Minnesota Trappers Association
Articles & Stories Submited by Minnesota Trappers
"Getting the Word Out" by Don McGaffey
Trapping has a long history in North America. It is impossible to read anything about the expansion and settlement of our United States without realizing the importance that trapping, especially beaver trapping, played in the exploration and westward expansion. Trading posts became cities such as Saint Louis and Saint Paul and trade routes became highways. Trappers long predated the buffalo hunters, railroads, and farmers. The contributions that trapping provided this great country is well documented and preserved in history. The fur trade was well known to the common person and widely accepted because people understood the economic value if they knew nothing else about trapping.
Today, our sport is a shadow sport. A few people know about trapping but know nothing ABOUT trapping. Our numbers are continually declining. Our society is becoming more metro based. Old timers are hanging up their traps and the recruitment of new trappers is low. Electronic gadgets, sports, and a long list of other things command young people’s attention. Lots of young people participate in hunting because they usually know someone that hunts, but very few know a trapper.
Some years ago, I was contacted by Jo Colvin, a reporter for a local newspaper, about possibly doing an article about trapping. She had gotten my name from a colleague during a brainstorming session to come up with topics of interest to do stories on. Jo had never been exposed to trapping, or even hunting, but was intrigued enough to want to do the story. Jo was apprehensive because she had no clue what she was getting into and I was apprehensive because I had no clue how she would present trapping to her readers. Neither of our fears held merit. Jo expected to see blood and gore and was amazed that none of that existed and she wrote a very nice, supportive article. At the end of the day she told me that I should take other people along because people would be interested in finding out more about trapping first hand. And the idea of doing ride a longs was born.
Every year I have taught a one day class at the local middle school (pre-Covid) about trapping and furbearers. For most of the approximately 300 kids I teach each year, it is their first exposure to trapping. I also do presentations for 4-H groups, Boy Scouts, and church groups. I accept invitations to any group that provides me an opportunity to educate people. Booths at the county fair and the Alexandria Youth Outdoor Activity Day provide additional contact with youth. And they ask questions; LOTS of questions. Based on the interest they show, I offer to take them on the trapline with me. The offer is also extended to their parents. I have a business card that I give them so they have my contact information and maybe ten percent will call and actually take me up on the offer.
My wife and I were trying to figure out how many people (it not just youth) that I’ve taken on the line and all we could come up with is “dozens”. There’s no better or easier way to get people to understand all the “pieces” to trapping than to show them first hand.
My offer isn’t reserved for people with a positive interest in trapping. I have taken folks out that were opposed to the sport because of the “cruelty” or some other belief that was not based in fact. I have never had a person end the day with the same beliefs about trapping that they started the day with. I have had people that still didn’t like it, but understood that the cruelty they thought they would see just wasn’t a reality. I have had people that were opposed to trapping end the day actually very much enjoying the experience and being supportive, even if they couldn’t participate themselves.
Taking people out that want to learn to trap (mostly youth) is the highlight of the ride along. These riders are almost always full of a thousand questions. They can’t learn enough! A lot of them forget to eat their lunch! I can usually gauge which ones will continue trapping and which ones will determine it’s too much work or it’s not what they thought it would be by the number and type of questions they ask, but there are exceptions. When I took a young man named Caleb Englund, I think he was eleven, I’m not sure he said seventeen words the whole day unless I spoke to him first. He was very interested and attentive- he just didn’t talk. Fast forward three or four years and that same young man is very accomplished at snaring and catches an impressive collection every winter. I’m not a snareman so I can’t take any credit for his skills, but I would like to think that I helped spark the passion.
Most riders are a one and done, but there are a few that want an additional ride. There have been several beginners that seek a deeper understanding of particular details of what they had previously observed. I have a young lady, Jessie Blanchard, that has ridden with me every year for the past three years. She has a genuine love for the outdoors and has deer, bear, and pheasant hunted with her dad in the past. When her dad passed away, she lost that connection to the sports she enjoyed. Riding with me reestablishes that connection and when she goes back to work, guess what she talks about: trapping! Jess is a nurse at the local hospital and has contact with lots of coworkers and patients. She’s a fantastic ambassador for trapping! Jess has set a couple of body grips in coon trails (and had the bruised knuckles to prove it) but she will never trap on her own. And I don’t care! The positive press she provides us is priceless!
The experience of being on an active trapline can’t be replicated at the field day. When a beginner sees a coyote, coon, or whatever actually caught, that fire that was already burning becomes an inferno!
If you want to bring added enjoyment to your trapline, take someone with you. It’s good for you. It’s good for your guest and, most important, it’s good for trapping!