Fur Trapping – What Happened?

February 13, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Beaver Trapping Still Popular in Some Areas

Beaver Trapping Still Popular in Some Areas

Many of the first inhabitants of what is now North Dakota depended on hunting and gathering for subsistence. Many of the first explorers of European descent, more than 200 years ago, were trappers and hunters.

They trapped beavers and just generally lived off the land, from Pembina to Fort Abercrombie, depending on nature’s bounty to maintain life on the prairies.

Trapping is not as prevalent today. A generation or two ago, many a farm kid, or the farmer himself, made spending money – and sometimes pretty good money – running a trap line. The countryside has fewer farms and kids now, and therefore fewer trap lines. In addition, maintaining a trap line is a time-consuming commitment, and I think we can all attest that for some reason nobody seems to have has much time now as they did years ago.

Fox Trapping is on a steady decline.

Fox Trapping is on a steady decline.

Fur prices are down as well. In the late 1970s a prime coyote or fox could fetch more than $75. Nowadays, trappers or hunters do well to get more than $20.

When I was growing up, my dad ran a trap line in south central North Dakota. From fox and mink, to muskrat and badger, you never knew what you would find on the trap line.

The first subscription ever to bear my name was for “The Trapper” newspaper. Dad bought it as a gift for me, for helping him on the trap line 20-plus years ago. I have fond memories of spending my after-school time riding with Dad across LaMoure County in the old blue Ford pickup.

What happened? I don’t know. I guess over the year’s money and time became an issue, though I don’t remember Dad trapping simply for financial gain. It was another outlet for his enjoyment of all things outdoors.

The last time I trapped anything was in the early 1990s as part of a summer job, catching raccoons, skunks and other varmints on nesting islands, to help improve waterfowl reproduction success. Since then, it just hasn’t been a priority for me, though I often think about getting back into it.

Trapping requires a high degree of responsibility. Traps must be checked each and every day, so gas money and time are important factors. In the last two decades, furbearer populations have varied greatly. An epidemic of mange greatly reduced fox populations and also hurt coyote populations.

“Mange has taken it’s toll the last 20 years,” according to Jacquie Ermer, North Dakota Game and Fish Department furbearer biologist, “but indications are that we’re moving up, our fox populations seem to be significantly higher than even just three years ago.”

Predator hunting still rises in popularity

Predator hunting still rises in popularity

While trapping is not as popular today as it once was, furbearer hunting is on the increase. Fox and coyote callers have stayed in the field, despite reduced predator numbers.

“Our statistics are showing furbearer hunters and trappers are spending more time in the field,” Ermer added, “but success has been declining.” As mange retreats, those statistics should balance out.

The North Dakota Furtakers Association is a network of passionate individuals dedicated to educating people about the art of trapping. A soft-cover manual is an excellent source of furbearer and trapping information. From historical accounts, species biology and equipment lists, to draw baits, ethics and even snaring, this is an exceptional publication for prospective young trappers, or anyone else interested in furbearers and furtaking in North Dakota.

The future? In a lot of back yards this winter, you’ll find a youngster trying to catch a rabbit or squirrel in a cardboard box or some other contraption. Come spring they’ll trap gophers too. Some of them will maintain that interest until they’re old enough to run a real trap line, just like I did some 20 years ago.


Comments

3 Comments on "Fur Trapping – What Happened?"

  1. brian nitz on Fri, 20th Nov 2009 2:55 pm 

    i just what to now why the furs are so low

  2. ronin on Tue, 12th Jan 2010 4:44 pm 

    very nice article
    hunting seems to be like an adventure
    even fishing 🙂

    all the best

  3. david on Mon, 22nd Nov 2010 6:46 pm 

    im 16 and i run a trap line, this is a very good article

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