Matt Brophy, left, of St. Clair, Pennsylvania, with his 11-year-old son, Rob, sells trapping scents and pack baskets at the New England Trappers Weekend on Aug. 19 in Bethel. Brophy taught his son to trap and runs a youth trapping contest in Pennsylvania. Deirdre Fleming photo

BETHEL — Two weeks ago the dirt road into Neil and Linda Olson’s property was packed with vendors in a yard-sale setting, many with historical trapping artifacts.

Tables were piled with animal furs, wood carvings, traps, lures and wildlife artwork. The adjoining dirt road out to a massive farm field owned by the Olsons’ neighbors was filled with booths tended by beekeepers, woodturners, painters, knitters and chainsaw artists with elaborate displays showing the wares of trappers.

At least a dozen rows in the field were filled with campers and tents for the 44th edition of the New England Trappers Weekend, which took place in Bethel over four days in August. Hundreds of enthusiastic trappers came from across Maine and the Northeast – and as far away as New Mexico – to commune with like-minded outdoor foragers, share trapping techniques, and, at least for some, to express angst over the fact that their centuries-old tradition is in decline.

Younger people, many of the attendees said, are not taking up trapping as their parents or grandparents once did, chiefly because the fur trade – a thriving business in America 50 years ago – is also in decline.

“I wouldn’t say trapping is dying. I’d say it’s evolving slowly,” said Stephen Stone, a trapper from Bethel. “Maybe it’s going to turn. Maybe not. If it continues on the course it’s on, it will be harder and harder for it to come back.”

In Maine, the number of licensed trappers has been dwindling for years.


According to the state’s 2020 Furbearer Management Plan: “Trappers are getting older, and fewer people are being recruited into trapping. The number of junior Maine trapping licenses in 2019 (103) was 32 percent lower than the previous five-year average of 152.” The number of licensed trappers in the state has dropped steadily from about 7,000 in 1980 to about 4,000 in 2019, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.


A trap is a device made to catch or hold an animal and there are several types legal in Maine, such as foothold traps and cage-type live traps. Several species can be trapped legally in Maine: fox, coyote, muskrat, beaver, bear, bobcat, fisher, mink, opossum, otter, raccoon, red squirrel, marten, skunk and weasel.

Food bait or visual attractants (such as tin-can tops or foil) can be used to attract an animal to a trap. Most traps in Maine by law must be checked daily, although in some instances the law requires them to be checked every three or five days. Animals found in a trap are killed instantly, typically with a shot to the head using a handgun or a blow to the skull with a blunt, heavy object.

The general trapping seasons in Maine in 2022 runs from Oct. 31 to Dec. 31, although some species can be trapped in September and earlier in October and beaver can be trapped through the winter until April 30, 2023. In Maine, a trapping license costs $36 for residents 16 and older and $10 for junior residents who are age 10 to 15. A non-resident adult license costs $318. Obtaining a trapping license in Maine requires proof of having completed a trapping education course (or having owned a trapping license since 1978). 

Hundreds of trappers convened at the 44th New England Trappers Weekend in Bethel. Deirdre Fleming photo

The National Trapping Association estimated there are between 100,000 and 200,000 trappers in the United States, but reliable national data does not exist because some states do not require a trapping license. The national association has about 10,000 members.


Trapping takes a lot of time to check trap lines on a daily basis. Stone, who traps around his work as a chainsaw artist and furniture maker, said many young people today don’t have that time to spend in the outdoors. He taught his two children, but they don’t trap any longer. However, they still enjoy the annual gathering and talking with other trappers.

“I made sure I’d be here,” said Gabi Stone, who flew in from North Carolina for the event. “When I took the job (there) I said I’d need a week in August to go camping with my dad. I knew it was a lot to ask, but I wasn’t missing this.”

Stephen Stone loves trapping because it allows him to focus on his natural surroundings to find animal signs.

“It gets you out there enjoying the water. It makes me wonder, did the coyote come from that way, where is he going to step, where on the river is the beaver?” said Stone, who first started trapping as a youth in the 1970s.

Artist Stephen Stone, right, of Bethel relaxes with his daughter, Gabi, at the New England Trappers Association gathering in Bethel. Gabi Stone flew home from North Carolina to attend the annual event with her dad. Deirdre Fleming photo

Advocates for animal protections in Maine are not surprised by the downward trend in trapping, and say it should be banned.

Robert Fisk, who founded the Falmouth-based Maine Friends of Animals 25 years ago, called trapping inherently cruel.


“It is one of the most egregious forms of wildlife killing. I don’t see any redeeming value to trapping,” Fisk said. “It’s certainly not like fishing or hunting. They can’t defend the cruelty aspect of it. A trapper doesn’t stalk their prey, they put death in its way. I think it’s a moral imperative that we ban people making money on cruelty to animals.”

Twice since 2004, Maine voters narrowly defeated referendums backed by the Humane Society of the United States seeking to put an end to hunting bear with dogs, bait and traps. Fisk said his nonprofit has not tried recently to ban the use of traps in Maine through the legislative process because the group has been busy with other animal-protection issues. But he said it may be time to work again toward that end.


Despite the effort to bring trappers together each year in Bethel, the long-time host of the gathering worries that trapping is in decline.

“We are an essential part of wildlife management,” Neil Olson said.

Master Maine Guide John Bielat of Casco said when he was growing up in New Jersey in the 1970s loads of other kids trapped, but youth today are more focused on technology than nature.


“You could make pretty decent money back then. And you got to spend your time in the woods. I grew up in central New Jersey… but it was all farmland back then,” Bielat said. “I do see it declining among youth. It’s concerning. Today kids have a lot more distractions that we didn’t have.”

Matt Brophy of St. Clair, Pennsylvania, taught his 11-year-old son, Rob, to trap. Last year Brophy launched Pennsylvania’s first annual youth trapping contest, which drew 15 youth trappers. But he worries, too, about the lack of young people taking up trapping.

“When I was a kid I’d get $70 to $80 for a red fox fur, $40 for a raccoon,” said Brophy, who learned to trap as a youth in the ’70s. “I could buy a brand new truck today with the money I made trapping as a kid.

“They say trapping is dying, but there are a lot of people now with trail cameras watching the animals. And it’s wildlife management. If you trap the coyote, you’re helping the deer. If you trap raccoons, skunks and possums, you’re helping the duck and grouse nests.”

William Nunn of Ryegate, Vermont, has very little time for trapping today. He owns a heating business and works as a property manager on several farms. These days Nunn mostly traps to keep raccoons from raiding his chicken coop.

But, like many, Nunn savors his time in the woods intently studying wildlife as a trapper. 

“Today young kids don’t get enough hands on experience trapping or hunting, or doing anything with their hands. This is mostly what I see them doing with their hands,” Nunn said, while feigning texting on his phone. “I think it is the older generation that is keeping trapping going.”

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