Tracks and Traps


Wisconsin sure knows how to surprise us this spring. I did not expect to shovel snow off my driveway during the month that boasts the phrase, “April showers bring May flowers.” An upside to snow in the spring is that animals are starting to stir and move, which leaves tracks for us to see. One group that is excited about the snow and visible tracks are trappers because they can see what types of animals are in the area and find the best locations for their traps.


Wisconsin has a long history of trapping that dates back before the state was established in 1848. Trapping and fur trading actually played a large role in the number of people who moved west to our neck of the woods in the Chippewa Valley. Native tribes have been trapping animals for decades for food, clothing, blankets and many other purposes. The French arrived in the area and established fur trading posts all over our state, including Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Cadott, and many other places. The value of fur enticed many to get involved in trapping, but this increased interest without management practices in place lead to a steep decline in animals to trap by the 1830s. When people in the fur business realized that there were fewer furbearing animals than before, their interests moved towards logging and farming.


In the 1860s, sportsmen all around the nation were participating in conservation movements to preserve wildlife and nature in a sustainable way. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation was established during this period, and its goals were to manage the number of animals so that the population could be robust forever and to allow citizens to use fish and wildlife for non-commercial uses, like hunting for food. The establishment of the Department of Natural Resources in the 1960s also supported these same goals by researching harvest rates and population control. This research led to the implementation of management practices that strike a balance between letting the furbearing population flourish while also allowing for managed trapping and hunting each year.


Trapping is still a popular activity all across Wisconsin today. Around 20,000 people buy licenses from the DNR each year, which helps with animal management practices and boosts the state and local economy. The sport of trapping requires a lot of study and practice, which is why the Wisconsin trapper education manual is over fifty pages long. There are many things that you must know, like how to set traps safely, how to handle a trapped animal and the regulations enforced by the DNR.


Trapping is expensive and hard to get into if you’re just starting out as a beginner. Current law requires that a person must get a trapper’s license and take the trapper education program before they can go out trapping. However, current law does not give people an opportunity to try the sport out before they invest time and money. Going out with an experienced trapper to learn the tips and tricks of the sport before buying in would be extremely helpful for the beginner and it increases the likelihood of more people joining the sport.


In response to the difficulty people have getting into trapping, Representative Romaine Quinn (R – Barron) and I authored a bill, with input from the DNR, to create a mentored trapping program similar to our efforts with mentored hunting. This bill allows a person under the age of sixteen to go out with a licensed trapper without going through the trapper education course. For individuals over the age of sixteen, this bill creates a mentored trapping license that allows a person to go trapping as long as they can see the licensed trapping mentor or can hear them. The mentored trapping license gives people the opportunity to set traps on their own after the mentor has taught them how. This bill passed unanimously out of its committees and also passed both the Senate and the Assembly. Governor Scott Walker will sign this bill into law this month.


Trapping has a strong presence in the history of our area and throughout Wisconsin. I am proud of the work that the DNR and the Legislature has done to preserve the tradition of this sport for decades to come. While snow in April is less than ideal, I look forward to seeing all the tracks in the snow and knowing that people will be enjoying the great outdoors!


If you would like more information about trapping, please check out the DNR’s website below: