HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Many of the state's furbearer trapping and hunting seasons are underway and, based on comments from Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers, hunters and trappers should have a good year. The general trapping season -- for coyotes, foxes, raccoons, opossums, skunks and weasels -- opened Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 21. The season for mink and muskrats is Nov. 21 to Jan. 10; beavers, Dec. 26 to March 31.
Raccoon hunting season began Oct. 24 and closes Feb. 20, and the season for skunks, opossums and weasels runs from July 1 to June 30, except for Sundays. Red and gray fox hunting season opened Oct. 24 and runs through Feb. 20, including Sundays. Coyotes have a year-round season (July 1-June 30) and can be hunted on Sundays, too.
Pennsylvania also has bobcat hunting and trapping seasons in 12 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs 2A, 2C, 2E, 2F, 2G, 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4A, 4D and 4E) for the 1,780 individuals who were selected in the Game Commission's annual bobcat permit drawing. The bobcat hunting season started Oct. 24 and closes to Feb. 20, except for Sundays. The bobcat trapping season opened Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 21.
Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe pointed out that the Keystone State is lucky to have trappers, houndsmen and predator callers, who all play an important role of the Commonwealth's wildlife management program.
"Furbearer trappers and hunters' annual efforts afield have helped to reduce Pennsylvania's susceptibility to wildlife diseases such as rabies and mange, and its problems with crop- and property-damage caused by furbearers," Roe said. "Many Pennsylvanians benefit directly from the services of trappers, hound-hunters and predator-callers, because these specialized sportsmen and sportswomen manage everything from weasels to coyotes. They rescue farmers and other landowners both directly and indirectly from the damage and costly repairs furbearers can daily cause to homes and businesses throughout the state."
Variable fur prices spurred a decline in the ranks of fur-takers nationwide in the 1990s. Trappers had difficulty recovering their expenses, and inflation further compounded the problem. The result was a reduction in furbearer harvest and an increase in conflicts. To get a feel for the drop off in harvest that occurred, consider this: in 1996, more than 200,000 raccoons were taken in Pennsylvania; in 2007, the raccoon harvest totaled about 121,500.
In 2006, there was a noticeable increase in trapping pressure and furbearer harvests corresponded. License sales increased from 23,941 in 2005 to 26,589. Then, last year, license sales rose again to 28,033. But the harvest of most furbearers dropped, excepting raccoons, gray foxes, skunks and opossums.
"There seems to be a general increase in interest among people to trap or hunt furbearers; there's a great deal of excitement associated with trapping and predator hunting," explained Dr. Matt Lovallo, Game Commission Game Mammals section supervisor. "Both are positive signs for furbearer management in Pennsylvania, because they stimulate an increased harvest of furbearers, something our state, roadways and residents would surely benefit from.
"In 2008, trappers and furbearer hunters utilized about 350,000 surplus furbearers from the Commonwealth's rural and suburban areas. Maintaining an annual harvest of this size would benefit thousands upon thousands of Pennsylvanians by reducing home, crop or property damages and the number of after-dark roadway obstacles motorists encounter."
Increased furbearer harvests reduce the damages and encounters that residents -- and their pets -- will have with these animals.
"Right now, many trappers, and particularly those in southern tier counties, are waiting to set and run their traplines until the pelts on the furbearers they intend to trap become more prime," explained Lovallo. "Fur primeness for raccoons, foxes and coyotes usually is about right in most areas of the state by the first week of November. It's always better to start trapping for these furbearers no sooner than early to mid-November to improve their pelt value on the market."
The 2008 Game-Take and Furtaker Surveys estimated that fur-takers took 142,808 raccoons (121,446 in 2007); 74,059 muskrats (72,174); 54,273 opossums (41,168); 44,745 red foxes (52,000); 23,699 coyotes (28,974); 20,845 gray foxes (18,613); 12,331 skunks (9,818); and 8,621 mink (10,004).
"Our furbearer harvests for many species have remained relatively stable over the past few years, although trapping pressure has risen over the past two years," Lovallo said. "But given the amount of trapping territory available in the state, and the relatively limited number of Pennsylvanians pursuing furbearer hunting or trapping, there's plenty of places for new and veteran trappers alike."
Most furbearers -- excepting muskrats -- in Pennsylvania and other neighboring states remain underutilized. In fact, hunters and trappers are taking a fraction of the renewable fur resource Pennsylvania historically has provided. It's a trend that likely will not be reversed because of the difficulties associated with land access, increased equipment and transportation costs, and the free-time/commitment complexities that often dominate the lives of many Pennsylvanians.
Over the past 30 years, beavers and coyotes have been expanding their range, primarily from northern counties south. Left unchecked, beavers would cause tremendous property damage and could adversely affect the quality of drinking water for municipalities. Coyotes would cause even more problems for livestock and pets.
"Trappers play a major role in managing Pennsylvania's beavers and coyotes," Lovallo noted. "They are our first line of defense in attempting to keep these furbearer species in check locally and they do it for free. Anyone who has suffered from the damages these species can inflict knows what a relief it is to have a trapper remedy the situation."
Beaver trappers are reminded that they no longer are required to have harvested beavers tagged by Game Commission personnel. There are, however, beaver bag limits for each Wildlife Management Unit.
Licensed trappers may use cable restraints for coyotes and foxes, upon completion of a four-hour certification course provided by agency-certified instructors, from Jan. 1-Feb. 22. The cost of the course is $15. Students receive various educational materials and one legal cable restraint, and a permanent certification card will be mailed following completion of the course.
Trapping is a highly regulated activity in Pennsylvania. A furtaker license -- or combination license -- is required to trap in the Commonwealth. All traps must have an identification tag that provides the trapper's name and address or a number issued by the agency. Body-gripping traps must be set within a watercourse. It is unlawful to set a trap with bait visible from the air, or to disturb the traps of another. Traps cannot have a jaw-spread exceeding 6.5 inches. Traps must be visited at least once every 36 hours and each animal removed.
Game Commission Offers Local Furbearer Information
Each year, Pennsylvania Game Commission field officers and foresters develop game and furbearer forecasts for the areas they work to share with interested hunters and trappers. Observations on local furbearer populations are always a part of this annual offering. The Pennsylvania Game Commission's "Field Officer Game and Furbearer Forecasts" can be found centered on the homepage of the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us). Developed to share field officer perspectives and observations on game and furbearer trends in their respective districts and to help hunters and trappers get closer to the action afield, this information helped many sportsmen and sportswomen have more enjoyable days afield last year.
"Our field officers spend a tremendous amount of time afield, often in the areas hunters and trappers are most interested in learning more about," said Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe. "Their observations have value to hunters and trappers, so in 2006 we set up a cyber-clearinghouse where anyone who enjoys hunting and trapping in Pennsylvania -- resident or nonresident -- can access game and furbearer forecasts from every county of the state. It's the detailed field reporting hunters and trappers seek out, and part of our longstanding commitment to be the first and best source of hunting and trapping information in the Commonwealth."
Game Commission Offers Trapping Tips and Briefs
Scouting Matters: Pre-season and in-season scouting are critically important to any trapline. Furbearer activity centers sometimes shift based on the availability of food and den sites. Scouting helps a trapper determine where it's best to put traps. After all, traps set in areas where targeted furbearers aren't available will only waste your time and fuel. Be efficient. Don't guess. In the process, you'll squeeze plenty of excitement into your morning trap-checks and become a better trapper.
Blowing in the Wind: When choosing trap-set locations, make sure to use the wind to your advantage. If a furbearer cannot smell your attractant, it may pass within a few feet of your set and never take a step toward it. Most furbearers are curious, and if they detect the bait, urine or lure you're using to attract them, they'll come closer to investigate. The wind will help you pull in furbearers by carrying your attractant's smell further than it would emanate on its own in a still night air, especially in cold weather. It also allows you to set further off the travel-way, reducing the possibility on non-target catches and trap theft.
Every 24: Trappers have a legal obligation to check their traps every 36 hours. Most trappers, however, rarely check traps later than every 24 hours. Experienced trappers know that it's best to check traps earlier to ensure captured furbearers stay in the trap; and the captured furbearer spends no more time restrained than necessary.
Swivel Action: Adding swivels to your trap's chain -- as well as shortening and center-mounting the chain to the trap frame directly beneath the jaws -- will reduce escapes and self-inflicted injuries to the trapped furbearer. Swivels are inexpensive, easy to incorporate and will pay dividends. Consider placing one on each end of the trap chain and one in the center. The swivel for the stake-end of the chain should be large enough to accommodate your trap stake. For additional trap modifications, please visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on "Trapping & Furbearers" in the left column, then select "Best Management Practices for Trapping in the United States."
Sweet Treats: If you're raccoon trapping in an area where there's a possibility of capturing a non-target animal, it's usually best to avoid using meat- or fish-based baits and gland lures. Try using substitute attractants such as grape jelly, anise oil or peanut butter. These baits usually won't pull in pets and they still have tremendous appeal to raccoons.
Rock Solid: Traps set afield for furbearers work best when they are seated solidly in a trap bed. This is accomplished by packing soil around the circumference of the trap's jaws. If the trap moves when you push down on the trap's jaws or springs, it's not seated firmly enough in the trap bed. Pack dirt around the trap or place a stone or small stick under the trap's jaw to keep it from moving. Traps must be immobile to be effective.
Ask First! Ask a landowner for permission to trap, even if he or she allows trapping, or doesn't have his or her land posted. Landowners often know their property intimately and can direct you to the best places to set traps, or the only places they allow traps to be set. Be responsible and trap ethically. Remember, wildlife conservation always wins when trappers and hunters ask for permission.
On the Blind: Another great way to take raccoons and mink in areas where using bait may lead to the capture of a non-target animal is by using "blind" or trail sets. These sets are placed where a raccoon or mink is forced to enter the water to get around a rock, tree trunk or to walk along a bridge abutment. These sets are especially effective on furbearers that have learned to stay away from bait sets.
Any Trap Won't Do: Traps must be matched to the furbearer you intend to catch. You can't use a muskrat trap to catch a coyote and a beaver trap won't work for raccoons. Here's a quick overview of what to use for popular Pennsylvania furbearers: foxes, 1.5 coil spring; coyote, 1.5, 1.75 or 2 coil spring; raccoon, 1 or 1.5 coil spring; weasels, skunks, opossums, 1 coil spring; mink, 1 or 1.5 coil spring or five-inch by five-inch, double spring body-gripping trap; muskrat, 1 long spring, jump or coil spring trap or five-inch by five-inch single spring body-gripping trap; and beaver, 3 or 4 double long spring or jump trap and 10-inch by 10-inch, double-spring body-gripping trap.
Out of Sight: Most people do not consider the skinned carcass of any animal to be pleasing to the eye. Since furbearer remains are considered municipal waste, carcasses should be disposed through your curbside pickup, or at an approved waste or rendering facility. Don't dispose of them where passersby will see them, where a pet may drag one home, or where their decomposing odor will offend nearby homeowners. Keep it clean.
Protection Precautions: Trappers should always handle dispatched furbearers with latex or rubber gloves to avoid coming in contact with any body fluids from the animal. Rabies, which continues to pose a health threat in many counties, is transmitted when a furbearer's body fluids enter a person's body through a cut or body opening (mouth, eye, etc.). Don't take risks when approaching trapped animals to dispatch them. Always maintain a safe distance from captured furbearers and handle catches with gloved hands.
Auction Locator: If you're interested in finding a fur auction near you, consider visiting the Pennsylvania Trappers' Association's website (www.patrappers.com), then click on "Districts" and check the events listed for the districts in your area.
Note to Editors: If you would like to receive Game Commission news releases via e-mail, please send a note with your name, address, telephone number and the name of the organization you represent to: PGCNews@state.pa.us
SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission