Dogs and Trapping Season

Labrador Retriever Siiri in Winter

Photograph by Flickr user jarko_

During hunting season and as snow arrives many Adirondackers walk the road loops through dozens of state campgrounds. When these close in October the places become virtual dog parks, with ponds for swimming, rivers to explore and easy round-trips of two miles or more to hike.

A few weeks ago Tim Leach, a retired teacher from Blue Mountain Lake, was with his golden retriever at Lake Durant campground on their daily constitutional. Sophie headed for the outlet of Stephens Pond to sniff among the rocks; the stream flows under a one-lane bridge near the entrance gate. Suddenly, she yelped in surprise, and her owner was shocked to see her paw was caught in a mink trap at the water’s edge. He scrambled 10 yards down a slope to her rescue and was able to free his pup. “Opening the trap took more strength than I expected. I couldn’t do it with my hands and had to step on it,” Leach said.

“It didn’t break the skin and she was limping when we got back to the road. But within 50 yards,” he recalled, “she was fine.” Sophie may have learned a lesson from this, he said, because she is wary about approaching the stream now.

Every year many non-target animals are caught in traps throughout New York State. Dogs and cats running free are the most frequent victims. A bald eagle was grabbed by a leg-hold trap in 2009 and managed to fly off, the steel jaws still attached above his talons. He survived thanks to professional care by wildlife rehabilitators.

Adirondack trapping is in full swing in December, with coyote, red and gray fox, skunk and weasel legal prey through February. Beaver, mink, muskrat and otter season extends to April. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) sells 5,000 to 12,000 trapping licenses each year. The $21 fee supports the work of forest rangers, trail crews, game protectors and biologists, and trappers are required to take a daylong safety course before they can purchase a license.

Three kinds of traps are legal here: boxes (often homemade wooden ones), leg-encapsulation or foot-hold Newhouse style (curved flat steel jaws with springs extending on one or two ends), and the body-gripping or Conibear style, which is designed to kill the animal swiftly.

Boxes and leg-hold traps may be set on the ground or in the water, in very close proximity to trails. DEC regulations say body-gripping traps may not be set within 100 feet of a public trail (except in wildlife management areas), but they may be placed near culverts and bridges and along the water’s edge. Snares are not allowed in the state.

Dogs may be attracted to scent lures placed near traps, and watching for footprints in mud and snow that head to shorelines is one way owners may know there is a trap nearby. Usually traps are disguised by a covering of leaves so spotting a set is unlikely unless you see a chain leading from the trap to a stake planted in the dirt or attached to a log.

State regulations require trappers in the Adirondack Park to check their lines at least every 48 hours. The price for wild fur is attractive this winter, and anecdotal evidence suggests more traps are being set this year on accessible Forest Preserve lands.

If you live on the woodland edge, letting your dog range freely at night can be disastrous. He or she may survive overnight in a Newhouse trap but the outcome is generally tragic if a Conibear is involved. This device, designed by Frank Conibear, has been described as “a humane alternative” to other traps because it kills instantly.

So what to do if your dog gets caught while you’re on a winter hike? There are diagrams and a video that tell how to release a leaf-spring or leg-hold trap. Opening a Conibear is far more complicated, involving two pieces of rope, speedy reaction and a good memory for how these simple-looking wire rectangles work.

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