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Learning the right way to be a trapper

SUBMITTED PHOTO HERE'S HOW TO STRETCH A MINK HIDE: A demonstration at a trapper training session in the past held to teach young people how to safely and ethically trap animals.

Muskrats, raccoon, martens, beaver, skunk -- even bobcat and coyote -- all these animals, and many more are actively trapped for their fur in Minnesota, and Becker County is no exception.

Trapping remains popular enough that the Cormorant Lakes Sportsman's Club has bowed to demand and is offering a trapper education course on July 15.

"It's just like the hunter education program," says Rick Julian, a director at the Sportsman's Club. "It's required for anybody born after Dec. 31, 1989 -- they have to go through what is basically safety training -- we teach them how to trap ethically and safely."

The course is free, and is the fourth one offered by the Sportsman's Club, although it's been a few years since the last one, Julian said. About 60 kids were trained in the previous courses.

Adults often take the course with their kids, to better understand the art of trapping.

Skunk oil for perfume

The most commonly-trapped animals are muskrats, raccoon and beaver, and Julian plans to have several animals on hand to show the kids how to skin and process the furs.

After all, if they are properly stretched and dried they bring double the cash of "green furs" that have not been processed, he said.

Even skunk can be valuable -- the fur can bring up to $10 and the essence (minus the stink) is used as oil in high-end perfumes.

"It lasts so long," Julian explained. "And moisture just makes it more powerful."

He also hopes to instill in the kids a sense of Minnesota's long history of trapping and fur-trading.

"We try to teach them some of the heritage of trapping," he said.

Trappers need craftiness and technical skill -- they need to know things like what kind and what size trap to use in each situation, how best to mask human scent, and where to place the traps.

"You have to try to figure out how to put a trap with a 1-inch circle pan in an area where an animal will step on it," Julian said. "It's a lot more in-depth than hunting. You have to be a lot smarter than the critter."

The youth course will be presented by the Minnesota Trappers Association and the Sportsman's Club, which will provide a certified instructor. Pre-registration is required by June 25. Study material will be sent to all participants. Call Rick Julian at 218-532-3025.

More humane traps

Most trappers use three styles of traps -- those that hold the animal by the foot (foothold traps), those that hold by the body to cause a quick kill (bodygrip traps or conibears), and those that enclose the animal (cage traps).

According to Jason Abraham, a DNR staff writer for the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine, today's traps feature improved springs and jaws that hold animals securely without breaking bones or piercing flesh.

This also allows trappers to efficiently hold animals in smaller traps, thus decreasing the possibility of catching and holding larger animals that aren't being targeted.

The surface area of trap jaws has been widened and smoothed; sometimes they are offset to leave a small gap when closed, for holding the animal securely without causing injury.

Population management

On average, about 6,000 people buy a Minnesota trapping license each year.

Trappers see the process as an integral part of wildlife management. Without trappers, landowners, counties, cities, and the state would have to pay to remove beaver dams, muskrat houses, and the like from culverts.

By taking pelts in season, trappers are able to profit and provide the additional benefit of animal control, says Abrahamson.

Minnesota's trapping seasons begin in late fall, as the weather cools and furbearer pelts begin to reach their prime. With thicker fur and more distinct colors, the pelts become more valuable to fur buyers.

Furs from Minnesota are usually sold to processors in Canada, where they are combined with furs from across North America and sold in large shipments to garment manufacturers in Europe, Russia and China.

December, January and February are the busiest months for trappers in Minnesota, where 14 species of furbearers are trapped. According to DNR records, muskrat are the most commonly trapped species, followed by beaver, raccoon and mink.

Overharvest not an issue

Populations of Minnesota's commonly trapped species are high and there is no danger of overharvest, according to Tom Kucera, acting area wildlife manager for the DNR in Detroit Lakes.

"Especially when it comes to something like beaver, which can be nuisance creatures -- it's certainly important to us just for damage management," he said.

Regulations require trappers to check live-traps, such as foothold traps and snares set on land, a minimum of once each calendar day.

They must check drowning or killing traps, such as conibear, at least once every three calendar days.

The DNR sets limits on fisher, pine marten, bobcat and otter trapping to avoid overharvest and distribute the take among trappers, Kucera said.

Fur prices

To give you an idea of current prices: At the Western States Fur Auction in Columbus, Mont., last weekend, coyotes were a hot-selling item, at an average price of about $45.

(Minnesota coyotes are not as popular, since their fur tends to be yellowish rather than silver, Julian said.)

Bobcats brought an average price of $572.

Muskrat averaged about $5, raccoon averaged about $19 and marten averaged about $36.

Other prices: Badger averaged $25; red fox brought $31; mink averaged $12; otter brought $47; skunk averaged $8; ermine brought $2; porcupine guard hair averaged $23 and beaver castor brought $44, though beaver pelt prices tend to be low.