It was, Gerald Noska said, a perfect day to be grouse hunting. Sunny and in the mid-30s, only a trace of snow covered the ground on Noska’s property about 10 miles south of Staples.
But there would be no hunt Thursday. And probably not any day soon. And that’s understandable, even for a hunter who said he spends 30 to 60 days a year afield with his two dogs, hunting ruffed grouse.
There is only one dog now. And while Noska said it’s a good dog, a good hunter, he is still mourning the loss of his prized hunting dog, Sue, an English setter killed in a trap Monday at the Dry Sand Wildlife Management Area north of Staples.
While that’s fairly rare in the greater Brainerd lakes area, Noska’s dog was the second killed by a trap in the area in less than 10 days. John Reynolds of Merrifield said he lost his springer spaniel, Penni, to a trap near Emily Lake just outside of Emily on Dec. 17.
Noska and Reynolds both said they have trapped in the past — Reynolds in the last year — and have nothing against trapping. It’s the type of traps being used that “terrifies” both as dog owners.
Both dogs were reportedly killed by Conibear 220 traps, which are commonly baited and set inside a 5-gallon bucket, which in turn sits on the ground. A lightweight and compact body-gripping trap with a jaw spread of 7 inches, it’s popular for trapping bobcat, fishers and otters in this area — Crow Wing County and Cass County were among the trapping harvest leaders for each of those species in 2010-11, according to the DNR. And the traps can be placed almost anywhere on county and state land. The fisher season ended Dec. 4; the bobcat and otter seasons runs until Jan. 8.
“I’m absolutely terrified,” Reynolds said of the traps. “I spend a lot of time out in the woods. It’s my favorite thing to do. I go out at least once a week from fall to spring. But I’m seeing those buckets (with the traps) and seeing evidence of more and more every year.”
Reynolds, who said he’s heard of four dogs being caught in 220s — and only one surviving — in Crow Wing County in recent years, said he had seen the traps while out with his dog, but never in the area it was killed.
“We had been past that spot two or three times, but the wind was in the wrong direction and didn’t bring the scent (of the bait) to her. That day it did.”
Noska said he never even thought about the traps when out with his dogs.
“It never entered my mind,” he said. “I didn’t think this kind of stuff was legal. It terrifies you.”
Jason Abraham, season setting/fur bearer specialist for the DNR in St. Paul, said he’s only had seven reports of dogs killed by traps since 2007, although “I’m sure there have been more (that haven’t been reported).”
“We’re sympathetic toward the dog owners,” Abraham said. “We definitely understand it’s no fault of their own. It’s a hunting situation. But on the other hand, you have trappers who are legally trapping on state property who bought a license who expect and deserve the right to enjoy their sport.
“These things happen. I know a lot of trappers. I set traps. If it happened to me (a dog killed in his trap), I’d feel terrible. Two user groups in the woods can cross over and the results can be tragic.”
In 2010, Abraham said the DNR enacted rules restricting the placement of 220 body-gripping traps near houses and buildings occupied by livestock and said the DNR will continue to discuss regulations aimed at limiting accidental catches of pets.
According to Reynolds, it’s the traps themselves, not the rules, that pose a problem.
“I’m not against trapping. I’m absolutely against taking unnecessary risks with someone’s family member,” Reynolds said. “This thing (220 trap) is not necessary. There are footholds and snares. The alternatives have worked for hundreds of years. We need to force trappers to stop doing this. They have alternatives.
“It’s basically the dumbing down of trapping,” he added of 220s. “Anyone with a bucket and a 220 can call themselves a trapper. They (220s) are very effective.”
Reynolds enjoyed hunting grouse with Penni, who was about 2, and brought her to work with him, so spent “24 hours a day” with her.
“She meant the world to me,” he said in a recent letter to the editor in the Dispatch.
He and Noska both said they plan to “replace” their dogs — someday.
“I wouldn’t have sold her for $10,000,” Noska said of Sue, who he said was about 6 years old. “She was at her peak. She had another five years (of hunting). “And there’s no reimbursement (for a dog killed in a trap).
“On Monday afternoon ... We spent four to five hours hunting and (the dogs) flushed 18 birds. She (Sue) flushed 16. It (a hunting dog like Sue) is a once-in-a-lifetime deal — if you’re lucky.
“I don’t know when I’ll go out again. Probably not this year. And (Thursday) would have been a perfect day to be out. I want to go out again someday, but I don’t want to have to worry about this (traps). I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”