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Training Academy #12: Week 4

Sept. 24-29, 2023

Author: PCO Scott Pankow, Hart, Michigan

A man digs in the dirt to place a foothold trap

Photo caption: PCO Pankow digs out a trap bed for a foothold trap.

During week four of our 10-week academy, the probationary conservation officers of Training Academy #12 traveled to the Houghton Lake area for trapping school. This is a lateral academy because we are all pre-certified law enforcement officers and now, we are receiving training specific to natural resources laws and rules. 

Trapping is one of the most effective ways to control furbearer populations, such as woodchucks, beaver, bobcat, fox and coyote. Trapping protects and restores endangered species and migratory birds, controls invasive species and prevents human-wildlife conflict, property and infrastructure damage. Many furbearers also produce valuable resources like oil and clothing.

We were again joined by COs from prior recruit schools who have yet to attend trapping training . This training is instructed to officers once they are sworn-in and received their badge (which we did during week 1). Trapping and waterfowl are not included in the longer CO training academy because it spends more time covering the required general law enforcement criteria and other natural resource training to certify non-licensed individuals.

During this training, we learned about trapping rules and regulations and the different trapping sets that can be set for furbearer species. I was very excited for trapping school. When I was young, my dad was big into trapping – I used to go around with him checking trap sets. As I grew up, my dad did not trap as much. I was eager to learn more during this training because I’m excited to get my dad out trapping again. 

Three men walk through a field, carrying buckets

Photo caption: With the guidance of an instructor, students practiced setting for land-based furbearers in real life settings. 

When we arrived on Sunday, we received a bucket with tools needed to start trapping, such as a trowel, sifter, wire, a trapper’s helper, wire cutters and gloves. All the instructors introduced themselves and told us about their background in trapping, followed by student introductions. Most of us have had some type of trapping experience coming into this training.

Monday, retired CO Robert Mills talked about predator hunting. He brought in different calls, decoys and predator hides for display. Mills taught us how to call in different predators and which calls tend to work best for each species. We also learned how predators will approach calls and decoys and where to set up to hunt different predators throughout Michigan. 

A man kneels on the ground holding a cup of bait

Photo caption: Mark June, a world-class leader in animal attraction technology and formulation and trapper training education materials, instructs PCOs on how to utilize bait and lure at trap set locations. 

Mark June, wildlife biologist and renowned coyote trapper, was also an instructor at our trapping school. He told us about his background in trapping and how he got to where his is today. June is a contract trapper who travels nationally and internationally to trap. For example, a farmer might hire June to trap coyotes who are attacking livestock. We spent the next couple of days with June, learning what type of areas to look for when placing a foothold trap for coyotes and bobcat and how to make different sets with foothold traps. It was very interesting to learn the thought process and how meticulous you must be while placing different sets. Throughout the rest of the day, we were taught all the different types of traps we would find while working in the field.

Closeup of bait placed near a buried foot hold trap

Photo caption: A student applies bait to a trap site.

Wednesday, Dave Hendershot, president of Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association, and Dave Spencer, president of the U.P. Trappers Association, talked to us about trapping history and how trapping  has changed today. It was very interesting to hear about what trapping was like years ago and how few trappers there are today. Both Hendershot and Spencer described the importance of trapping and how nuisance trapping is more prevalent today.

Two men stand in a puddle giving a trapping demonstration

Photo caption: Trapping instructors COs Richard Stowe and Brad Bellville demonstrate how to make a beaver set.

During the last three days of training, we learned more about trapping techniques for beaver, muskrats, otters and raccoons. We were able to skin, flesh and stretch the hides of different species. 

A group of people stand near the woods behind a CO patrol truck

Photo caption: PCOs gather around an instructor to learn about the different types of ways to anchor body gripping traps for beaver and otter.

Thursday, Trevor Barnes from Barnes Hide and Fur told us about his business and what happens to the furs after he purchases them. It was very interesting to hear Trevor explain what items are made from the different furs – everything from gloves to oils. He was able to tell us about where the fur market is today and how much it changes, along with how much everything has changed within the last couple of years. 

Friday was basically a ‘clean up’ day, accounting for and packing up inventory, followed by a presentation about furbearer registry.

Trapping school was a very good training. All the instructors were extremely knowledgeable about trapping. The entire class really enjoyed this training – everyone learned so much. After attending this school, all the PCO’s felt more comfortable with trapping and its rules and regulations. Once we are out in the field, we will be able to apply what we have learned throughout our careers as conservation officers. 

Learn more about Trapping in Michigan.

Read Week 5.