Technique, Not Trap, Causes Foot Damage

In September, I responded to a question in “The Answer Men” about cleaning rubber-jawed steel traps by saying I disagree with using rubber-jawed traps in the first place. I’ve held this position since before these contraptions ever hit the market, back when some trappers were experimenting with things like wiring split pieces of garden hose onto trap jaws to make crude padded-jaw traps.

That comment sparked a letter from Virginia subscriber Steve Schmidt.

“I certainly hope Mr. Spencer will elaborate on that comment some time in the near future,” Schmidt wrote. “What seems to be lacking in most of what I read is a respect for the animals pursued. This lack of concern…has given trapping a tarnished image and will ultimately put an end to trapping in ALL states…The non-trapping public expects a more humane approach to trapping and they DO care about animal welfare. These folks vote and they outnumber trappers by a wide margin. The outdated steel-jawed foothold isn’t going to cut it anymore. More emphasis on new technologies (i.e. foot snares, the work done at Vegreville, etc.) would be a good step in the right direction.”

Okay. Let’s elaborate:

First of all, Steve, I agree that trapping has a “tarnished image” in the minds of many non-trappers. We profoundly disagree, though, regarding what caused the tarnishing. I challenge you to find a single instance in this magazine where the animals we pursue are treated, viewed or referred to with disrespect. All trappers worthy of the name conduct their operations as humanely as possible, and without exception, the articles, columns and advertisements in these pages reflect that attitude. It was that way when Chuck Spearman started The Trapper in the 1970s. It was that way through the ’80s and ’90s and early 2000’s, when Tom Krause, Don Shumaker, Rich Faler, Gordy Krahn and Paul Wait were its editors. I promise you it will continue on my watch.

Sure, some folks operate outside the bounds of humane and respectful treatment of the animals they catch. Those are the bad apples, and they’re present in every barrel. However, those people don’t write for this magazine (or any other trapping magazine, for that matter.) Through our authors and columnists, we strive to entertain and, more importantly, educate trappers in more efficient, more humane methods of capture. So do our competitors. And it works. There will always be some thugs out there doing things wrong and giving the rest of us a black eye, but I cannot in good faith stand quietly by while you accuse the authors and readers of this magazine of disrespect for the furbearers we pursue. It just ain’t so.

What has given trappers a bad image is the unrelenting attacks of the anti-hunting, anti-trapping activists who use emotional appeals, half-truths and outright lies to advance their agenda. These well-intentioned but misguided groups are out to get us, pure and simple. They will go to any lengths to discredit us and this thing that binds us together.

This is not to say we trappers aren’t sometimes our own worst enemies. That’s why T&PC has always striven to educate trappers in the most humane and efficient methods. That’s why there’s a Fur Takers College. That’s why state and national trappers associations feature seminars at almost every convention.

The reason I don’t think much of padded-jaw traps is because I view them as a crutch, not an improvement. The steel-jawed foothold isn’t outdated at all, but there is no trap, regardless of size, configuration or jaw material, that cannot be used incorrectly – which is to say, inhumanely. My fear is and has always been that if padded jaws are mandated (which is very likely, now that we have BMPs in place that recommend them), trappers will have fewer tools in their toolbox. That is never a good thing.

The jury is still out on whether padded jaws really reduce long-term or delayed foot damage in the first place. Remember, the BMP recommendations rely solely on necropsies of animals that were killed before being removed from the trap, per the written guidelines BMP trappers were required to follow. When an animal dies, there’s no further blood circulation, therefore no further bruising, swelling, edema or anything else. If the BMP studies (in which I participated for two years, by the way) had kept the animals alive for a month or so after capture, I might have more faith in the recommendations.
In summary, it’s the technique, not the trap, that causes foot damage. And part of that technique involves choosing the proper-sized trap. I’m skeptical, though, that padded jaws are better.
I’m all for building a better mousetrap, so to speak, and I agree that if we don’t make allies out of non-trappers, they’ll vote us out of existence.

But we need to do that through education, not through compromise, and not by abandoning perfectly good equipment just because we’re getting pressured by folks who don’t know as much about our business as we do.

Thanks for your thoughtful letter, Steve. We’re on the same side here.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark. is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send mail to P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 or emails to modernmountainman@gmail.com.

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