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Trapping Ethics
Trapping Ethics

Key Ingredients for Trappers Who Care About Their Sport

Many people view trapping and the use of fur as controversial issues. Much of this controversy stems from misinformation and misunderstanding on both sides. As trappers, we know our sport is a legitimate use of a natural renewable resource, but we often have trouble putting this in terms that nontrappers can understand or appreciate.

Few of us are accomplished public speakers or trained in public relations. Nevertheless, we communicate a message about our sport and about ourselves every time we mention that we're trappers.

Demonstrating ethics and responsibility while trapping sends many positive messages that nontrappers understand and appreciate more than any explanation. These values are understood universally and don't require extra time or special training. Yet they tell people that we're proud to be trappers, we care about our sport and we care about the resource we're using.

You are your brother's keeper. Your actions reflect either credit or discredit on the thousands of others who run traplines in Montana and across the nation.

Maintain Good Landowner Relations

Obtaining permission to trap is more than the law. It's an opportunity to earn respect by respecting landowners and their property. Be polite and presentable while asking for permission. If it's granted, take time to make sure you know where the property lines are so that neighbors' rights are upheld as well.

Ask the landowner or tenant if they've noticed damage or other problems caused by furbearers. Chances are that if you're taking time to ask permission from a particular landowner, the property has a good habitat and high furbearer populations. Asking about damage will help to reinforce the point that trapping provides a service by reducing furbearer populations and the problems they can cause. By the same token, don't promise more than you can deliver.

As always, practice common sense and courtesy by leaving gates the way you found them, walking or using a four-wheeler when fields and field roads are too wet to drive, and avoiding sets that might result in non-target catches.

Many trappers send a short thank-you note to landowners and tenants. A holiday greeting card can mean a lot as well. Offering to help with a chore or dropping off a pheasant or some venison will do more than words can express.

Respect Other Outdoor Enthusiasts

Autumn and winter are a popular time for many outdoor activities like hunting, hiking, bird watching and cross country skiing. Taking the time to find out what activities are likely to take place on an area you're trapping is the first step in avoiding any misunderstandings between you, the landowner and others sharing his property.

Most activities are compatible with trapping and don't require further thought. If an area receives a lot of hunting pressure, you can time your use of a property to avoid peak times that hunters tend to choose like opening weekends and holidays. If this isn't practical, use the most selective traps and trapping techniques to reduce the chance of a non-target catch. Doing so will improve your skills, image and satisfaction.

Always play the game fairly, Your sense of accomplishment and pride in your success will be all the greater.

Keep Familiar With Improvements in Trapping Equipment and Techniques

Nearly all trappers have looked for better ways to do the same job. While this usually involves years of refinement and a realization that simple methods often work best, new developments in equipment and methods have a place in specific applications or even broader use.

Body-gripping traps like Conibears are a good example. Many trappers considered them "gadgets" when they were first made available. Today they form the backbone of the muskrat and beaver trapping industry.

Improving efficiency, selectivity and humaneness isn't a new idea for the trapping industry. Many time-honored techniques addressed these concerns about trapping. However, research and development are occurring at a faster pace today and require more effort to keep abreast of state-of-the-art developments in equipment and methods.

Keeping up-to-date with new developments is easier today than it was in the past. Some sources are: trapper magazines and newsletters, presentations at trapping conventions, instructional books and videos, and contact with other trappers at fur sales and conventions.

Some Methods for Improving Efficiency, Selectivity and Humaneness

  • Use pan tension devices to avoid non-target catches
  • Use extra swivels and center-mounted chains to hold more animals and reduce the chance of injuries
  • Use modern positioning techniques at dirt hole sets to increase selectivity
  • Use short trap chains for most land sets, especially those targeted for fox and coyote
  • Use guarded or "stop-loss" traps for muskrats in shallow water or dry-land sets
  • Use dispatching methods that are quick and humane
  • Use trap sizes that are appropriate for the target species -- pad catches are desirable for fox, coyote, raccoon and many other animals because they cause fewer injuries
  • Use baits and lures that attract target species but not other animals
  • Use cage, box or species-specific traps near barns, outbuildings and other locations where domestic animals may be present
  • Use common sense in choosing locations that maximize opportunities to catch target species and minimize opportunities to catch other animals
  • Use secure methods of attaching traps -- tailor methods to hold the largest species you may catch
  • Use traps with padded or laminated jaws where the risk of non-target catches is high
  • Use discretion when setting body-gripping traps
  • Use time to your advantage -- don't set more traps than you can handle
  • Use early morning trap checks to reduce the time an animal is held, reduce its chances of escape, and avoid theft of traps and animals

Appreciate Perceptions of Nontrappers

Trappers who act responsibly and ethically don't have anything to hide. However, they need to appreciate the fact that most people know little or nothing about trapping.

Differences in backgrounds, cultures and experiences can cause misinterpretation of your words, deeds and actions. Keep this in mind when communicating with nontrappers. Put yourself in their place if you want an honest evaluation of how you're portraying your sport. make an effort to communicate on their level. Above all, remember that high standards of ethics and responsibility form a message that can't be mistaken.

Trapping's rewards are great, not only in the harvest of fur, but in the very special satisfactions gained from time spent afield. Accept your share with gratitude and don't waste a precious gift.

Respect the Resource

Ethical trappers respect the resource they use. Part of this involves making the most of your catch. Follow proper pelt handling procedures and take pride in your work at all times. Look for secondary markets for carcasses, castoreum and other byproducts. Utilize byproducts for baits and lures when possible. If not, dispose of them properly.

Wildlife laws are designed to conserve our fur resources while allowing for responsible use. Report violations to TIP-MONT. Violators are stealing from trappers and nontrappers alike, as well as giving the sport a bad name.


You may be the only trapper that many people will over know. Leave them with a good impression by upholding high standards of ethics and responsibility in your words, deeds and actions. Be proud to be a trapper and a good representative for others who enjoy the sport.

  1. Maintain Good Landowner Relations
  2. Respect Other Outdoor Enthusiasts
  3. Keep Familiar With Improvements in Trapping Equipment and Techniques
  4. Appreciate Perceptions of Nontrappers
  5. Respect the Resource