The History of Trapping in Missouri
The fur industry in North America has been a major factor in the exploration and settling of our country. When the first settlers arrive on the eastern coast of the United States in the early 1600s, they trapped for food, clothing, and to protect their crops and livestock. The native Indians were masters with pitfalls, deadfalls, and snares. From the time the colonist at Plymouth shipped furs back to England, the fur trade in America has flourished.
In 1670, royalty and wealthy businessman in England chartered the Hudson's Bay Company. Other trading companies soon were established elsewhere in North America. Adventurous men in search of furs were responsible for opening trails westward for settlers to follow. One famous trapper, Daniel Boone, blazed the Cumberland Trail through the Cumberland Mountains to Kentucky and later moved on to Missouri.
In 1763, Pierre Laclede traveled up the Mississippi from New Orleans to establish a trading post in Missouri. He decided the best place for a trading place would be at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers - thus the city of St. Louis was established. This "trading post" soon became the center of the country's fur industry. From St. Louis, trappers and traders went up the Missouri River and west to the Rocky Mountains in search of furs. Many large fur companies were based in St. Louis where trappers congregated in the spring to sell their furs. Some of those companies, such s the Taylor Fur Company, still exist today.
In 1823, in New York, Sewell New York house began manufacturing steel traps with interchangeable parts on a multiple production basis. Newhouse joined the Oneida Community and thus produced the Oneida-Newhouse brand of steel leg-hold traps. Later, when the Oneida Community was disbanded, the trap company was purchased by the Animal Trap Company of America, Lititz, Pennsylvania, which is now the Woodstream Corporation. Woodstream manufactures Victor, Oneida, Conibear and Newhouse brands of traps.
The perfection of the leg-hold trap greatly increased the trapper's effectiveness, especially in capturing wary long-legged predators such as the coyote, fox and bobcat. These traps, more appropriately called foot-hold traps, continue to be improved. They now are manufactured with smooth jaws, no teeth, and some have offset jaws which do not come together completely. This feature minimizes loss of circulation to the animal's foot or leg. In addition, the latest modification to trapping equipment is the padded jaw trap.
From its beginning, Missouri has been an important state in the fur industry. Between 1920 and 1950, cash paid to Missouri trappers amounted to more than the original purchase price of the entire Louisiana Purchase. Presently the furs harvested in Missouri are valued at more than $8.5 million annually, which in turn generates more than $60 million to the state's economy.
With the fur industry and trapping playing such an important role in the heritage of our state, it is easy to see why Missouri is still among the top raw fur-producing states in the country.
Trapping provides recreation and income for approximately 10,000 individuals in Missouri alone. Each year trappers seek out Missouri woods and water to participate in one of the oldest sports known to man. They generally go out in December when the fur is at its prime, but before the onset of severe winter weather. At this time of year a trapper usually is alone in the field since not many people venture out in such inclement weather.
Few outdoor skills demand as much from their participants as trapping. An understanding of animal habits and habitat relationships, the ability to identify and successfully interpret animal signs, many hours of preparation and scouting, and long periods afield during harsh winter weather are a few examples of the challenges confronting the modern trapper. Yet the trapper's rewards of enjoyment and adventure are often unmatched. The closeness of the trapper's experiences to the realities of nature give him an outlook and an outdoor perspective that few sports can provide. The trapper must understand the animals he pursues and this understanding brings with it a respect that all of us, and especially all sportsmen, should possess.
Few people depend solely on income from trapping. Trapping, however, does contribute a great deal to Missouri's economy. In years past, people depended upon trapping to provide food and clothing. The modern trapper is a striking contrast from trappers of the 1800s. Today most people trap their spare time and depend on other incomes for their livelihoods. Most enjoy trapping as a hobby, although changing fur prices have a profound influence on trapping enthusiasm and participation. Missouri annually produces between $5 million and $10 million in raw furs, which puts it among the top raw fur-producing states in the country.
Each species' fur varies in value from one year to the next, depending on fashion demands and the supply of furs available.
Trapping is more than an enjoyable and profitable outdoor activity. Regulated trapping can be an effective means to attain desired furbearer population levels. Annual harvest regulations are established by balancing current fur market demands and harvest pressures with the status of furbearer population. If harvest pressures are excessive or if population levels become depressed, season restrictions are adopted to prevent possible over harvests. As an example, a long-term natural decline of Missouri's red fox population, coupled with escalating demand for fox furs, resulted in the complete suspension of red fox harvest from 1977 to 1979. On the other hand, regulations were liberalized in 1978 to encourage increased harvests of Missouri's growing and occasionally troublesome beaver population. Trapping is an important and commonly used wildlife research tool. Research provides information that directly benefits furbearer management programs. Using live or foot-hold traps, researchers can capture animals alive, then obtain biological information or tag and release the animals for later recapture either by researchers or by hunters and trappers. Capture/recapture techniques enable biologists to estimate populations in specific areas or study animals' movements and dispersal.
Missouri's currently flourishing beaver population resulted from the relocation of damage-causing animals to unoccupied suitable habitats. Although beaver live-trapping equipment is specialized, basic trapping techniques made this successful restoration effort possible. Conventional trapping techniques have been used in other parts of the country to reestablish furbearer populations.
In Missouri, trapping is a major tool used in the selective control of predators that attack livestock or furbearers that damage crops an property. Examples of losses that can be controlled in this manner are raccoons damaging corn fields, rodents eating stored grains, beavers causing flood problems, muskrats draining ponds, and coyotes and foxes killing poultry and livestock.
The Department of Conservation, through its wildlife damage control program, provides trapping instruction to landowners with problems.
Only a few wild animals create wildlife problems; most benefit the environment. While some predators may cause damage or kill livestock, more are beneficial and help control nuisance rodents. Some beaver may flood croplands, pastures, or road culverts, but others preserve precious water during summer droughts and create habitat for other wildlife. Wildlife damage control through selective trapping allows Missourians to deal with problem animals and yet enjoy the benefits of wildlife diversity.
Trapping regulations are determined by the Missouri Department of Conservation and published each year in the "Wildlife Code of Missouri." A permit is required to trap, possess, and transport furbearing animals in Missouri, The types of traps that are acceptable are specified in the wildlife code. Specific use of some traps is also included. Regulations require that trappers check their traps daily. Trapping seasons are determined each year and publicized by the Department of Conservation.
Code of Ethics
Responsible, concerned, ethical trappers a here to the following code
- Obtain the landowner's permission before trapping on his land.
- Avoid setting traps in areas where domestic animals may be caught.
- Set traps to target animal in the most humane way possible.
- Check traps regularly and preferably in the early morning.
- Identify and record trap locations carefully and accurately.
- Dispose of animal carcasses properly so as not to offend others.
- Make an effort to trap only the surplus animals from each habitat, leaving an adequate
- Promptly report the presence of diseased animals to wildlife authorities.
- Assist farmers and other landowners who are having damage problems with wildlife.
- Support the training of new trappers and the strict enforcement of trapping regulations.
- Obtain all required licenses, tags, and permits from the Missouri Department of Conservation before setting traps.
As with other outdoor sports, the actions and behavior of each individual trapper reflect directly on all participants. Trapping will remain an important and accepted activity in Missouri's outdoors only if trappers accept certain obligations and behave ethically. Trappers have obligations not only to themselves, but to landowners who grant them access, to other sportsmen, to wildlife populations, and to the individual animals they catch. The trapper's acceptance or shirking of these responsibilities reflects not only on him, but on all trapping enthusiasts.
Traps are criticized sometimes as being non-selective because animals other than those being sought may be trapped. When traps are used improperly, this complaint may be justified, however, traps can be quite selective. It is the trapper's responsibility to make sets which are selective for the target species. A few well-constructed and located sets are more effective than twice as many sloppy, ill-placed sets.
Trappers need to recognize that other sportsmen; often with dogs, may be using the landowner's property and that wandering pets recognize no property boundaries. If hunting dogs or pets are caught, it is the trapper's obligation to release them. The ability to release animals with little more than a sore foot is a major, but often overlooked, positive feature of foot-hold traps. Trapping is a valuable tool in wildlife management as well as a wholesome recreational activity. It is an activity that has been passed down from ancestry and should be protected. For further information on "how to" and "where to" trap, contact your local Conservation office.