Hunters worry that there are few youngsters to take their place

Matt Brophy, left, of St. Clair, Pa., with his 11-year-old son, Rob, sells trapping essentials and basket packing at New England Trappers Weekend on Aug. 19 in Bethel. Brophy taught his son how to catch and runs a youth cheating contest in Pennsylvania. photo Deirdre Fleming

BETHEL — Two weeks ago, the dirt road to Neil and Linda Olson’s property was lined with vendors in a garage sale setting, many with historical artifacts.

The tables were littered with animal skins, wood carvings, traps, lures, and wildlife artwork. The dirt road adjoining a huge farm field owned by the Olsons’ neighbors was lined with stalls staffed by bbeekeepers, turners, painters, weavers, and chainsaw operators with elaborate displays showcasing the wares of trappers

At least a dozen lines in the field were filled with campers and tents for the 44th annual New England Trappers Weekend, held in Bethel over four days in August. Hundreds of enthusiastic trappers came from all over Maine and the Northeast, and as far away as New Mexico, to connect with like-minded outdoor collectors, share trapping techniques and, for at least some, express their anguish over the fact that than its centuries – the old tradition is in decline.

Younger people, many in attendance said, are not taking up trapping like their parents or grandparents once did, mainly because the fur trade, a thriving business in the United States 50 years ago, is also in decline.

“I wouldn’t say that to catch is to die. I’d say it’s slowly evolving,” said Stephen Stone, a Bethel trapper. “Maybe it will turn. Maybe not. If he continues in the course he is in, it will be more and more difficult for him to come back.”

In Maine, the number of licensed hunters has been declining for years.

According to the state’s 2020 Skin Carrier Management Plan: “Hunters are getting older and fewer people are being recruited for harvest. Maine’s number of junior trapping licenses in 2019 (103) was 32 percent lower than the previous five-year average of 152″. The number of licensed hunters in the state has steadily declined from about 7,000 in 1980 to about 4,000 in 2019, according to the Maine Interior Department of Fish and Wildlife.


A trap is a device made to catch or restrain an animal and there are several legal types in Maine, such as leg traps and cage-type live traps. Several species can be legally trapped in Maine: fox, coyote, muskrat, beaver, bear, bobcat, osprey, mink, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, marten, skunk, and weasel.

Food baits or visual attractants (such as can lids or aluminum foil) can be used to lure an animal into a trap. Most traps in Maine are required by law to be checked daily, although in some cases they are required by law to be checked every three to five days. Animals found in a trap are killed instantly, usually by being shot in the head with a pistol or struck in the skull with a heavy blunt object.

General trapping seasons in Maine in 2022 run from October 31 to December 31, although some species can be trapped in September and early October and beaver can be trapped through the winter through April 30, 2023. In Maine, an arrest license costs $36 for residents over the age of 16 and $10 for residents under the age of 10-15. A non-resident adult license costs $318. getting a trapping license in Maine requires proof of completion of a trapping education course (or having held a trapping license since 1978).

Hundreds of trappers gathered at the 44th New England Trapper Weekend in Bethel. photo Deirdre Fleming

The National Trapping Association has estimated that there are between 100,000 and 200,000 trappers in the United States, but reliable national data does not exist because some states do not require a trapping license. The national association has about 10,000 members.

Trapping takes a lot of time so check the trap lines daily. Stone, who is dedicated to his work as a chainsaw artist and furniture maker, said many young people today don’t have that time to spend outdoors. He taught his two sons, but they no longer catch. However, they still enjoy the annual gathering and talking to other hunters.

“I made sure to be here,” said Gabi Stone, who flew in from North Carolina for the event. “When I accepted the job (there) I said I would need a week in August to go camping with my dad. I knew it was too much to ask, but I wasn’t missing out on this.”

stephan stone he loves trapping because it allows him to focus on his natural surroundings for signs of animals.

“It makes you go out and enjoy the water. He makes me wonder, the coyote came by, where is he going to step, where in the river is the beaver? said Stone, who began trapping when he was young in the 1970s.

Bethel artist Stephen Stone, right, relaxes with his daughter, Gabi, at the New England Trappers Association meeting in Bethel. Gabi Stone flew home from North Carolina to attend the annual event with her father. photo Deirdre Fleming

Animal protection advocates in Maine aren’t surprised by the downward trend in trapping and say it should be banned.

Robert Fisk, who founded Falmouth-based Friends of Animals in Maine 25 years ago, said trapping is inherently cruel.

“It is one of the most heinous forms of killing wildlife. I don’t see any redeeming value in the catch,” Fisk said. “It’s certainly not like fishing or hunting. They can’t defend the cruelty aspect of this. A trapper does not lie in wait for his prey, he puts death in his path. I think it’s a moral imperative that we prohibit people from making money off animal cruelty.”

Twice since 2004, Maine voters narrowly defeated Humane Society-backed referendums seeking to end bear hunting with dogs, baits and traps. Fisk said his nonprofit has not recently tried to ban trapping in Maine through the legislative process because the group has been busy with other animal protection issues. But he said it might be time to get back to work to that end.


Despite the effort to bring hunters together each year at Bethel, the longtime host of the gathering fears the catch is on the decline.

“We are an essential part of wildlife management,” said Neil Olson.

Maine master guide John Bielat of Casco said when he was growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s, a lot of other kids got caught up, but today’s youth are more focused on technology than nature.

“You could make quite a bit of money back then. And you have to spend your time in the forest. I grew up in central New Jersey… but back then it was all farmland,” Bielat said. “I see that it is declining among young people. It’s worrying. Today the children have many more distractions that we did not have”.

Matt Brophy of St. Clair, Pennsylvania, taught his 11-year-old son, Rob, how to catch. Last year, Brophy launched Pennsylvania’s first annual youth trapper contest, which attracted 15 youth trappers. But he is also concerned about the lack of young people who are dedicated to the capture.

“When I was a kid, I would get $70 to $80 for a red fox pelt, $40 for a raccoon,” said Brophy, who learned to trap as a young man in the 1970s. “I could buy a new truck today with the money I made. catching as a kid.

“They say that the traps are dying, but now there are many people with surveillance cameras watching the animals. And it’s wildlife management. If you catch the coyote, you are helping the deer. If you catch raccoons, skunks and opossums, you are helping ducks and grouse nest.”

William Nunn of Ryegate, Vermont has very little time to catch today. He owns a heating business and works as a property manager on several farms. These days nunn mostly traps to prevent raccoons from raiding your chicken coop.

But like many Nunn enjoys her time in the woods poring over wildlife as a trapper.

“Today, young children don’t have enough hands-on experience in catching or hunting, or doing anything with their hands. This is mostly what I see them do with their hands,” Nunn said, as he pretended to text on his phone. “I think it’s the older generation that keeps catching on.”

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