Trapping Some Of Our Own Myths


We at C.A.S.H. are vehemently anti-recreational trapping and “fur harvesting.” There are few things that are as hideous and inhumane as trapping an animal with a device that causes great pain, and holding her in place where she will be exposed to predators and harsh weather conditions. From bait drops to control the spread of rabies to wrapping welded wire around trees to discourage beaver activity, there are effective and humane ways of addressing wildlife concerns without scraping the bottom of the barrel and resorting to trapping.

Because trapping is such a disgraceful activity, it is easy to believe and to pass along the most horrifying claims when we hear them. Steel traps cause unimaginable pain and suffering and there is enough verifiable evidence available to us without us having to spread unsubstantiated hearsay and rumors to make our point.

I’d like to address some of the misconceptions about trapping that I’ve heard over the years – the misconceptions that wildlife defenders often repeat in their effort to speak out against recreational trapping.

“Trapped body parts are not limited to legs and feet – any part of an animals’ body can be caught in a leghold trap, including the face.”

When we know the trapper’s most commonly used techniques for luring and trapping animals we can see that it is very unlikely for an animal to be caught by the face. To understand how a leghold trap catches animals, take a look at figure 1. The main parts are #1 pan; #2 jaws; #3 spring; #4 chain; #5 the “dog”; #6 teeth.

Figure 1

Many times the trap will be set in the ground and a layer of soil will be sifted over it. Leaves are also used to camouflage the set so that it blends in naturally with its surroundings and a well placed trap cannot be seen. The ring at the end of the chain (#4) will be anchored to the ground or an immovable object so that when the animal tries to escape s/he is unable to go far. Sometimes the trap ring will be attached to a “drag” (as shown) which will become tangled in brush as the animal tries to flee. [See Conibear traps below.]

The bait or lure is placed not on the pan of the trap, but several inches away and often on a rock, in a pocket, or on a post of some sort. The trapper does this so the animal has to walk over to the bait or lure to check out what’s going on.  As the animal walks over and inspects the interesting scent s/he steps on the pan and the trap fires.  For an animal to be caught by the face she would need to be approaching the bait or lure with her face dragging on the ground as her face would have to press on the pan.  That is the only way I can imagine an animals’ face being caught in a trap.  Animals do break off their teeth biting at the jaws of the trap in an effort to escape, but being caught by the face is something that is unlikely to happen.

“Traps are indiscriminate and will not always catch the animal the trapper is targeting. Non-target animals are considered ‘trash animals’ and are disposed of at the trapper’s whim.”

The term “trash animal” is used quite often by wildlife advocates but verifiable references to the term as used by trappers are very difficult to come by. In my years of research I’ve been able to track down only two times where the phrase has been used by those who were not in the animal protection movement in some way. Descriptions of the book Grawe’s Snaring Methods, Vol. 2 by Ardell “A.M.” Grawe (1980) have included the phrase “Tells how to set snares without catching rabbits, house cats and other trash animals.” C.A.S.H. has recently obtained a copy of this book and will be updating our Facebook page with the exact usage of the “trash animal” phrase that it contains.

Another reference comes from Kelsi Nagy and Phillip Johnson of the University of Nevada, Reno English Department but this one seems to have little if anything to do with trapping. In 2006 Nagy & Johnson were soliciting writings for an anthology of essays exploring “maligned species” and in so doing wrote the following:

“What is a trash animal? Throughout known history, certain animals have been deemed worthless, destructive, threatening, and even ugly. They are despised as varmints, pests, nuisances, invasives, and exotics. Specific animals may come to mind-coyotes, carp, pigeons, rats, mosquitoes, and others. In Richard White’s now classic essay “Animals and Enterprise,” he distinguished between animals of leisure, animals of production, and animal enemies. In the latter category, we could easily place trash animals.”

Before you shout “Ah-ha! Another ‘trash animal reference!’” keep in mind that Nagy & Johnson are academics and not necessarily trappers or people who have an interest in exploiting wildlife. So until further proof comes forward, C.A.S.H thinks it may be best for wildlife and their advocates to refrain from using the term “trash animal” since it is a phrase that the trapping community does not seem to be using.

”Leghold traps come from medieval England when the king would use them to catch people who illegally trespassed upon his property. It is said that the king had the trap made so that the trespasser would feel the pain of Christ’s crucifixion as it crushed the bones of his foot.”

I’ve heard this or a variation of it more than once and it has absolutely no basis in fact. While medieval kings did indeed set traps for trespassers, they were not leghold traps. The traps used for these purposes were pit traps and loop snares. These rope snares were attached to tree branches and stone weights in such a way so that when the trespasser stepped inside the loop, the branch sprung upward and the snare tightened around the person’s foot and ankle.  The intent was to lift the person into the air and hold him there until the King’s guards discovered the trespasser during their rounds.

Steel leghold traps for animals were first invented in the 1700’s and Newhouse mass-produced the first commercial leghold trap in 1852. The basic design has remained mostly unchanged since then although several modifications such as adding teeth, offsetting and laminating the jaws, and adding springs to the chain are common.

”The Conibear was invented because a humane alternative to the leghold trap was needed. It is designed to destroy an animal’s chest and pelvis, crushing the trapped animal to death.”

This is half-true. Yes, Canadian fur trapper Frank Conibear invented his trap because he wanted something that would kill an animal quickly, but his intention was so that he could run a longer trap line with more traps and check his sets every 2 or 3 days. He was disturbed by the sight or feet and limbs that had been left in his leghold trap after the animals’ had gnawed them off in an effort to escape, so he invented a trap that could hit animals on the back of the head and knock them unconscious. They would then be held until they suffocated or drowned.  As with all traps, there are flaws. If an animal enters a Conibear trap that is of the right size and at the proper angle and speed, the trap can kill quickly, but often the animal did not get the memo about how to enter a Conibear.  They can be caught by just about any body part, and can suffer terribly for an undetermined amount of time.

”Snares are just as inhumane as leghold traps and they are usually found around the neck of the animal. As the animal struggles, the snare wire digs deeper and deeper into its neck and creates sores which then become infested with maggots.”

Yes, snares are as inhumane as leghold traps, if not more so. And while many snares are set to catch animals around neck, many are also set to catch animals around the ankle. This is true when trappers set snares in areas that are frequented by domestic animals. In cases where the animal is caught by the neck, a gruesome death is pretty much guaranteed. As the animal struggles against the snare, the wire tightens around the neck and cuts off the jugular vein.  While this is happening, the heart pumps blood into the head through the carotid artery and the animal dies by being strangled or through a massive hemorrhage.  If an animal is able to chew through the snare it is possible that the wound can become infected and for flies and maggots to take hold, but it’s more likely that the animal will die before being able to chew through the snare wire.

As you know, C.A.S.H. is as anti-trapping as they come (with the exception of using box traps to trap wildlife for medical treatment and rehabilitation and trapping dogs and cats for rescue or for TNR projects), but we feel animal advocates go wrong when they repeat “facts” that were published by organizations that have not done their research. The truth about trapping is horrible enough and we don’t need to repeat false information in an attempt to discredit trapping – the trappers do a good enough job of that themselves.


Joe Miele is President of C.A.S.H..


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