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GF&P Offers Trapper Education Courses

The state isn’t just giving away varmint traps; it’s teaching people how to use them:

Being involved in a recent series of trapper education courses has been one of the most enjoyable programs to take part in for Jason Nelson, the state’s outreach coordinator for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department.

…The classes are part of the state’s newly initiated nest predator bounty program, which started April 1.

…“Every class has been pretty close to full,” Nelson said. “There’s been really good turnout. This has been one of the funnest classes I’ve been a part of (due to) the excitement from the participants.”

Each class covers the basics of trapping, including education on regulations, guidelines, ethics, wildlife conservation, how and where to set a live trap, baits/lures, humane dispatch, non-target species and safety. For instance, those who are trapping should know where they leave their traps. Nelson recommends keeping a journal [Shannon Marvel, “Trapping Course Instills Knowledge in Next Generation of Farmers {paywall},” Aberdeen American News, 2019.04.29].

My state government denigrates the liberal arts but promotes the fine art of catching skunks. You betcha.

I nonetheless express unbridled excitement over GF&P’s official “Live Tail Tracker,” an amazing data dashboard that tells me that as of 07:07 CDT today, 767 intrepid South Dakotans have sent the tails of 8,278 entrappèd critters to state government. 72.6% of those tails have come from raccoons, 17.6% from striped skunk, 8.6% from opossum, 0.6% from red fox, and 0.5% from the fearsome badger. The top five trapping counties are Minnehaha, Beadle, Lake, Deuel, and Turner. And the trapping is picking up momentum in terms of participants:

Now if we could just get live data like this on Kristi Noem's travel mileage, or the number of NOem-Rhoden kin employed by the state.... SD GF&P Live Tail Tracker, screen cap, 2019.04.30.
Now if we could just get live data like this on Kristi Noem’s travel mileage, or the number of Noem-Rhoden kin employed by the state…. SD GF&P Live Tail Tracker, screen cap, 2019.04.30.

…but not in numbers of critters caught and killed:

Number of tails submitted, SD GF&P Live Tail Tracker, screen cap, 2019.04.30.
Number of tails submitted, SD GF&P Live Tail Tracker, screen cap, 2019.04.30.

More trappers, fewer tails submitted—don’t tell me we’re already thinning the varmint herd and training the raccoons and skunks to hide better!

The state is spending good money to train kids for jobs in the 18th century. Maybe some intrepid math and science teachers will grab the new Tail Tracker and generate some great statistics and ecology lessons to train kids for jobs in the 21st century.


  1. Porter Lansing 2019-04-30

    Mr. Nelson. I suggest adding some trapper safety information. I trapped as a teen and fifty years later still periodically suffer from the frost bite I incurred on my toes. (Nothing quite like the thrill of seeing a fully white ermine in the trap.)

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-30

    Frostbite! A trapper’s got to think about things like that. In that regard, a really good trapper education course would be about much more than just catching and killing some unsavory critter and properly severing its tail so you can get your measly ten bucks. It would be about being an outdoorsperson, understanding the outdoors, the ecology, and our place in it.

  3. Porter Lansing 2019-04-30

    Nail on the head, Cory. At least trappers have cell phones now, for emergencies. Learning about and applying outdoor knowledge has been one of the great things of entertainment my teens, all through adulthood. Especially when I came to the Rockies. Things I learned in SD as a trapper, farmer, hunter and fisher has saved my life by knowing what decisions to make.

  4. Certain Inflatable Recreational Devices 2019-04-30

    Ah, yes, a fully white ermine. One of the most beautiful sights in nature. I have seen one once, and not in a trap. They’re valued for their fur more than despised as a predator, although they can wreak havoc in a chickenhouse.

    One thing occurs to me about the “tails for sales” program (I know. It’s weak). The use of livetraps will continue through the whelping season, during which one has no way of knowing how many lactating moms will be trapped and killed for $10, also sentencing their progeny to starvation.

  5. Debbo 2019-04-30

    “The state is spending good money to train kids for jobs in the 18th century.”

    Hail, South Dakota, best state in the land!

    Ouch. I think I’m getting a pounding headache.

  6. Adam 2019-04-30

    When you look at the graphs, it seems clear that trapping has already accomplished almost all it ever could do to reduce the varmint population.

    Like tax cuts for the wealthy, which drive this country into unending debt – these tax cuts have already done all they can possibly do to stimulate the economy and “naturally balance the budget” as Republicans have promised for decades and STILL maintain.

    Small farms aren’t going out of business because of trade wars, they’re going bust because country folk can’t do math or understand charts like the ones in this post.

    The smartest farmer I have ever met has a math degree from SDSMT, and that guy ain’t goin’ under anytime soon, but to all the farmers out there who think the varmint infestation is killing your revenue, learn how math works you effing dummy and teach your kids not just the value of hard work, but also of working smart. Give your kids a book more often than you give them a trapper, and reward them for reading that book, a little more than you reward them for trapping a raccoon… you big fat effing dum dums.

    Then again, I guess book learnin’ just makes you Liberal, while killing sh!t brings out that primal (some might call it primitive/animal) nature – and that kinda tickle some peoples’ fancy a little. Heck, some people actually value it far more than book learnin’ – they ain’t stupid though, just differnt.

  7. leslie 2019-05-01

    Educating the masses might effect elections.

    Lest we forget trapping was the basis for western expansion so Europeans could wear fine beaver hats, the hatters went mad, and the fur trade was exhausted in— like, 40 years?! Then we went after the bison. “Done that too.”

  8. Wayne B. 2019-05-01

    Something isn’t right with the tail tracker website. There’s no way 84 people can submit just 17 tails on April 29, and 56 people submit 22 tails on April 30. I wonder if someone is entering data incorrectly.

    Cory, I hate to rise to your quips, but c’mon – GF&P isn’t training anyone for 18th century jobs. They’re teaching people another way to enjoy the outdoors. That’s part of their mission, and I dare say it’s an essential component of a well-rounded liberal arts education. I would encourage you to sit in on a class before you chastise it for what you think it lacks.

    Besides, since a household is only allowed to submit 59 tails, there’s no way anyone’s making a living off this. I wonder, though, if that household cap is partly behind the decline in submissions; not that the critters are getting more wily, but rather that the most exuberant of households have already maxed out their quota.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-02

    Hang on, Wayne: I’m looking at the updated Tail Tracker. The purple graph shows me 85 people on April 29. The green graph shows me 108 tails on April 29.

    April 30: 56 people, 41 tails.

    May 1: 72 people, 190 tails.

    May 2: 47 people, 20 tails.

    Hmm… are they counting Dad and Junior coming in with one tail and splitting the $10 bounty?

    Wayne, I will concede that the GF&P is making the best out of bad policy by offering trapping classes. I do respect the knowledge they have and the work they do. I hope their curriculum includes some of the broader outdoors skills that we have mentioned above, along with ecological good sense and training to tread lightly, even as they remove certain varmints from the wild.

    But it’s always a challenge to teach respect for wildlife and nature while encouraging young people how to destroy a portion of it. Such complex value conflcits are tough to teach well to young people.

    On the household cap: I think they chose 59 strictly so payouts would remain under the $600 threshold that would require the state to file 1099-MISCs for ambitious trappers. But part of the education we’re doing here should also include reminding kids that their folks will need to declare that trapping income and pay taxes on it.

  10. JW 2019-05-03

    I will argue with the foolish notion that it is the government’s job to teach people another way to “enjoy the outdoors” That notion is fully within the margins of “big brother” supervision and management that so called conservatives despise…….. except when such a program uses public money to line the pockets of individuals as incentive………… There is a reason why the participation rate seems to either increase or remain constant and tail submission has gone way down…… All the tails from road killed animals have been collected of the roads and the denning and parturition season for stuff like coons, skunks, badgers etc is well underway which reduces activity levels and travel frequency.

  11. mike from iowa 2019-05-03

    Fur value has plummeted over the past several years, making it too expensive to target animals with little pelt value. Fur buyers and auction houses don’t want overstocks on low paying furs.

    Sanctions and tariffs have done zilch to improve pelt prices. Russia and China are/were large volume buyers of American furs and they aren’t buying much now.

  12. jerry 2019-05-03

    We had the chance to ban NOem, but we made her what she is, a joke.

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