Michigan United Conservation Clubs CEO Amy Trotter attends week-long, intensive trappers college training in Indiana.

By Amy Trotter, MUCC CEO

Maybe fur harvesting is in my blood. Through the extensive genealogy work of a distant cousin, I recently learned that my maternal great-grandmother’s family came from France. In the early 1600s, they traveled to Quebec, Canada, eventually through New York and Vermont, and landed in Michigan around 1880. By then, they made a living in farming and lumber, but I have wondered if my ancestors crossed the Atlantic as part of the fur trade. That is only one-eighth of my story, however.

My interest began when I was given a beaver pelt hat when I was about 4 years old from my grandparents, Ernie and Nancy Oswald. They had it made for me. It is too small for my head now, but I still have it. It helped me understand from a young age that an essential component of wildlife management was trapping, and fur held a strong place in Michigan’s history. And it was warm!
Of course, as I got older and studied environmental science in college, I heard about the “evils” of the fur trade and the exploitation of the commercial markets. Thankfully, proper regulations and scientific wildlife management has worked to restore beaver populations and other fur bearers across North America.

trappers college

Amy Trotter’s daughter Clara learns how to make a drowner slide cable from volunteer and NTA Director Bob Steinmetz at the NTA Convention Kids Cave in Escanaba.



Back to school

In 2013, MUCC hosted a staff training in Michigan Trappers Education and repeated it in 2022 for staff who had joined since then. From my perspective, this was an important step to engage our team in understanding this component of our outdoor heritage. Some had minimal experience in it — so it was personal and professional development. Late last year, the Michigan Trapper and Predator Caller Association (MTPCA) started discussing their scholarships to send one wildlife biologist and one conservation officer to the annual Fur Trappers of America (FTA) Trappers College, and the board decided that adding an advocate to the scholarship would help us “walk the walk, like we talk the talk.”

Luckily, I was chosen and announced at our 2023 Annual Convention that I was returning to college — Trappers College. My college prep started last summer with my first visit to the National Trappers Association (NTA) Convention and Outdoor Show, hosted in Escanaba. I got to present about MUCC to the NTA Board of Directors and met FTA staff and enjoyed a day at the show with my family, inlaws and several nieces. For my husband Marc and my father-in-law, this was not a new experience. They have attended many trappers conventions over the years and trapped together a lot in the 1980s-1990s.

I was blown away by the number of vendors sprawling across the UP State Fairgrounds. But most excitedly, my two daughters and three nieces had a blast in the Kids Cave building their own mink boxes, a drowning set, bluebird houses and jumping in for a coin scramble to win traps, furs and other prizes. They also got to help solve a poaching case with DNR conservation officers, practice casting for fish and shoot the laser gun. My husband was excited to restock our trap dye, wax and buy new trap setters. Our van was loaded down with their projects and our purchases as we headed back to the cabin.

As Labor Day approached, I remember getting the first day of school jitters again. I was nervous to attend Trappers College — I haven’t been in school since I graduated from Michigan State University in 2002. Not only that, I work in an office setting and as much as I enjoy the outdoors, I’m not exactly in shape and had no idea what I would be in for. When I got the packing list for Trappers College, I knew I was in for an immersive, hands-on experience. We didn’t even own half of what was on the list so I decided to use the college’s equipment rather than trying to scramble to collect it.

trappers college

First-day jitters

I drove down on a Saturday afternoon to move into the dorms and get registered. Trappers College is housed out of a YMCA camp in Wolcottville, Indiana, and we gathered for dinner and small talk. On Sunday morning, we started right after breakfast with the big picture — some history of trapping, basic terminology, gear and a reminder that FTA, like many other conservation groups, exists on membership and donations to keep this piece of our outdoor heritage alive.

After that, we collected our rental gear, and there were stations to get our traps dyed, waxed, and repaired. We each built two snares for our use at college. Each student also sat down for an interview with a cross-section of instructors to determine what experience level group they would be placed in. It was clear, despite what I know about the terminology, regulations, and wildlife management, that as far as running a trapline is concerned, I am very much a beginner, so I was assigned to Group 1 (out of five).

Group 1 was the largest group, with 18 of the 58 total students at the college, and in total, it was made up of six game wardens, three USDA Wildlife Services employees, three wildlife biologists, two state DNR R3 coordinators, one fish hatchery manager, two hunters interested in learning more about trapping, and me.

Each day at 3:30 p.m., after returning from the field, we would pull out our camp chairs for a tutorial and demonstrations on different subjects from a round-robin of college instructors.
Every evening, we made our way to our indoor classroom space, where we spent Sunday through Friday from 7-10 p.m. listening to select instructors and guest speakers on a variety of topics, including furbearer research, wildlife disease, macro and microsite selection, lure selection, predator calling and fur grading. The topic from 9-10 p.m. was always considered “optional,” but many attendees, myself included, stayed to soak in all the information we could.

trappers college

Get into the routine

Monday began the same way we would start the whole week: breakfast at 6:30 a.m., roll call within our group at 7 a.m., and then on the road in our group caravan to the field. With 18 students and four instructors, we had to split up into trucks so many of the students with large enough agency trucks drove. As a short person, I volunteered to squeeze into the back seat “cage” of a Kentucky Game Warden, a hunter from Indiana, and a Colorado Game Warden.

Our outdoor field training occurred at the Pigeon River Fish and Wildlife Area, encompassing 11,794 acres of land, 529 acres of lakes and impoundments and 17 miles of free-flowing river. The property contains a mix of habitat, including hardwoods, wetlands, and upland fields and additional land along the river valley, making it a unique place to gain experience in a variety of field conditions. It is managed by Savanna Vaughn, who briefed us on the area Sunday night and worked with Trappers College and Purdue University on a special education permit that allowed us to trap out-of-season for educational purposes. She guided what we would harvest or release based on goals for furbearer management on the property.

Field Day 1

After learning the basics of snaring and bedding, setting and luring a foothold trap, I started my first trapline with four sets: two snares and two foothold traps targeting coyote or fox. All sets throughout the week were flagged with pink tape since it was under the special permit.

Field Day 2

Check sets at field 1 and proceed to field 2. We learned about additional trapping tools at field two, including dog-proof raccoon and body-gripping traps. My trap line expanded to eight when I placed a snare, 220 body-gripping, foothold and dog-proof sets.

Field Day 3

Check sets at fields 1 and 2. I discovered my first catch at field 2, an incidental rabbit in my body grip trap. What I learned is likely what serious trappers already know — it’s not a good idea to put a 220 on public land without enclosure, which would have limited non-target species. It’s not even legal in Michigan. I considered moving it but decided to leave it in place as there were signs that other furbearers were also using the same trail from a pond in the interior of a thicket out to a field. We then moved to the water and were introduced to many water sets for mink, muskrat, beaver and raccoon. The group donned our waders and using shared Jet Sleds, we took to the water to place our sets. I added three that day, a 110 for mink, a dog proof and another foothold.

Field Day 4

Checked sets at Fields 1 and 2. Then on to the water. I added a Gummy Lifesaver to my bait in each of my dog proofs, they have the benefit of being exactly the right size and shape and also they can stick to the bottom a little more so that mice won’t steal them without setting off the trap. I added a long spring foothold to the mix for 12 sets in my line.

trappers college

Field Day 5

Amy’s Christmas Day. Friday was the final day to rerun the full trapline and pull our sets. Field 1 was a bust for me again. When we moved to field 2, my neighboring trappers discovered before me that I had a raccoon! We took some pictures, called in an instructor, and then pulled our other sets. When instructor Dave arrived, I asked that we release the raccoon, as he was a good size, unharmed and would still be available for the hunting and trapping season to come. Plus, I hadn’t yet seen a release with a catch pole. A raccoon rodeo ensued, but he scurried away unharmed.

When we reached the water, I knew my trapline was ending. Four more chances awaited. My mink body grip set was a bust again, but the dog proof and Gummy Lifesaver had proven successful! The raccoon was dispatched, and I moved on to check my other foothold, which was empty. Finally, I approached my last set, which was a small longspring trap set lured for mink and finished with instructor Dave’s special Apple Jack lure. I couldn’t find the trap. As the sediment settled in the water, I spied my cable anchors and followed them into the water and there, much to my surprise, was a dead raccoon. It had actually been dispatched already and then the student with the instructor realized it wasn’t his set, so he left it for me to find shortly afterward.

So my trapline concluded with three raccoons in a single day!

trappers college

Instructors and students celebrated the close of our field sessions with ice cream treats at the local gas station/party store in Mongo. I’m sure it was the most people ever concentrated on that intersection of streets in town history. We returned to camp and then spent the rest of the afternoon learning hands-on about putting up fur, from skinning to fleshing to stretching. Instructors and the DNR had provided ample wildlife from the week and previous trapping seasons that were brought in frozen so we could pick from among all of the fur-bearing mammals. Because of my success, of course, I kept the day’s theme with raccoons.

Never stop learning

To sum it up, what did I learn from my experience at Trappers College?

Trapping is physically demanding: It means early mornings, sore muscles from carrying lots of gear, contending with digging and staking in hard ground and fleshing, random bruises, trap pinches (no finger losses suffered) and poison ivy. On the upside, while trapping in the river, the algae and weeds created an excellent resistance workout, and after eight days, I lost about eight pounds.

Mechanical knowledge desired: Experienced trappers who might do this for a living have just as many skills at a workbench with metal working as they do in the field.

Trapping is grounded in biology and science: To trap, just like hunting, you have to think like the animal, what they are looking for in the season of their life and in that particular environment, down to the specific considerations of wind direction, cover and scent. However, in my opinion, it’s way more difficult; to quote instructor Robert Colona speaking about trapping red fox, they have a “five square mile home range and you get them to step on a one-inch circle.”

It’s as exciting as Christmas Day: After placing my first sets, I was up the next day before my alarm, thinking about fox dancing in my sets. While that wasn’t the case, arriving to find your trapping plan was a success is an enriching experience.

It is so misunderstood: Even while sharing my stories in the last three weeks, my own sister was surprised we were able to release a raccoon unharmed from a foothold and another conservation professional and hunter realized he wasn’t aware that trapping was happening at the same time he is on public hunting areas in Michigan. There is an innate fear of the unknown. Many without experience still envision the traps with jagged metal teeth, which have been banned in most states for almost 50 years. Modern trappers have every interest in the humane treatment and quick dispatch of their intended targets and have developed nationally recognized best management practices for each species.

Management matters to wildlife and the environment: Trapping not only helps manage the target species population; it can also help flooding and erosion concerns (beavers, muskrat), allow endangered and threatened species to recover (piping plover, least terns, turtle, etc) and reduce non-native/invasive species impacts (nutria, feral swine).

There are so many willing mentors: Most furbearer trappers and hunters I have met are not always the most outgoing in a group or interested in public speaking, but one-on-one, they are the most patient and understanding teachers. Maybe it’s because they are not chasing antlers or protecting their honey holes, or perhaps it really is because that is how they learned, and they understand that to preserve their traditions, they have to pass them on.

I look forward to spending some time later this fall and winter trying out more of my newfound knowledge to pursue muskrat and mink. But more importantly, I am a better-armed advocate to counter the misinformation and help protect this critical tool for wildlife management and Michigan’s outdoor heritage.

Trapping is constantly under attack

Many groups, MUCC included, work to ensure that trapping remains a tool for wildlife management and that the traditions, the heritage and the challenges continue. Here in Michigan, we have two trapping-focused MUCC affiliates: the Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association (MTPCA) and the Upper Peninsula Trappers Association. At the national level, there are the National Trappers Association (NTA) and the Fur Takers of America (FTA). Many other groups work together with these organizations to promote, protect and defend furbearer and predator management.