By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter
If you hunt upland birds with dogs, take dogs with you on outdoor adventures or have a family dog that runs the neighborhood, then Nov. 10 is a date you want to remember. This marks the opening of trapping season for most furbearers on the Kenai Peninsula. Thus, the presence of snares, foothold and conibear traps in the field.
Dogs, being what they are, will find trap sets quicker than their wild canine counterparts, since pet dogs are not nearly as survival oriented.
Being a trapper, a hunter who hunts with dogs, and a dog lover, this subject is fairly dear to me. I have friends who have lost dogs in snares near their homes and others who have lost dogs in the wilderness. Most of the losses can be avoided with a little forethought and care to beloved canine pets.
I don’t know any trappers who want anything to do with catching someone’s dog. Most trappers are responsible and don’t set snares or kill-type traps near areas of human habitation. But as in practically any activity nowadays, there are some exceptions.
This isn’t in any way intended to tell pet owners how to deal with their pets, only a fair notice in case someone isn’t aware of the dangers inherent with a dog running loose without supervision this time of year.
If there are snares or traps in the area, there is a good chance your dog will find them and possibly get caught in them. Most trappers use some sort of bait or attractant for coyotes, wolves, wolverines or lynx. The attractant that draws these animals also will draw your canine companion.
Outdoor treks this time of year can also land you in areas where trappers are plying their trade. On the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge there are regulations that prohibit trappers from using traps larger than No. 1, which is a fairly small trap, within a mile of a road or a trailhead.
For most dogs, this is probably sufficient distance to keep out of harm’s way. Even if encountered, traps this size will rarely harm a dog. They’ll probably just get a good scare and maybe a bit of scraped hide. No such regulation exists on other state or federal property so there is a danger, even though most trappers voluntarily choose not to set kill sets closer than a mile.
The best way to avoid your dog getting caught in a snare or trap is to stay away from areas that appear to have a trapline running through them. Some trappers post signs announcing their presence, but most do not. There are good reasons for not posting signs, chief among them are those who are willing to follow a trapline and steal fur from the traps, and those who are rabidly opposed to trapping who are willing to go along and destroy a trapper’s line.
Most trappers do not run a line next to a regularly used public trail. Legally they can in most areas, but they don’t for numerous reasons, one being the potential capture of domestic dogs. But that does not mean traps aren’t there.
Even when being careful it is still possible to end up on a trapline and have your dog be caught in a snare, foothold or conibear. Being prepared to quickly deal with releasing the dog can make the difference between life or death in such a situation.
Snares, by design, tighten when the animal pulls away, a natural response to being caught. Unless you have trained your dog not to pull when caught around the neck (yes, some folks do that), then the snare will cut off circulation and breathing and must be released quickly. Snares self-lock as they are pulled tight. They can be released manually, but when a dog is fighting the snare and has tangled it soundly the quickest way to loosen it is by cutting. Having a good, strong set of side-cutter pliers or, even better, a set of cable-cutting pliers is about the best way to free the dog quickly. Those with rounded jaws would be preferable so as to minimize injury when slipping the jaws between the cable and the dog’s neck.
Foothold traps are relatively easy to release. Simply depress the spring levers on one or both ends of the trap and the jaws release. Some large traps used for wolfs are double-sprung and can be difficult to depress and may require you to stand on the lever. The most difficult aspect of this is having a solid surface to press against.
Conibears traps, otherwise known as “body grip” traps, are designed to kill the animal caught quickly by heavy compression between the jaws. These traps, especially the larger ones in which a medium to large dog could get caught, are very strong and virtually impossible for the average person to release without assistance. Fortunately they can be released with a 5- to 6-foot piece of 7- to 8-mm rope. The process is not particularly difficult but the explanation is too long for this column, and pictures are worth more than words anyway, so go to the following website: http://www.terrierman.com/traprelease.htm. This site illustrates and explains the procedure very well.
Another thing to keep in mind is if your dog is a long way away from you or out of sight, it will be difficult for you to provide immediate assistance. Keep your dog close and in sight when in the field in areas where a trapline may exist.
The reality is that there are not that many trappers out there and most do their trapping a long way from any areas frequented by others. But some are not so far and it is worth the effort to take precautions when exercising or hunting with your canine companion during trapping season.
Steve Meyer has been a central peninsula resident since 1971 and is an avid hunter, fisherman and trapper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.