LIMA, Ohio Despite a human population of some 11 million, Ohio is perennially one of the top fur-producing states in the U. S., with trappers taking tens of thousands of raccoons, muskrats, mink, coyotes, foxes, and yes, even skunks.
The Buckeye State is also center of the North American trapping universe this weekend, as the National Trappers Association (www.nationaltrappers.com) holds its annual convention its 50th at the Allen County Fairgrounds near Lima.
"What you'll see here at the convention this weekend are trapping demonstrations, literally tons of new trapping equipment for sale, and a giant swap meet of used equipment," said Karola Owen, vice president and spokeswoman for the NTA. "We're expecting several thousand people."
Attending an NTA convention is an odiferous affair. With hundreds if not thousands of gallons of fox and coyote urine for sale, as well as untold bottles of furbearer lure and bait, walking through the various commercial buildings filled with vendors is a memorable experience. No doubt the furbearers living within miles of the Allen County Fairgrounds think it's heaven.
"The National Trappers Association began 50 years ago to combat anti-trapping legislation," said Kraig Kaatz, current president of the NTA. "Today, that focus continues, only now anti-trappers are also using the court system and ballot initiatives to try and end trapping."
As an example, Kaatz mentioned an upcoming trapping battle looming in Montana.
As a result of previous trapping bans, the U. S. is a patchwork of various trapping regulations, varying by state. For instance, a trap or snare legal in one state might be completely banned in an adjacent state. Some states have banned foot-hold traps altogether, while others have outlawed trapping on public land. Kaatz said that such states as California and Massachusetts still allow trapping, but with cage-type traps only.
Kaatz estimates there are currently anywhere from 140,000 to 160,000 trappers in North America, but says that number is slowly dwindling. Asked if trapping is a dying sport, he had this to say.
"Admittedly, it's becoming more and more difficult to get young people involved in trapping, simply because of the time commitment required," he said. "For example, if you put a trap in the ground, by law you have to check it every day or every other day, depending upon the state game laws where you trap. Most young people don't have that kind of time anymore, so they end up doing other things. It's understandable, but not what we'd like to see ...," Kaatz said.
Pete Hammond of Idaho presented the opening seminar of the convention (Thursday morning), giving trappers tips on taking fox and coyotes. A wildlife depredation trapper in four western states, Hammond has been trapping some 53 years. During that time he estimates he's caught tens of thousands of furbearers.
"In just one state two years ago, New Mexico, I caught 168 bobcats, 571 coyotes, more than 300 foxes, and five mountain lions," Hammond said. Not bad for a 68-year-old outdoorsman.
Asked his opinion of the most difficult species to trap, Hammond said coyote. "Cause everybody chases 'em, and they get trap shy," he said. "I don't know if they're smart or just naturally timid. But if a coyote gets his toes pinched by a trap and not caught the first time, then he really becomes smart and tough to catch."
Surprisingly, Hammond said that mountain lions are not particularly difficult to trap. "They're very predictable," he said, "creatures of habit. For instance, if they get to preying on a deer herd congregated in a wintering yard, they will come and go along the same routes day after day, so you can blind set traps along those trails."
About 80 percent of the furs caught in North America are exported to places such as Russia and China. Unfortunately, current fur prices in the U. S. are very low, dropping along with the economy some 50 percent from just a year ago.
Ohioan Art Scott is a founding member of the NTA who has been trapping 76 years. "I hold NTA membership card No. 3," he said. "The guys that had cards Nos. 1 and 2 two are now dead."
Scott began trapping in 1932 with just one trap. "I caught six muskrats that first year, and I remember the price was 45 cents per rat at the beginning of the season, then jumped up to 90 cents near the end of the season," he said. "I thought I was rich, but back then you could buy a dozen traps for less than a dollar."
Over the years, Scott has seen changes both in the sport of trapping and the animals themselves. "When I was a kid, just about every boy living in a rural area trapped," he said. "That's just what we did in the winter to make a little extra money. Today, many of those same areas we once trapped are now cities or suburbs, so furbearers have lost a lot of habitat. And as a result, some wildlife has moved into the cities. You didn't see 'coons living in towns back then like you do today."
During his lifetime Art Scott estimates he's trapped several thousand foxes, hundreds of coyotes, and more than 1,000 beaver. But he said that it's difficult to make any money trapping these days, because trapping equipment continues to go up in price while fur prices continue to tumble.
"I ran a 100-mile trapline last year, but at the end of the season I still ended up $1,400 in the hole," Scott said. "If anything ever kills trapping, it will be the economics of it…"
The NTA convention will end at noon on Sunday.
W. H. "Chip" Gross is a professional outdoors writer/photographer from Fredericktown, Ohio and a frequent contributor to ESPNoutdoors.com. He may be reached for comment through his Web site: www.chipgross.com.