Published March 01, 2012, 12:04 AM

Trapping is a family tradition

My son and daughters have seen urban trapping first hand in a backyard live-trap.

By: Doug Leier, The Dickinson Press

My son and daughters have seen urban trapping first hand in a backyard live-trap.

Beyond that, my son also loves to help my dad check coyote and muskrat traps, the same way I did.

While my dad and son are certainly not alone in their interest in trapping, trappers in North Dakota are much fewer in number than hunters or anglers. However, it seems like upward trending fur prices and abundant muskrats this winter have created a buzz and sparked renewed interest in not only trapping, but coyote and fox calling as well.

Perhaps it all started in late November 2011 when the first fisher season took place. Fishers are a large member of the weasel family and were historically found in northeastern North Dakota, but considered extirpated or eliminated from the state by the early 1900s.

The population began increasing again in the late 1990s, and has reached a point where a limited harvest season is warranted. With a season quota of 10 fishers, trappers reached this mark in a matter of days. Only North Dakota residents were able to participate, with a season limit of one animal per trapper. The open area was east of U.S. Highway 281 and ND Highway 4.

“Opening the first ever regulated trapping season for fishers in North Dakota is a great success story of responsible wildlife management, not only in North Dakota but surrounding states and provinces as well,” said Stephanie Tucker, state Game and Fish Department furbearer biologist.

Similar to fisher, bobcats are another North Dakota furbearer that few people ever see. Unlike fishers, bobcats have historically maintained a viable population in the western part of the state, and over the last 20 years trappers and hunters have taken about 50-75 animals per year, though interest is also increasing in recent years.

“We don’t have a lot of bobcats so the harvest isn’t that high, especially when you compare it to places like the Black Hills in South Dakota where they are averaging 300-400 animals per season,” Tucker said.

Having a ?rm understanding on bobcat numbers in the state is important because overharvest could possibly reduce the population. “Recruitment for bobcats is low compared to fox or coyotes,” Tucker said. “They have one litter a year and the average litter size is two to three kittens, while coyotes can have huge litters of up to six to 10 pups.”

If you’ve never seen one, the bobcat’s coat is yellowish brown to gray and either streaked or spotted with black or dark brown. The coat consists of long black-tipped guard hairs and dense, short, soft underfur. Its tail is short and colored like its coat. Only the upper side of the tip of the bobcat’s tail is black, with the under-sides whitish.

In North Dakota, bobcats prey mostly on cottontail rabbits, but these opportunistic predators will eat most anything from rodents to insects to deer carcasses. Their hunting methods vary, but most often they take prey by ambush or stalking. The rugged, uneven terrain of the badlands suits their patient style of hunting.

It’s hard to predict if my kids will ever take a bobcat or fisher, but the fact North Dakota is home to a stable population isn’t lost on their dad —another reason to love North Dakota’s outdoors.

Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email: dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com

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