By Wilson Love

Steel traps hang in the window of my store on Leicester Highway near Asheville. More boxes of traps line the floor under the low shelf near that window. Every now and then, it is my pleasure to answer this question (or something similar) from the uninformed. Many nature lovers and sportsmen know some of the basic aspects of trapping, but few others seem to have a clue – thus, the recurring question that titles this article. Yes, not only is trapping legal, it is currently, and actively, encouraged and even promoted by many wildlife regulatory agencies.

Trapping of animals, birds, and fish has always been a valid and valuable part of human life. The very earliest of recorded histories from diverse cultures bear this out. The history of our Great Lakes and Northeast regions, for instance, would be a vastly different story if the French, English, and others had not fiercely competed for new fur trapping territories there. The early American west was opened up by the one-two punch of the Rocky Mountain fur trade (trapping) and the California gold rush.

Today, the principles and methods for taking wildlife by trapping, hunting, and fishing have changed. Thankfully some wise forefathers realized that the only way we would continue to have healthy, prolific wildlife was by enlightened conservation practices. In North Carolina and many other states, trapping is controlled through scientifically-based regulations. These regulations are administered through our state’s Wildlife Resources Commission and are strictly enforced by trained conservation officers.

This approach to trapping has resulted in abundant and sustainable populations of beaver, otter, bobcat, mink, raccoon and other species. Colleen Olfenbuttel, Black Bear and Furbearer Biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission explains, “Trapping and trappers have been key cooperators in helping us conduct wildlife research, as well as restore certain wildlife species. For example, the NCWRC successfully restored river otters in western North Carolina thanks to the skills of experienced trappers, who captured otters using foothold traps in the coastal region. Those otters were then relocated to various streams in western NC and released.”

Trapping equipment has come a long way. Best Management Practices for Trapping (BMPs) have been developed through many years of extensive research and testing. Animal welfare figured prominently with other factors in this development process. Some old-style traps and trapping methods have been outlawed. BMPs for numerous specific species may be found at

State trapper’s associations help government wildlife agencies with research and education. Trapper education courses are available in North Carolina as a cooperative effort of the NC Trapper’s Association and the NCWRC. Basic trapper, Advanced Trapper, and Wildlife Damage Control Agent courses are available through this joint initiative.

In our state, the core rules for trapping are these: Buy a basic trapping license. Trap only during the established trapping season. Have written permission when trapping the property of another. Attach a weatherproof tag to each trap with your name and address. Other rules apply. Pick up a free copy of the NC Fishing/Hunting/Trapping Regulations Digest from a local Wildlife Service Agent or go to

In addition to wildlife conservation and management, trapping in all its forms serves many purposes. It provides food, clothing, and other useful products. Most of the seafood we eat is caught by using nets and cages. Overpopulated pigeons are removed from tall city buildings in wire cage traps. Beavers are typically removed by trapping when their dams cause flooding. Trapping checks livestock loss by coyote, fox, bobcat, and other wild predators. Animal control agencies would be ineffective without the use of traps to fulfill their mission.

Make no mistake about it: man has God-given dominion here on planet Earth, and here in western North Carolina, that includes hunting, fishing, and trapping as regulated by governmental authorities. We are, and always have been, at the top of the food chain. Some weird ideology says that all life is equally valuable; that a man’s life means no more than a dog’s or a rat’s. If that is true, then why don’t rats set humantraps? And then there are those who label trapping as “cruel” across the board. Consider this: most people reading this magazine enjoy fishing, as I do. How often are we criticized for being cruel because we fish? Is catching a coyote by pinching its foot in a steel trap any worse than yanking a bass or trout out of its dining room with a steel hook in the mouth?

Yes, trapping is legal.

Wilson Love is Owner/Operator of The Practical Outdoorsman, a retail and consignment store.