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Why are there fake trap-release instructions in the MN Hunting & Trapping Handbook?

posted Jan 25, 2014, 9:15 AM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Feb 11, 2016, 10:27 AM ]

See also this blog's partial listing and rating of (mostly fake) trap-release instructions from other sources.

Why does the Minnesota Trappers Association place a paid advertisement of fake trap-release instructions in the Minnesota Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook every year?

  • Supposedly to "to educate the outdoor enthusiast in the proper method of releasing an accidentally-caught animal."
  • Actually, because although the trapping lobby likes to say that dogs are rarely caught in these traps, in fact they are, far too often. Why else would the trapping lobby make up and place this paid advertisement?

Below are the MTA instructions side-by-side with a critique by SS-Slocum.info to expose how awfully inaccurate and misleading these fake instructions really are. On another page: my experience with the MTA / MN-DNR trap-release instructions.

How to release a domestic animal from a body-gripping (raccoon) trap.

Warning: don't expect these instructions to help.

A paid advertisement of the Minnesota Trappers Association, www.mntrappers.org

The following diagrams and instructions are from page 38 of the 2013 MN Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook. The instructions were made "prettier" in the 2014 Handbook, and the "rope method alternative" was replaced by a new, even less reliable "zip tie method," and those instructions are displayed along with the 2013 instructions at the bottom of this page.

The "critique" column includes a critical analysis by Scott Slocum of these very poor instructions.

Text that appears in square brackets [like this] has been added by Scott Slocum to clarify the original instructions (because those instructions really do need some help, even to understand what they mean and what's wrong with them).

Manual-Release Method (hint: don't expect it to help)

 ---- Section -------------- Instructions-------------- -------------------- Critique ---------------------------------
 Title
How to release a domestic animal from a body-gripping (raccoon) trap
The term "domestic animal," in this case, means "larger dog."

These manual-release instructions (the first set of instructions, before the "rope method alternative") call for a 90-degree twist of a partially-released body-gripping trap to shift the force of the trap from the tender throat and spinal areas to the neck muscles of a larger-sized dog. This twist would not work on a smaller-sized dog (or other "domestic animal") with smaller neck muscles.

At least one eyewitness has said that he was unable to release the trap enough to attempt this twist; his small dog's neck had been crushed to fit between the jaws of the trap, less than an inch from jaw to jaw. and six inches wide. Although he was able to partially compress the trap springs, he was not able to rotate the trap; the dog's neck was still practically flat between the trap jaws, not a solid cylinder like a bottle of wine, but more like a soft bag of fluid like a wineskin.

 Introduction
Although an uncommon occurrence, domestic animals have at times been accidentally caught in body-gripping traps set for raccoons and other similar-sized fur animals. Sadly in most cases, the reason that animals were ultimately lost was due primarily to a lack of familiarity with these devices by the person attempting to free the animal. This handout is an attempt to educate the outdoor enthusiast in the proper method of releasing an accidentally-caught animal.
There are no good statistics to support this statement that incidental catches of domestic animals in body-gripping traps are "uncommon." The MN DNR did not count incidental catches until the 2012-2013 trapping season, and at that, their records were incomplete. More incidents were reported to Dog Lovers 4 Safe Trapping MN than to the MN DNR, and the number of unreported incidents is, of course, not known to either organization.

Body-gripping traps are not specialized for raccoons, nor for "similar-sized fur animals." They kill a wide range of animals--many more than they're set for. Raccoon trapping can be done more selectively using dog-proof raccoon traps, elevated traps, and traps baited with sweets.

The reason that animals are "ultimately lost" (killed by body-gripping traps) is that they're set without precautions in places where they're likely to kill dogs.

These instructions do not constitute a "proper method" of releasing a live animal from a body-gripping trap. Even a proper method would not be effective in the case of a "clean kill," a mortal blow, or a non-immediate release.

 Springs vs. Jaws
Do not attempt to pry the jaws apart, as the springs will prevent the trap from being forcefully opened in this manner in most cases.
The phrase "in most cases" means that if a body-gripping trap strikes the neck of a relatively small dog, it can close all the way--in which case it's harder to open. If the dog is larger dog, the trap doesn't close as far and it's easier to open--but still not by prying the jaws apart.

 Calm
If a domestic animal is accidentally captured in a body-gripping trap, don't panic. The animal can be simply and safely released in a very short period of time if you follow these simple steps and make a mental commitment to think and act rationally.
Situations like this are rarely "simple" or "safe." These instructions just try to make them seem that way. They score a political point at the expense of a rescuer's chance of success. They leave out critical information that would reveal that these situations are actually complex, error-prone, and dangerous.

Even if these instructions were complete, reading and remembering them would not be enough--practice would still be necessary.

What's the political point? To portray trapping as a "safe" activity that doesn't threaten hunting or hiking dogs in multi-use areas. But is that true? No.
 Method #1
 Manual Method.
The original instructions don't identify this method. The implication is that "this is the only method you're going to need," and that the alternative method will only be needed by people who "cannot squeeze the springs of the trap by hand."

The fact is that most people in most situations cannot compress both springs of the trap, one hand on each spring, enough to even attempt the 90-degree twist that's required by this method.

Most people need the "rope-method alternative" at the bottom of the page--and for that method, too, practice is necessary.
 Step 1.1
Remain calm and speak soothingly to the animal. This will help reassure the animal and make your job easier.
The animal is frantic, in extreme pain, fighting to escape the trap, and biting his rescuer. Speaking soothingly is not going to change that.

In a real-life situation, a jacket may be put over the dog's head to immobilize the dog during the rescue. Normally, this is a two-person process.

 Step 1.2
Taking a spring in each hand, squeeze the springs and twist the trap so the trap jaws are not placing pressure on the animal's windpipe. This virtually eliminates the chances of the animal being lost, and allows a considerable amount of time to completely release the animal. The animal can now breath freely, which helps to calm both the animal and the aide.

If you're strong enough to do this in your particular situation, then great. Otherwise, don't count on it; it's harder than these instructions indicate. Practice, and if you're not sure, then go to the "rope method alternative" below.
 Figure 1.2.1
 
Figure 1: "Squeeze springs."
Description:
"Squeeze Springs." The trap in this diagram is "suitcasing" the dog's snout and neck horizontally; that is, one set of jaws is pressing on the top and bottom of his snout, and the other set of jaws is pressing on the top and bottom of his neck. The rescuer has grasped and squeezed one spring in each hand, enough to partially compress the springs and partially release the trap.

Critique:
Same notes on strength and practice as step 1.2.

In this case, the trap has struck both the dog's snout and neck. Still lethal, but easier because some of the trap's force is taken by the dog's snout (rather than completely on the dog's throat and spine).

In other cases, the trap can strike full-force on the dog's throat and spine. More lethal, and more difficult to release.

This case makes the rescue look "simple" and "safe" (see the "political point" above).

 Figure 1.2.2
 
Figure 2: "90-degree twist."
Description: 
"90-degree twist." The rescuer has maintained his grasp on the two springs and is rotating the trap ninety degrees so that the jaws will now "suitcase" the dog's snout and neck vertically (i.e. one set of jaws pressing on the two sides of the snout, and the other pressing on the two sides of the neck). Once the twist is completed, the trap will be pressing on the dog's strong neck muscles rather than on his tender throat and spine.

Critique:
Same notes on strength and practice as step 1.2.
Same notes on trap orientation as figure 1.2.1.

 Figure 1.2.3
 
 Figure 2b: "90-degree twist with measurements."
Description:
Same as figure 1.2.2, with a comparison of trap width vs. neck width.

Critique:
Take a look at this diagram and see a major weakness in this method: the rescuer hasn't opened up the trap enough to rotate it; so he's using the dog's neck as a fulcrum to open the trap. If that seems improbable to you, you're right.
 Step 1.3
Squeeze together one of the springs using both hands if necessary until you're able to fasten the safety lock over the arms of the spring.
If both hands weren't "necessary," you would have been done by now.

You need one of your hands free to "fasten the safety lock." That leaves only one hand to keep the spring compressed. If you could do that, you would have been done by now.

Practice, and if you're not sure, then go to the "rope method alternative" below.

 Figure 1.3
 
Figure 3: "Lock springs by hand."
Description:
"Lock springs by hand." The trap is now positioned vertically, with one spring above and the other below the dog's head. The bottom spring has already been compressed and locked. The rescuer will use both hands to compress the spring, then free one hand to swing the lock into position and complete the release.

Critique:
Same notes on strength and practice as step 1.3.
 Step 1.4
Repeat the same process for the other spring. Slide the animal's head out of the trap.
Same as step 1.3.


Rope Method Alternative

Warning: don't expect these instructions to help.

  ---- Section ---- ---------- Instructions--------------  -------------------- Critique ---------------------------------
 Method #2
"Rope Method Alternative." If you cannot squeeze the springs of the trap by hand, a piece of rope, your belt, or a dog leash can help gain the necessary leverage.
Not usually an "alternative." Usually your best bet. Are you a betting person?

See the notes on strength and practice, above. Not as much strength needed here, but more practice--and of course, no guarantees.

 Step 2.1Thread the rope through [both of] the large rings of one spring where [those rings of] the spring meets the rotating jaws of the trap.

Practice is required.

In other words, no way are you going to understand the trap-release procedure from reading these instructions; and no way are you going to be able to complete it without hands-on practice. And even then--once you've come to understand it, and once you've practiced it--it's not likely to help you in a real-life situation.

Still it's good to learn everything you can, because in some cases 1) the trap does not strike an immediate, mortal blow; and 2) you're present when the trap strikes; and 3) you're able to keep your head, immobilize your dog, and complete the procedure in a timely fashion; and 4) you're fortunate in every other possible way. And in those cases, people are able to rescue their dogs.

 Step 2.2
Bring the rope around and thread it back through the initial ring far enough to provide a "handle" to grip.

The "handle" is just the end of the rope or leash.

An improved method is to repeat step 2.1, so that the rope is brought around and threaded all the way through again (which was perhaps the intention of figure 2.4, below).

In other words, this step is incomplete, the diagram that is intended to illustrate it does not seem to illustrate it, and the diagram is of such poor quality that it's hard to tell what it's intended to illustrate.

Practice is required.

 Step 2.3
Put your foot on one end [of the rope], and pull on the free end [the "handle"] with steady pressure. This will compress the spring enough to attach the safety [lock] to the spring, thus relieving considerable pressure.

Ideally, there's a loop at each end of the rope or leash: one around a foot and the other around a hand. A rope or leash can easily slip out from under a foot on snow, ice, or in mud.

Practice is required.

 Step 2.4
Repeat on the remaining spring, and release the animal.

Ideally, the rescuer will pull horizontally like a rescuer, rather than vertically like a hangman.

Practice is required.

 Figure 2.4
 
Figure 4: "rope method alternative."
An empty trap is lying on the ground. It's hard to tell from the poor-quality reproduction of this diagram (perhaps copied from the Wisconsin trap-release manual), but it might be intended to show that the rescuer has threaded a piece of rope through both rings of one spring (step 2.1), and then brought it around and threaded it through in the same way again (a more thorough method than the method described in step 2.2).

The rescuer seems to be pulling vertically upward, which would in reality apply a twisting force that would bring the trap into a vertical position (and, if this diagram included a dog's head and neck, a twisting force that would cause further injury to the soft tissues of the dog where they were clamped in the jaws of the trap).

In other words, the rescuer is pulling vertically like a hangman (see the critique of step 2.4).

This diagram--and even what we may suppose is the original from the Wisconsin trap-release manual--does not depict reality: 1) there is no dog in the trap, 2) there is no twisting motion to compound the dog's injuries, and 3) there is no good anchor for the rope under the rescuer's foot, on the snow and ice, or on the soft earth.

Practice is required.

 CreditsMinnesota Trappers Association.
www.mntrappers.org
Paid advertisement.

This disqualification says a lot: "Paid advertisement."

These instructions are political, not practical.

Advice: examine, adapt, practice, and avoid areas where lethal traps might be set.



Full-page advertisement in the MN Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook.

Warning: don't expect these instructions to help.

  2013 (negligent and politically misleading).  2014 (prettier)
 
MTA trap-release instructions: paid advertisement in the 2013 MN Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook.
 
2014 MTA trap-release instructions, from the 2014 MN Hunting & Trapping Regulations Handbook.
 2013 (negligent and politically misleading).
 2014 (prettier).