BARNUM, MINN. – They came by the hundreds to this sleepy little town, which bills itself as the “Gateway to the North Woods.”
They were drawn here by a collective passion for trapping fur-bearing animals. Many drove from faraway Minnesota points to be among allies in a world of increasing enemies of their sport. It was the summer convention of the Minnesota Trappers Association (MTA), held earlier this month on the Carlton County Fairgrounds.
People are rarely neutral about trapping. In a 21st century society that seems to delight in wildly dividing itself on a variety of topics, this sport is often on that list. You are either pro or con trapping, and often rabidly so.
The current flash point is a relatively new body trap, the Conibear 220. Because this trap is capable of killing a bird dog, some hunters who, in the past, were outdoor kindred spirits with trappers have turned against them. More about that in a minute.
The MTA’s mission is to perpetuate the nation’s oldest industry, fur trading. It’s a long and rich heritage in Minnesota dating to 1784 when the Northwest Fur Company opened a trading post not far from Barnum at Pine City. You can still visit that post and learn about old-time trapping.
You can also learn about today’s trappers at an MTA convention. The tone of their general meeting and the quiet conversations at the vendor booths evoke a sense that these people are well organized and very capable of preserving the trapping heritage. For some here, trapping is more a for-profit business than a hobby. Indeed, when the harvest is good and fur prices are high, pelts become what they were called in the 18th century — soft gold.
Spurring the current anti-trapping movement is the growing popularity of a body-gripping device, specifically the Conibear 220. It’s a bread-box-size trap featuring strong steel wire, springs and a four-way trigger. It’s very efficient for badgers, raccoons, beavers, opossums and skunks.
The smoldering controversy that body-gripping traps have wrought is sparked to rage — particularly among bird hunters concerned for their beloved hunting dogs — by recent headlines such as “DNR To Allow Trapping On Walk-in Hunting Land.’’
Here’s what Bob Welsh, DNR habitat program manager, says about that:
“The DNR does not allow trapping on walk-in lands. The decision to allow or forbid trapping on walk-in plots is entirely up to the discretion of the landowner. We provide for small game hunting only.”
But if you do hunt walk-in land — or anywhere for that matter — where trapping is allowed, what’s the risk?
MTA metro district director Jon Longfellow, both an ardent trapper and a bird hunter, says he is not overly concerned about traps when he and his German wirehaired pointer are afield.
“When you put a hard-running bird dog on the ground, there are risk factors. There are barbed-wire fences, sharp sticks, badger holes and other dangers capable of hurting your dog. I put traps in that same risk basket,” Longfellow said.
To lower the dog-in-body-trap risk, the MTA worked with the Legislature on language that restricts the open placement of Conibear devices on public land. They must be recessed on the ground or elevated above ground. Read the details of this new law on page 48 of the DNR’s 2014 Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.