Time to End a Twisted Tradition

By: Jim Robertson

Unless a severe blow to the head or some psychopathic disorder has rendered them incapable of feeling empathy for others, anyone who witnesses the harrowing ordeal suffered by an animal caught in a leg hold trap should be appalled and outraged that trapping is still legal in a society that considers itself civilized. The continuation of this horrid, outdated practice in a country governed by the people suggests that either most folks have brain damage, or they are simply unaware of the terrible anguish and desperation a trapped animal goes through.

They must never have heard the cries of shock and pain when an animal first feels the steel jaws of a trap lock down onto his leg. They must never have looked into the weary eyes of a helpless victim who has been caught in a trap for days and nights on end. They must never have come across a leg that an animal had chewed off in order to escape a deadly fate, nor stopped to think how tormented and hopeless one must be to decide to take that desperate action. And they must never have seen an animal struggling through her life on three legs.

I have had several heart-wrenching experiences with the gruesome evils of trapping. On a walk near our home in Eastern Washington, my dog, Tucker, stepped into a steel-jawed, leg-hold trap that clamped down onto his front paw, prying his toes apart. He cried out in terror and frantically tried to shake it off, biting at the trap, at his paw, and at me as I fought to open the jaws of the trap. It continued to cut deeper into his tender flesh and my efforts caused him even more pain, but after many tortuous minutes, I was finally able to loosen the cruel device enough for him to pull free.

Another dog I freed was caught in two leg-hold traps. One was latched onto her front leg, while the second gripped her hind leg, forcing her to remain standing for countless, interminably long hours. Judging by how fatigued and dehydrated she was, she had been trapped there for several days. The sinister traps caused so much damage that a vet had to amputate one of her injured legs.

With no other hope of escape and feeling vulnerable to anyone that comes along, many trapped animals resort to amputating their own leg. Trappers callously try to downplay this grim act of despair by giving it the innocuous knick-name, “wring off.” But if they do not bleed to death or die from infection, these animals spend the rest of their lives crippled and possibly unable to keep up with a demanding life in the wild.

Unlike the fictional character “Little Big Man,” who was distraught to the brink of suicide when he found that an animal had chewed off it’s leg to escape one of his traps, most trappers who find a “wring-off” are indifferent to the suffering they caused as they discard the chewed-off limb and mindlessly reset their trap.

While we were camped near Bowron Lakes Provincial Park in B.C., Canada early last April, my dog found just such a discarded limb–the front leg of a lynx. In the ultimate betrayal of trust, animals protected in parks are fair game for trapping on the lands immediately outside park boundaries. Trappers consider those lands adjoining parks to be the most “productive,” and will pay tens of thousands of dollars for trap-lines in these areas. I have seen three-legged coyotes near the North Cascades National Park, and within the Grand Tetons National Park. Though it is considered a crime to trap inside those parks, it is perfectly legal to set traps right outside the boundaries of these meager protected lands.

Sidestepping the indisputable cruelty issue, pro-trapping factions try to perpetuate the myth that trapping is “sustainable.” But time and again entire populations of “furbearers” are completely trapped out of an area. The winter after I found wolf tracks in Katmai National Monument on the Alaska Peninsula, all seven members of the pack of wolves who had found a niche in and around that park were killed by trappers. Though they are extinct or endangered in most of the U.S., 1,500 wolves are legally trapped in Alaska each year.

Leg-hold traps are now banned in 88 countries, and some enlightened states have passed voter-approved initiatives to outlaw trapping. But in many U.S. states, as in Canada, the twisted tradition is not only legal, it’s practically enshrined. Compassionate people everywhere must add their voice to the rising call to end this barbarity once and for all.

Discovering the Dangers of Trapping

By: Mike

I first discovered trapping while backpacking during February of 1973. Leaving the road end on the Salmon River in Idaho, I headed downstream along the trail with a Newfoundland dog named Sophie. There wasn’t any snow, so the going was easy and I soon came to Killum Point, about two miles downstream. Here the trail is blasted out of a cliff high above the water.

I was startled to see a skinned animal, which I later realized was a coyote, hanging by a wire on the cliff face. A moment later, Sophie stepped into a trap right on the trail and let out a yelp. Being a large dog, Sophie pulled hard and was able to extricate herself from the trap after a few moments of panic. Still wearing my pack, I went up to the trap and crouched down to examine it. I lost my balance and put my hand down to steady myself, placing it right in another leghold trap. I frantically pulled on the trap, never having seen one before, and was able to remove my hand, skinning my knuckles in the process. I was furious by that point, and further searching revealed a total of five leghold traps at that spot, all connected to one anchoring cable. I couldn’t believe someone would put all these traps right in the trail, which was narrow on the side of a rocky bluff.

I continued down the trail to Horse Creek Bar, my planned campsite. Once there, I gingerly checked around the river bar and found several more traps set right in and around the campsite. One had a skinned bobcat lying next to it, another a coyote. To protect Sophie, I snapped the three traps for the night. Needless to say, my trip was ruined due to the unpleasant experiences with traps and the anxiety that I would find more.

As winters passed, it seemed wherever I went, I discovered traps and snares. In the Bitterroot Valley, I ran into traps in Lost Horse Creek, Big Creek, Kootenai Creek, and Eight Mile Creek. Along the Lochsa over Lolo Pass I found traps at Russian Creek, Mocus Point pack bridge,and Glade Creek. Snowmobiling with my dad near Lolo Pass, marten traps were set along the roads we cruised. Elk Summit Road out of Powell Ranger Station, the Nez Perce Road into the upper Selway – there were traps seemingly everywhere.

Finally, late one winter day, I was coming back down the Kootenai Creek Trail west of Stevensville. I had several dogs with me, including Jack, a small black lab. As darkness approached, I was still about three miles up the creek. A couple of the dogs ran a little ahead of me and I was startled by a sudden “snarling” sound. My first impression was that it sounded like what I thought was a bobcat. I sprinted around the corner of the trail and saw Jack struggling in some sort of wire contraption. Jack was making a horrid gagging sound as he flopped around in the snow, defecating in his panic. This was my first encounter with a large conibear, but I saw the springs on each side of the trap. I was able to compress the two springs down, but I didn’t know at the time one could depress one spring, hook it on it’s retaining hook, and then the other. I never even saw the hooks in the dim light. When I compressed the springs, both my hands were in use, and I needed a third to pull the dog out. Jack was going limp and I remember looking up at the sky and praying for help. Coincidence maybe, but one of the retaining hooks caught by itself and I suddenly had the extra hand I needed, and Jack was free.

Luckily for Jack, the conibear closed along the sides of his neck, rather than his windpipe, or maybe he twisted in it. Anyway, while gasping, Jack simply shook his head and we continued back to the trailhead.

That incident gave me nightmares for some time, and even during the day, the experience kept coming back to me. I couldn’t help but relive it over and over. It got so I pretty much quit even hiking in the winter for years after. It angered me that trappers had locked me out of the woods for several months every winter. The fear of getting a dog caught and the possibility of encountering a trapped wild animal, alive, bothered me tremendously.

Late last winter, again on Idaho’s Salmon River, my wife and I saw where a coyote had been trapped on the river trail, chewing up all of the brush within reach in it’s desperation to escape. A few miles farther, we made the horrid discovery of a river otter’s front paw left in a trap. We tried to imagine the fear and pain the otter suffered in order to escape, probably to die of infection or starvation as a result of losing it’s foot.

This winter, I have been out hiking in areas that are heavily used by hikers, which I thought would be trap free. I was wrong. After several hikes, I bumped into traps again, ruining another experience. I have hated trapping for it’s cruelty and for how it has ruined my winters. All this by less than one-half of one percent of Montanans.

My wife and I have joined Footloose Montana, realizing that the only way to end this nightmare on our public lands is to make trapping illegal and end it, once and for all.


A Hiker’s Shocking Encounter with Traps Near Butte, Montana

I adopted a German Short Hair, “Grace” from the pound 6 years ago. This past Christmas, I adopted Grace a partner, “Dooley” who is a mixed up spaniel/English setter and some other stuff. What a great dog! It was Dooley’s first run off the leash since moving in with us. I have been going to this trail area south of Butte for years because it is such a “safe pretty place” to exercise the dogs and me. On this trip, there was not enough snow to ski so we took off hiking. On the hike back, we took my usual way of cutting through the trees back down to the creek. Half way down, I noticed a rabbit hanging from a wire between two trees. The dogs caught the scent quick and moved in. They know the command “stay” but the traps were set on each side about three feet from the rabbit. I couldn’t see the traps at the time because they were covered with dirt and branches. Grace triggered the first trap but it missed her. Dooley moved in a step and “snap”!! It caught her paw. I have never heard a sound come from a dog like this howling scream. It almost sounded human. I was panicked. Dooley wouldn’t let me near his paw. I took a couple hard bites to my hand and had to back off. Grace came over and seemed to calm Dooley enough for me to pry the trap open. Once released, he ran from us but finally agreed to get in the jeep. He wouldn’t let me get near his paw for a week. We have some serious trust issues now. His paw seems to be OK now.

I called the Game Warden and took him out to show him the traps. I had no idea trapping was legal in a recreational area. Someone had taken one of the traps and left a nasty note threatening the trapper. I rather enjoyed the note and agreed with it’s sentiment. The game warden advised me that it was illegal to touch the traps let alone….steal them. He explained to me that the traps were tagged and the guy was legal. He went on to explain that even if I come upon a trap with an animal suffering, I could not disturb the trap or release the animal. I asked him if I could shoot the poor suffering animal. He replied with a strong “No.” He went on to tell me that the trappers are supposed to check their traps every 48 hours. They have no way of verifying that these checks happen.

The game warden called me later that day and informed me that the trapper was a guy who currently works for game and fish. Can ya believe it?? I had this picture in my mind of toothless shot-gun carrying hillbilly!! But who do we have but a state game and fish employee paid by the taxpayers trapping where families hike and recreate year round. What a twisted world!!

The trail is located about 15 miles south of Butte. You take I-15 south to the Feeley exit. Take a right at the bridge and follow the dirt road west about a mile and a half. Turn right into the Rocky Ridge Trail parking area. At the beginning of the trail there is a small bridge over the stream. The traps were set to the west of the bridge and trail. The guy had at least 4 traps set a month ago. A Mercy trap, according to the warden, is designed to hold the leg, not necessarily break it.

Footloose Montana Supporter, December 2008

Senior Yellow Lab Trapped in Ninemile

By: Anonymous Footloose Montana Member

My senior yellow lab was caught in a foothold trap in October 2005. We were hiking in the Ninemile along an overgrown logging road. The road skirts a saddle ridge between the McCormick Creek and Kennedy Creek drainages, and is frequently used by horseback riders, hunters, and is a popular area for collecting firewood. The exact location would be Forest Service Road 4282, approximately one mile from its intersection with McCormick Creek Road.

My dog was about 10 yards ahead of me, snooping in the brush when I heard her howl. I was at her side in seconds. The trap was set about three feet off the road. This was my first encounter with traps, and I was absolutely shocked since I’d been hiking that area 3-4 times per week for the past four years. Despite being in a panic and not very mechanically inclined, I was able to release my dog. She was fine and other than a sore foot – she had no serious injuries.

Because the trapper had tagged his trap with ID, my husband and I contacted him. This was our introduction to Montana’s trapping regs…we’d never before realized how lax they are. The trapper is a local resident. He traps extensively in the Ninemile and prides himself in following the trapping regs faithfully. I believe he does, and he’s won the good graces of the feds by contacting them in the past when wolves have been caught in his traps. He’s active in the Montana Trappers Association as well, and can/does travel to Helena to testify when the regs are being challenged. He lives to trap, and really doesn’t care if his activities cause discord with his neighbors.

Over the years, I’ve heard a number of stories detailing episodes of local pets being caught in this guy’s traps. This includes dogs who were out jogging with owners, bird dogs, and dogs simply hiking with owners. This trapper uses both snares and foothold traps. The snares terrify me.

Because this trapper’s traps are everywhere, I now carry wire cutters when I’m out with my three dogs. I’ve also attached bells to the dogs’ collars so I know where they are at all times…since I realize I only have minutes if they encounter a snare. This guy’s trapping activities have effectively destroyed my sense of safety and enjoyment while hiking. Many times, I opt to simply stay on my own property rather than risk an encounter with traps. This trapper traps for everything – coyotes, bobcat, fox, etc. He claims to have permission to trap on lots of private property, too. He does set up traps all along McCormick Creek Road, and Forest Service Road 4282. He rarely sets traps more than 30 feet from the road – that would entail physical effort to check and maintain his trapline.

Logan’s Death

By: John Ruther

Hello, my name is John Ruther and I would like to deliver a message, using the experience of my dog companion Logans’ death in a snare trap.

The first hint of a snares’ work is your animal will be jumping, acting as if he is getting into mischief out in the woods. Then, as your attention wanders, the corner of your eye will catch the jumping turning bizarre, almost as if a buck deer, or bear, or mountain lion, or something, is throwing him backwards, violently, over and over. It will be quiet, all the while there will be only the struggle. As you walk cautiously towards that place there will be stillness. When you see your animal it will be alive, fighting with every ounce of life it has left to get air into its’ lungs. Its’ legs will be straight out, perpendicular from the body, the tail will be rigid, the eyes will be wide and bright and pleading, the mouth and tongue will be the wrong color, a precursor to death purple.You may think, as I did, that your animal friend has broken his neck. You might speak to your friend to try to comfort him in what suddenly seems to be his final moments, you will search his body for wounds, you will gently roll him to search his other side and to be prepared to give heart compressions. The realization of his life slipping away will compel you to say his name to him what seems to be a thousand times. In the end you will be staring into his eyes, they will be the eyes of your best friend, they will be shining and filled with terror, and then, as sure as we all will die, the brightness fades slowly, and that unique irreplaceable spirit is no longer there. And then, as you stroke your friends’ still warm body for the last time, you may find it, as I did, the hidden wire around his neck, the snare embedded in his neck and lying in the tall grass and tied to the bush. Then the absurd but necessary for your sanity attempts at mouth to mouth resuscitation and heart compressions, and finally the acknowledgement that it all is very wrong, but absolutely real. This must be trapping at its’ best, the physical killing of a dog and the spiritual killing of a man.