Caught in a Bind: The Debate of Trapping

When traps catch the attention of the anti-hunting community


Story by Eva Mizer

Slowly plodding through the snow, an animal keeps his nose low to the ground, searching for the scent of prey. It's frigid outside. His thick winter coat protects him from the cold that turns his breath to mist. He catches a fresh scent. He moves slowly, quietly, stealthily following the fresh trail. Suddenly, steel tears through the snow, ripping flesh and crushing bone. Terrified, he jumps, trying to escape, but the chain attached pulls him back. He struggles, adrenaline flowing through his veins, attempting to escape the metal contraption now pinning him helplessly to the ground. He whimpers, trying to understand why he can't escape as the pain of the trap on his leg, now throbbing, increases to an unimaginable level. The method of death is uncertain, but certainly prolonged. Alone and defenseless, he could be shot, bleed out, or slowly starve to death.

It's your dog.

"Like hunting, trapping is a form of game management that absolutely needs to be practiced."

Trapping has been a long tradition in the North Country. Early pioneers lived off the land, trapping beavers, and other animals for food, warmth, and income. Before them, Native Americans trapped for the same reasons. Today, however, trapping has become a taboo with recent pet and human accidents happening on public land.

While trapping is usually done on private land, most trapping accidents happen on public land. While regulations vary from state to state, most counties not only allow trapping on public land, but also encouraged it.


What's this pic about?An old trap equipped with teeth.

Photo courtesy of Tim Dennell.

“Like hunting, trapping is a form of game management that absolutely needs to be practiced,” says Dan Ladd, a writer for ADKHunter.com, a website dedicated to avid outdoorsmen. A member of the hunting community, he believes that without trapping, animal populations can become unbalanced and cause significant problems. When a population of a species becomes too great to sustain itself, wide-spread famine or disease can occur. This is not only a problem for the species themselves, but for humans and pets as well. “The rabies epidemic associated with raccoons a decade ago,” he states, was a prime example of this.

"The metal traps equipped with gleaming teeth that sink into the animal are not uncommon."

There are three types of traps generally used in the United States: a snare, a leghold, and a conibear.

A snare suspends the animal partially off the ground until the hunter finds it, and is mostly used for bears and coyotes. (It should be noted that snares are illegal in NY for trapping.) Conibear traps, as well as leghold traps, are mostly used for coyotes and small game such as minks, muskrats, weasels, beavers, otters, and squirrels.

A trap is sprung when an animal walking across it sets off a trigger. In a conibear trap, the trigger is usually a metal disk placed in the middle of the trap. Once the trigger is set off, the wire sides snap shut, either by catching the leg of the animal (as in a leg-hold trap), or by snapping the neck of the animal (as in a conibear trap), killing it instantly. While conibear traps, used for killing raccoons, foxes, and other mid-sized animals, will generally kill the animal instantly, there is always a chance that a larger animal, such as a dog or even a person, can get caught in one. All over the North Country, dogs, as well as cats, have reportedly been caught in traps and then suffered neck injuries, shootings, suffocation, or death in some other grotesque way.

Furthermore, the metal traps equipped with gleaming teeth that sink into the animal are not uncommon. These traps, a type of leg-hold, have been outlawed in NY, but are still allowed in parts of the North Country including Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

"What if you forget (the trap) is there and a little kid steps in it?" she asks, shaking her head. "It's like the mines in Vietnam."

Due to the high probability of instances of pets and humans getting caught in traps, many people have taken a stance against trapping. Natalie Burke is a college student from Niskayuna, NY. She, like most of her friends, is against anything that can possibly make an animal suffer. She has a small Pekinese-pug mix at home, which is the size of a raccoon and would fit perfectly in a trap set to break its neck. However, her arguments against trapping, especially on public land, go beyond her love of animals. "What if you forget (the trap) is there and a little kid steps in it?" she asks, shaking her head. "It's like the mines in Vietnam."

  Generally, if a child steps in a trap, adequate footwear would generally prevent any serious injury. However, all of the adequate footwear will not prepare one for the struggle to escape the binding strength of a well-placed trap. To release a trap's grip from something requires a significant amount of strength and precision that not many people unfamiliar with hunting, especially children, would be able to produce.

"Trappers cannot be trusted to keep their traps away from areas where people bring their animals for a little bit of recreation."

Most accidents happen when someone wanders off a trail and doesn't realize the signs that a trap is present. By law, traps must have an identification tag attached to them to pair them with the owner, as well as be placed at a considerable distance of 100 or more feet away from any trail. However, there is not a limit on the number of traps that a hunter can set, only the number of animals he can bring in. Because of this, numerous traps may be set in a small area, causing a window of a dangerous situation to open. However, Ladd points out that most trappers are conscious of the number of traps they can set in an area in relation to the game population. “Game is a renewable resource when managed responsibly,” Ladd explains, “and with that, I will point out that most logical trappers do not overdo it in the areas they work.”

"The risk to people is very slim, but dogs who are allowed off-leash run a significant risk of being caught," says Joe Meile, president of the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting, or C.A.S.H. 

C.A.S.H., founded in 1976 by Luke A. Dommer, is dedicated to eradicating trapping not only on public land, but land in general. "Trappers cannot be trusted to keep their traps away from areas where people bring their animals for a little bit of recreation," Meile continues. "My advice is to know when trapping season is open and to not allow one's dogs to run free."

“[The trappers] certainly don't match the public's stereotypical perception of them.”

While most people are told to remain paranoid about traps placed in a reckless illegal manner, trappers themselves remain firm in their position that a few negligent or illegal trappers, as well as uninformed citizens wandering too far from a path, put them in a negative spotlight.

Pete Premo, studio manager for SUNY Plattsburgh Department of Communication Studies, is an experienced trapper and hunter. In his time, he has helped with hunting and trapping everything from small animals around NY to hunting a moose in northern Quebec with his father-in-law.

Illegal trapping, he reasons, is generally what makes the headlines and causes many people to fall out of favor with trapping in general. Illegal trappers, no matter the laws, will trap without respect of guidelines set out to protect the animals and the people around them.

What's this pic about?
A trap snaps shut on a stick about the size of an animal's leg.

Photo courtesy of Tim Danell.

“More often than not, the pet owner carries as much of the responsibility as the trapper, but they don't often see it that way.”

However, the blame of trapping accidents cannot be fully placed on the trappers themselves. The public seems to generalize that all trappers are dangerous people who have no respect for the animals they hunt. “[The trappers] certainly don't match the public's stereotypical perception of them,” Dan Ladd explains. “Every trapper I know is a very skilled woodsman and knows more [hunting wisdom] than the average sportsman.”

Instead of blaming the trappers, he contends, one must take into the account the many people or owners of pets which end up in the traps. “[Trappers] get a bad name because of the number of pets that have unfortunately been killed,” Ladd clarifies. “More often than not, the pet owner carries as much of the responsibility as the trapper, but they don't often see it that way.”

Unfortunately, as long as people who own pets live and thrive in areas where trappers practice their trade, the conflict between the two groups of animal lovers will rage on. For now, people must err on the side of caution when taking their pets out, as to avoid any trap that would harm them. “I don’t think there is a concrete answer,” Premo says, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms to his chest, “I don’t think there is one side that can say ‘We are right and you are wrong.’”

What are your thoughts on trapping? Should current regulations be changed?