By W. Keith Gauldin, Wildlife Section Chief, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
The foot-restraining device, formally known as the foot-hold trap, will go down in history as an iconic tool heavily used by adventurers and trappers to harvest animals for the fur industry. It played a major role in the exploration of the uncharted western United States. In contemporary times, the foot-restraining device retains those historic qualities as a valuable and effective tool in catching fur-bearing animals, but its features have changed dramatically. The modern-day foot-restraining device has evolved into a highly efficient, humane tool utilized in capturing and restraining a wide variety of wildlife species. Its effectiveness is well demonstrated in capturing furbearers for the fur trade, controlling nuisance wildlife, reducing predator populations and capturing wildlife for research projects.
Propaganda by those against the use of the foot-restraining devices often depicts many inaccuracies. An example is the illustration of an animal caught in a foot-restraining device with jaws equipped with spikes or teeth. This type of foot-restraining device is no longer used and has been illegal for many years. These images are still used to depict modern-day trapping by those against the use of foot-restraining devices. In actuality, the modern-day foot-restraining device is often equipped with multiple swivels, shock-absorbing springs, offset or padded jaws and swiveled centralized anchor points. These modern design modifications have produced a more humane and much more acceptable trap for use in wildlife conservation. In many instances, the foot-restraining device provides the optimal method of capture for many species, particularly canines, which would be difficult to capture using other methods.
Multiple swivels on the trap anchor chain allow the subdued animal to rotate around the anchor point without kinking the anchor chain, which reduces unnecessary injuries. Shock-absorbing springs are often inserted as a link into the trap anchor chain to provide a medium to dissipate the energy of the initial lunging immediately following capture. This absorption of energy lessens the force exerted on the captured paw, reducing the sudden jolt to a light steady pull, further reducing the possibilities of injury to the restrained animal. Offset and padded trap jaws provide reduced pressure while maintaining a secure hold on the animal’s foot. Many modern traps are equipped with a swiveled anchor chain attachment point on the bottom of the trap frame directly beneath the center of the jaws, which results in a restrained animal pulling directly from the center of the trap. This will prevent the animal from pulling at an angle against the anchor point, reducing the possibilities of damage or injuries to the paw or leg, especially on larger canines such as coyotes.
These modifications of the modern day foot-hold trap produce a more humane, faster and effective trap, while also reducing or even eliminating the possibilities of injuries to the restrained animal. The evolution of trapping equipment provides the means for effective and important furbearer management and maintains an important tool for wildlife management.