike Minnesota, North Dakota doesn’t require young trappers to complete a trapper education class, but both states have several rules and seasons regulating the activity.
Here are some of the main requirements in each state.
- Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1989, who has not been issued a trapping license in a previous license year may not obtain a trapping license without a trapper education certificate. The Minnesota Trappers Association offers trapper education courses statewide, free of charge and issues certificates that satisfy this trapping license requirement.
- All residents and nonresidents 16 and older must have a small game license in possession to take small game (including furbearers) with traps, except trappers may trap without a small game license on their own land if they occupy it as their principal residence
- Residents age 13 through 17 must have a junior trapping license, and residents age 18 through 64 must have a regular trapping license to trap.
- Residents age 65 and older must have a regular or reduced-fee trapping license. Residents younger than 13 do not need a trapping license.
- Nonresidents may trap only on land they own in Minnesota with nonresident trapping and small game licenses.
Minnesota Trappers Association: mntrappers.org.
Minnesota DNR: mndnr.gov.
- Except for residents younger than 16, a furbearer license is required to hunt or trap furbearers.
- Trappers requiring a furbearer license and born after 1961 also must have completed a hunter education course because trapping and hunting furbearers are not separate licenses.
- Residents of a state that allows North Dakota residents to trap within that state can purchase a nonresident reciprocal trapping license to trap in North Dakota. Nonresidents having this license may not take bobcats, mountain lions or fishers.
- Hunters and trappers are required to purchase licenses, except any resident or family member permanently living in the same residence may hunt small game, trap or use cable devices (snares) during the open season without a license upon land they own or lease. They must comply with seasons, limits and all other regulations.
- The North Dakota Fur Hunters and Trappers Association offers occasional fur-harvesting classes. Info: www.ndfhta.com.
- The North Dakota Furtakers offers an education manual on its website, northdakotafurtakers.com.
- More info: gf.nd.gov.