The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Outdoors

February 5, 2012

Cross: Some traps have no business in nature

Twenty years ago, while hunting for pheasants on some Conservation Reserve Program land, my springer spaniel vanished.

Moments earlier, he had been casting about in front of me, the rustling grass telegraphing his location.

But then he was gone.

I blew my whistle. Nothing. After a few minutes of waiting, listening, watching — and with growing concern — I began to search for the missing canine.

Eventually, I worked my way over to a drainage ditch that cut through the middle of the grassy expanse and looked over the edge.

Below me, the terrified dog was thrashing. Unable even to whimper or yelp, the dog had a trapper’s snare wrapped tightly around his nose, cutting deeper and tighter as he struggled.

I dropped my shotgun and after a few anxious moments, managed to loosen to device and set the dog free.

I remain haunted by the close call and my canine buddy’s fate had I been unable to locate him.

But at least I was allowed the chance to rescue my dog.

Had the trap been a Conibear, a body-gripping trap, even if he survived the initial blow from its powerful jaws, by the time I found him, it likely would have been too late.

At least six dog owners in Minnesota this fall have not had second chances. One dog owner, unable to free his suffering canine companion caught in a Conibear, had to shoot it to end its agony.

Except for a brief stint as a youngster seeking a little pocket change in exchange for pocket gophers, I’ve never been a trapper.

However, like most hunters, I view trappers as cut mostly from the same cloth as us — folks imbued with the same love and appreciation of the outdoors and the bounty it offers.

Trappers and hunters traditionally have been comrades in arms when it comes to beating back the threats to our outdoor pursuits.

That hunting dogs sometimes wind up in traps during a trip afield is nothing new. But in the case of leg-hold traps, a hunter can still free his dog with minimal damage. As illustrated by my experience, ditto for snares.

But Conibears, by their very design, are designed to kill quickly and efficiently.

In recent years, a paid advertisement from the Minnesota Trappers Association printed in the annual Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Handbook has outlined how to release a domestic animal caught in a Conibear.

It is complicated and confusing procedure, even when studied in leisurely circumstances. But in the stressful chaos of having a struggling, dying dog at one’s feet, following the instructions would be nearly impossible.

And the instructions imply that the dog wasn’t killed at the moment the jaws snapped around its neck.

 Recent news reports of dogs being killed in the traps have prompted Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, to introduce legislation next week that would require that some powerful body-gripping traps be set at least five feet above the ground or submerged in water.

Trappers already are restricted in the way they set the largest body-gripping traps and the legislation would extend to the mid-sized traps that presently are allowed as ground sets in most of Minnesota.

Authors of the bill say the proposed bill is not intended to ban the use of Conibear-style traps, only to lessen the chances of dogs being caught in the particularly deadly devices.

The change would not be welcomed by trappers said a spokesman for the MTA, explaining that such requirements would make the traps which typically are used to capture raccoons and bobcats ineffective.

At the certain risk of incurring the wrath of the trapping fraternity, it seems Minnesota trappers might be well served by embracing the proposed changes that would minimize the deadly threat to our canine hunting partners.  

After all, when it comes to our dogs, we hunters can be an irrational lot. We invest a lot of time, money and emotion in them. We love ’em as members of the family.

About 7,000 Minnesota trapping licenses are sold annually compared to 300,000 small game licenses.

Best they keep us on their side.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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