Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trapping and The Modern Woodsman

Ooooh, trapping; the final frontier. I’ve been writing this blog for years now and have avoided the subject this whole time because it has become rather controversial. About a year ago I started writing a bit more on this blog about hunting. As I stated then, I consider it an important part of woodsmanship, and simply wanted to be able to share my trip reports when hunting was involved. So far there hasn’t been much controversy over that, so I’ve decided to introduce another aspect of my outdoor activities, trapping.


Yes, I am a licensed trapper in the State of New York. I am a member of The New York State Trappers Association. I would say I am a slightly better trapper than I am a hunter, although that isn’t saying much. It is however something that I do, and at times it overlaps with my trips into the forests, and in fact this overlap is the area that I am interested in exploring through this blog.

Now, I understand that most people are very far removed from trapping. In fact, even on a good year, in New York State there are less than 10,000 trappers all together out of a population of almost 20 million. As such, let me say a few words about the activity, and what I plan on writing about on this blog, which is more concerned with general woodsmanship than the details of trapping.

In its most common form (at least from what I have seen and experienced), trapping these days is rather disconnected from the wilderness as we envision it. The image of the mountain man traveling for six months through the wilderness to trap beaver that he then sells at a rendezvous somewhere in the woods is pretty far from the reality of modern trapping. These days trapping is most commonly done in rural and suburban areas of the country, close to the trapper’s home. In part that is the result of regulations which require frequent checking of the traps, usually anywhere from every 24 to 48 hours, and in part it is due to animals concentrating around rural and suburban areas due to easy access to food and ease of travel. The reality is that you are a lot more likely to trap a raccoon by placing a trap on your garbage can than somewhere in the woods. 

This is the type of trapping that I have generally become familiar with. I enjoy it as an activity, but in many cases it is quite separate from the rest of my travels through the woods. My goal this year is to change that, or at least explore ways to do it. Going with the concept of The Modern Woodsman, an individual who is able to undertake long term, long distance trips, deep into the wilderness, only with supplies one could carry and what could be gathered from the surrounding environment; I hope to find a way to incorporate my trapping in the same way that I have tried to do it with my hunting and fishing. I don’t know how successful the attempt will be but I will keep you updated. 

Let me begin by addressing the question that most people usually have: why trap at all? Well, that is actually two questions. The first is why do I trap? The second is why should anyone trap?

As far as why I personally trap, I do it because I think it is an essential part of woodsmanship as a whole. If we look at woodsmanship as the ability to sustain one’s self for a prolonged period of time in the wilderness only with the resources one can carry, then trapping becomes an important skill. Food procurement is essential for longer term travel and living in the wilderness, and trapping is a very productive tool for food procurement. It also offers the additional benefit of learning other important woodsmanship skills like fur processing and tanning. That is true not only from the perspective of historical woodsmanship, but it’s also equally true for The Modern Woodsman. With the utilization of modern techniques, trapping is an effective and practical tool.

With respect to the second question of why anyone should trap, it is much trickier to answer. There is no reason for everyone to trap, and it’s not an activity well suited for every person. That being said, even though it is seldomly seen by the average person, trapping is essential as a wildlife management tool, and it’s important that there be people who continue to trap. The DEC licenses individuals to trap particular species during particular times of the year in order to control the population numbers of certain species. If individuals didn’t trap, the DEC would have to hire nuisance control operators to do the exact same thing. The alternatives such as chemical castration of populations of animals, electrified fences around communities, or simply forcing population reduction through starvation and disease, are typically less effective or less desirable. In fact, on a national level, according to their own statistics, in 2013, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) trapped 22,332,134 animals. The trapping was done by paid nuisance control operators. The need is there, and if not done by private individuals, it has to be done by the government on the taxpayer’s dollar. 

Lastly, no conversation about trapping can be had without a discussion of the moral implications of the activity. In short, trapping is seen as cruel, and as such unethical. While most of the “cruelty” is imagined rather than real, I have no interest in sugarcoating any of this. No matter what we call it, the reality is that whether I am hunting, fishing, or trapping, I am going out into the woods in order to kill an animal and utilize it as a resource. That being said, I personally believe that me procuring meat or other resources by hunting, fishing, and trapping is no less moral than purchasing a cut of meat from the supermarket. In fact, the animal I am dispatching has lived its life free in the wilderness. At most, it has been confined to a trap for a maximum of 24 hours. Compare that to an animal born and held in captivity its whole life, forcibly sterilized, shipped cross country in cages, before those that survive are killed on a production line, butchered, and delivered to the supermarket. Not only that, but I believe that me having to suffer the elements, track, kill, and process my own game brings me much closer to that animal than paying someone to do it for me and bring the product to my local store. I am not saying that everyone should do the same thing, but I just don’t see trapping as any less ethical than the alternative. 

In the process of writing about trapping I hope to dispel some myths and misconceptions about it. When talking about trapping most people picture jaws lined with razor sharp teeth, severing limbs, crushing bone, and ensuring unimaginable agony for any animal or person caught in a trap. In this day and age, where we have become almost completely disconnected from our food sources, trapping may appear to the average person as an unnecessary remnant of a barbaric age long past. I hope to show through my posts that it is nothing of the sort. Sadly what people picture when they think of trapping has very little to do with reality. Ultimately it is not an activity that is suited for everyone, so I’ll try to keep my posts on the subject constructive.

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