“Dang,” I thought upon seeing a sign, “that snuck right up on me.”
Rigby and I were heading up a trail that I’ve been frequenting for some 45 years or so, taking advantage of a nice fall day for a bit of grouse hunting. While attempting to get Rigby out and exposed to bird hunting at every opportunity during his first year, the opening of trapping season had slipped my mind.
The sign announced trapping in the area and cautioned folks hunting or taking a walk with dogs, to be aware. The posting was new and reminded me that not everyone is aware of the cautions one is advised to take when out with dogs during the trapping season.
Of course, many folks are aware, but even with the arrival of the annual Alaska Trappers Association calendar, my excitement to be with Rigby in the field clouded my vision. Thus, I thought it might be a good time to remind others.
The topic of keeping dogs safe during trapping season is a bit like firearms safety in that you can’t really talk about it too much. Ultimately it is individual knowledge and responsibility that keeps our canine partners out of harm’s way, which is true regardless of the circumstances. A dog left to run wild that gets hit by a vehicle doesn’t die a better death than one allowed to roam and die in a snare.
There are some regulations that attempt to minimize conflict between dog owners and trappers. But, the prohibition of things only works for those who comply. It’s a bit like every criminal statute on the books; law-abiding folks follow the law, those who don’t leave us with the rampant criminal environment in which we live.
I am a trapper, have been since age 9, although I haven’t been active since getting my dentition rearranged by a large body grip trap some years back. But, in the 50-plus years that have elapsed, I’ve known many trappers, and even back in the 1960s, the ones I remember spoke of avoiding catching dogs.
Even more so today, responsible trappers devote significant time to avoiding circumstances that would catch someone’s beloved pet.
Nevertheless, there are precautions folks with dogs can use to avoid issues, some of which I’ve written about here before.
Wintertime is a great time to explore new country, and one can easily snowshoe or ski into places that are brush-choked or swamp-bottomed any other time of year. Best to keep your dog close until you’ve determined there isn’t trapline activity in the area.
Anytime you’re venturing into more or less wild places during the late fall and winter months, it’s a good idea to carry heavy-duty wire cutting pliers for snipping snare wires should you dog get caught.
A reminder about body grip traps that are intended to kill fairly quickly when tripped on the prey animal. The large versions of these are extremely strong and require a great effort to release. But, it can be done with a length of rope and knowledge of the procedure. There are numerous explanations and videos on how to do this on the internet.
Better yet, find a trapper who will show you how to do it in person and allow you to practice. Trying to learn this difficult task while saving your dog’s life is not the way to introduce yourself to the process.
Trapping season or not, when traveling the backcountry a GPS collar for your dog is priceless. Particularly if your dog is prone to running far ahead and out of sight of you.
Paging through my November issue of the Alaska Trapper, a magazine put out by the Alaska Trappers Association, on page two appeared an ad telling members if they want to keep trapping, they need to avoid setting body grip traps near:
• Trails and trailheads
• Turnouts and rest areas
• Homes and cabins
• Other areas of high public use
The ad concludes with, “Common sense and respect for other user groups will help safeguard trapping into the future.”
Hard to ask more from folks who are routinely persecuted for engaging in an activity that has been part of human behavior for far longer than most any activity one could mention. A throwback to times when life was much more difficult but also much simpler.
Many might suspect that trapping is disappearing, and some believe that the modern world doesn’t need trapping. Available space precludes a discussion of the many and varied useful aspects of trapping that still hold value today. Some numbers may give a better idea of how alive and well trapping is.
In 2019, 30,976 Alaska resident trapping licenses were sold. In 2020, there were 33,315 sold, at least according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics.
It isn’t surprising that more folks signed on in 2020. Those who have enjoyed the outdoors for years have seen an increase in people getting outside for all sorts of activities.
It seems the past year has given rise to people evaluating the way life has evolved and finding they want to take a step back and maybe become more in touch with their local world. One friend of ours said it well, “I’m going to make my world much smaller.”
There are not a lot of things that would better take one back to the basics of life than trapping a furbearer and making outerwear garments from it. Christine and I are doing just that with some of the furs I’ve trapped, and it is enormously rewarding.
More than anything, I keep coming back to the statement the ATA made. “Common sense and respect for other user groups.” Maybe the best line of the year and one that we can all embrace no matter where our interests take us.