Minnesota Hunters Push for Restrictions on Deadly Trap

A Minnesota Trappers Association ad in the state's hunting and trapping regulations handbook offers instructions on how to free a dog from a trap. For frantic, injured dogs aided by panicked owners, however, the traps are usually fatal. - Illustration from Wisconsin Department of Natural ResourcesA growing number of hunters in Minnesota are supporting legislation currently pending in the state that would restrict the use of traps intended to catch and kill furbearing animals. The traps at issue are lethal “body-gripping” or “Conibear” type traps, which are powerful, spring-loaded devices with a pair of rectangular steel jaws. When the trap is triggered, the jaws are meant to close violently on the victim, breaking the animal’s neck and/or back. While designed to catch furbearing wildlife like raccoons, bobcats and beavers, these deadly traps catch and typically kill non-target animals as well. In addition, the traps often fail to strike as intended—thus leaving their victims to suffer protracted, excruciating deaths.

It is legal to set body-gripping traps on almost all public land in Minnesota. As a result, hunting dogs, who often run ahead to track down prey or pinpoint the precise location of animals, are falling victim to such traps. When a dog sticks his or her head in the trap—often baited with meat—it slams shut. In late December 2011, Jerry Noska was hunting ruffed grouse with his six-year-old English setter, Sue, when a Conibear trap broke her neck and took her life. That same month, Doug Snyder and his two teenage sons were walking along a forest road with their nine-year-old setter-Lab mix, Polka Dot, when she became stuck in a body-gripping trap just 60 yards away from them. They desperately tried to set her free but the trap’s jaws were closed too tightly around Polka Dot’s neck and head. To end her suffering, they shot their beloved companion at point blank range. These two hunting dogs are among at least six reported to have been felled by traps in Minnesota since last fall. The number of hunting dogs killed as a result of being caught in Conibear traps is in all likelihood much higher since not all incidents are reported.

While the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) claims that the number of dogs caught in Conibear traps is relatively small in relation to the number of traps set each year, MDNR wildlife chief Dennis Simon admits that the majority of such cases are, in fact, fatal. Legislation (H.F. No. 2243 and S.F. No. 1736) introduced in February of this year would require that Conibear type body-griping traps be set at least five feet above the ground or completely submerged in water. The lead sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Chuck Wiger and Rep. John Ward, say they are not looking to ban body-gripping traps but instead hope that the legislation would serve to protect dogs and other pets who spend time in the same areas where such traps are set. While there are a number of hunters supporting the legislation, the Minnesota Trappers Association is opposing it—claiming that prohibiting the traps from being set on the ground would make them ineffective for catching most species of animals. This restriction, however, is not novel; 25 other states have already passed similar laws requiring body-gripping traps to be elevated off the ground, making it more difficult for dogs to reach them.