Updated: Mar 20
In this age of information, it’s now easier than ever for trappers to connect with non-trappers and educate them about our heritage, our way of life, and the value of trapping as a management tool. Unfortunately, it’s just as easy for anti-trappers to spread misinformation, often preying upon the general public’s lack of knowledge of what we do. Huge chunks of society are vulnerable to the false information, and outright lies, told to them by animal rights groups because, quite simply, they don’t know our side of the story.
Today, approximately 84% of the United States population lives in an urban or suburban setting. In the 1970s, that number hovered around 73%. On paper, 10% isn’t a huge change over the course of 50 years, but in real life, it represents millions of people. In fact, when you calculate the percentages against our country’s population then and now (209 million in 1970 versus 330 million in 2020), you’ll find that about 152 million people lived in urban and suburban areas in 1970 while 277 million people live there now. Meanwhile, the number of people living in rural areas (approximately 53 million) has stayed about the same.
In this age where so many issues regarding wildlife are decided at the ballot box, it’s imperative that we invest time in educating the general public. They will decide our future, and that decision will be based on how effectively we’ve communicated our message.
After reaching out to several organizations and industry professionals, I’ve assembled a variety of ways that may help you and your state association more effectively reach the general public. Some of you may already be doing these things, and that’s great, but for others looking for ways to promote trapping in their home state, consider trying some of these tactics.
Doorways to Communication
One simple and effective way to reach the general public is through brochures and other literature. The Pennsylvania Trappers Association (PTA) has created trifold brochures on a number of trapping-related topics, such as how to release an animal from a foothold trap or cable restraint, Best Management Practices, and information about regulated fur trapping. They also produce coloring books for kids.
“I like to call them Educational Coloring Books,” said Barry Warner, the Public Relations Director for the PTA. “They have pictures of furbearers that kids can color, but they also provide a lot of information about natural history and facts about those animals.”
In the past few years, the PTA has distributed almost 36,000 of these Educational Coloring Books and other brochures through Pennsylvania’s 12 welcome centers located along highways and interstates coming into the state. Every piece of information has the PTA logo and contact information. Warner said that they often receive calls from teachers, Boy Scouts leaders, and other groups who pick up these materials at the welcome centers and inquire about having PTA representatives talk to their students and/or members about trapping and conservation.
“We also have people call requesting more Educational Coloring Books for their groups,” said Warner. “It opens the door to communication.”
Making state trapping associations visible to the general public is also crucial. The PTA, like many others, frequently sets up exhibits at local and state fairs, sportsman’s shows, National Wild Turkey Federation functions, and Trout Unlimited events. These inter-organizational relationships are especially important because they provide exposure to other outdoor-loving individuals who have the potential to become members as well as spread the word about the importance of trapping.
“We’ve always promoted our state convention as a family event, not just something for trappers,” said Warner. “Our state convention is one of the largest in the country in both terms of attendance and number of exhibitors. Last year, the convention was held in Washington County (southwestern PA) and the local tourism bureau paid to bring in Troy Landry from the Swamp People. He sat at a table for six or seven hours signing autographs and talking to people. That drew in a lot of people who otherwise would not have attended.”
Social Media Responsibility
“Social media can be fantastic, but it can also be the worst thing in the world,” said Rusty Kramer, President of the Idaho Trappers Association (ITA). “The ITA has a very active Facebook page, and I try to post on there every day, even in the summer. It has gained us a couple hundred members in the association and probably doubled our fur sale. But I’m very careful about what gets posted. I see too many people posting pictures and videos that do a huge disservice to trappers. You have to be mindful of how you’re promoting trapping.”
One of the major downfalls of social media is that so much of what gets posted is open to interpretation, and how a viewer interprets a post often depends on their background, heritage, values, and any number of influences. What we trappers may see as no big deal could very well offend someone who doesn’t have an understanding of what we do. Unless the general public viewing that post has personal knowledge about how traps function and are designed to catch and hold the animal as humanely as possible, photos of live animals in a foothold trap will almost always evoke sympathy.
(Photo: Ralph Scherder with a raccoon caught in a dogproof trap. Before sharing photos like this to social media, always be aware of how the sport of trapping is being portrayed.)
Unfortunately, many of those who post harmful photos on social media do so because they believe it is their God-given right. And while it’s true that they can post whatever they wish, they fail to realize the negative impact they’re having on people who don’t trap. When an anti-hunting or anti-trapping measure reaches the ballot box, what image will people have in mind as they decide how to cast their vote?
It’s not a matter of being proud that you’re a trapper. True pride is presenting what you do in an informative, professional manner that reflects positively on our way of life. Sometimes the best thing you can do to help the image of trapping is to keep from hurting it. Save the catch photos for closed groups meant specifically for trapping, and if you do feel the need to share photos on your public profile, always ask yourself how a non-trapper would view your post.
Rusty Kramer has never shied away from promoting trapping at as many public events as possible. In fact, he has even embraced opportunities provided by the Humane Society to set up displays at state dog fairs and rattlesnake events.
“When the Humane Society calls, you think ‘oh crap’,” said Kramer. “But they wanted us to do a trap awareness demo, so we set up a table.
“We’re not trying to teach them about trapping. We’re just showing them what a trap looks like, how to open a trap or snare, and how to safely get your dog out of one if it gets caught. We stuff our hands in traps 500 times a day to show people that you don’t need a crowbar and blow torch to open one. Even a skinny little girl can throw a coat over her dog and depress the levers of these traps and not get bit.”
Again, it’s all about unraveling the myths that anti-trapping organizations like to feed the general public, which is that we use traps so big and strong that they leave an animal bloody and suffering. When the average person gets to actually see and handle a foothold trap, it destroys that image.
“Some people frown upon us even talking to the Humane Society and doing these events,” said Kramer, “but I’d rather the ITA do the trap release clinic than leave it up to the Humane Society. I think that’s a big thing. Also, at every sportsmen’s events, and kids event, I want the ITA logo visible at every single one in the state of Idaho. I probably attend eight banquets a year with an ITA donation for each one and try to speak. At every event, we wear collared shirts and always be polite and respectful.”
Of course, not everyone is cut out for doing public events because there’s always a possibility of confrontation with those who disapprove of trapping. Heck, even if you’re knocking on doors trying to get permission to trap a property, you’ll likely eventually encounter a landowner willing to debate the issue.
Any time I meet someone who is opposed to my lifestyle, I encourage them to have a conversation, not an argument. Even if I don’t agree with them, I try to understand their point of view. The more I can understand why they believe what they believe, the better I’ll be able to counter with the proper facts to support my viewpoint. I’m not foolish enough to believe I can change anyone’s mind, but I am smart enough to know that being disrespectful hurts not just my image, but the image of other trappers, too.
Newspapers and Columnists
Bob Noonan, who has been in the trapping industry as a writer and editor for many decades (he founded the magazine Trapper’s Post), had some interesting advice about how to reach the general public. “If you know someone who has a voice in the local newspaper, talk to them about trapping,” he said. “If they have a weekly outdoor column, or whatever, they can be tremendously effective.”
The key is to be open and honest with that writer in regards to the information you provide them with to write their piece. Try to establish a relationship and keep them informed about upcoming events. However, also keep in mind that not all newspapers are unbiased when it comes to hunting and trapping, and they often receive a lot of behind-the-scenes pressure from animal rights groups because those groups buy advertising.
“Here in Maine, we've gone through two major anti bear hunting referendums, and I was pretty involved in both of them,” said Noonan. “I wrote a series of three editorials in favor of bear hunting for what I thought was a fairly open-minded, conservative newspaper with a large circulation. Anyway, they said they would only print one pro bear hunting article by a single author. But they also said that for every pro bear hunting article, they would have to print one that was against bear hunting.
“Of course, I follow the newspaper, and they let the same woman write the same opinion piece against bear hunting over and over again. They basically lied to me.”
Bridging Cultural Divides
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing trappers is the cultural divide posed by the fact that such a large percentage of our population lives in urban and suburban areas. According to Noonan, the Humane Society of the United States typically targets areas with populations of 400-plus people per square mile. “They target these pockets of population with their message,” Noonan said, “because their studies have shown that this demographic is at least three generations removed from the farm, they often have pets, and they love animals, but they’re clueless about wildlife management.”
It stands to reason, then, that this is an important demographic for trappers, too. But how do we reach them, and how do we educate them about the importance of trapping?
I believe this requires a change of direction of thought. While continuing to focus on trapper recruitment, it’s imperative that we also set out to simply educate people about trapping, even if they’ll never buy a trapping license.
This includes plenty of grassroots effort, such as doing presentations in schools. But it also involves sticking to our message, which is that trapping is humane and it plays a key role in managing wildlife that are prone to overpopulation and disease. We have to remind them that trapping harvests only abundant wildlife, not endangered species, and it is managed through scientifically-based regulations that are strictly enforced by conservation officers in every state.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The fate of trapping also means taking that message to those urban and suburban areas that animal rights groups target. Any public event that attracts a large number of people, especially families, is a potential place to set up a table and do a presentation.
“At these events, it’s a whole different world,” said Rusty Kramer regarding some of the events that he presents at through the ITA. “It’s all jogging strollers and yoga pants. We’ve had anti-trappers come up asking us to open a trap. Most of them thank us and say they had no idea how to open a trap or had envisioned a trap like they see in cartoons that snap the animal’s leg off. Those types of events can be great for educating the general public.”
As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. The more we are able to educate the general public about traps and trapping, the more likely we will be to make them question the misinformation shoved in their faces from animal rights groups. In most cases, the non-trapping public knows so little about how a trap even functions that simply showing them how one works is enough to make them rethink their opinion.
We are in the midst of an election year, and several states will be facing referendums and ballot initiatives that will in some way challenge our rights to hunt and trap. Hopefully some of the ideas set forth here will help you generate new ideas about how to reach the general public and educate them about trapping so that they know our side of the story.
Whether you’re a member of a state association, sportsman’s club, gun range, youth group, or any other organization, we all have the opportunity to do something to ensure the future of trapping. Progress seldom happens quickly, but every step forward counts.
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