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Gun Dogs and Land Trapping

by Carl Altenbernd

Land trapping is one of the most misunderstood sports practiced in the field today. It has been an easy target for the animal-rights groups thanks to myths and misunderstandings. As a dog owner, you should be aware of the basics of trapping. The snare, conibear, and leghold traps are not dangerous nor a threat to you or your dog. A controlled sport that ensures no endangered species are caught, trapping is an essential and necessary tool for the proper management of furbearers and predators.

Let’s look first at a few of the facts about trapping. Gun dogs can easily be released from a leghold trap without harm. Trappers have no intention of catching non-target animals and few non-furbearers are caught due to set construction, selective attractors, and regulations addressing methods to avoid non target catches. Furbearers are held in the trap only a few hours. Most furbearers make an effort to escape until they are convinced they are securely held in place. When approaching a trapped furbearer you should walk around the animal. In no instance should you shoot a trapped furbearer. In fact, in most states you are in violation if you disturb a trapper’s set.

There are two other forms of traps, the snare and body-gripping trap, which is commonly called the conibear. The snare completely encircles the neck or limb of the target animal. The conibear, as illustrated, has one or two springs that close by tripping off a trigger as the animal passes through the center of the trap. The conibear is used for some species in water trapping. Most predators are too shy and avoid the trap design. The use of snares and conibears are subject to separate and specific regulations in each state’s small game trapping laws. Most states allow the use of snares or conibears on farmland and in urban areas only as a water set. A water set is usually described as any body-gripping trap or snare set so that the trap jaws or snare loop are at least half –submerged in water. Further restrictions on the snare include the diameter of the snare loop not exceeding 10 to 12 inches or being set more then 12 to 16 inches above the ground.

When hunting in the upper Midwest, you have the greatest chance of running into a trapper’s set during mid-October to mid-December, when pelts are at their prime. The season can be longer or shorter. An early heavy snowstorm will shut down most trappers because the leghold trap does not function well under adverse field conditions.

Most furbearer in the field are caught in leghold traps by using what is commonly described as a dirt-hole set. The trapper will usually use a No. 1 ½ or No. 2 coil spring. Attached to the trap will be a metal tag that includes the name and address of the trapper. In addition, an eighteen to twenty-four inch metal stake secures the trap. Special components to the set include a trap cover, feather attractors, lure and bait. The set is designed to simulate a location where a furbearer has buried a food catch for later eating. As a hunter in the field, you will not see the dirt hole set unless you are an experienced trapper, but your gun dog will pick up the scent.
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