Ryan Butler was at a neighbor’s house a couple of years ago when the discussion of animal trapping was brought up. A child who loves the outdoors and was already hunting in the woods behind his Grain Valley home, Ryan was immediately interested and started listening more closely to the explanation of traps, baits and how to trap animals successfully.

Ryan Butler was at a neighbor’s house a couple of years ago when the discussion of animal trapping was brought up. A child who loves the outdoors and was already hunting in the woods behind his Grain Valley home, Ryan was immediately interested and started listening more closely to the explanation of traps, baits and how to trap animals successfully.


“It sounded really interesting,” said the now 11-year-old. “It sounded like something I wanted to try, so he told me how to do it. It seemed like something fun that I wanted to do.”


What started out as a simple story has turned into a daily father and son activity for Ryan and his dad, Jeff. Among the animals they have caught in leg traps over the past couple of years are coyotes, raccoons, foxes and opossums.


“It gives us father, son time and is part of our outdoor life that we both enjoy,” said Jeff Butler. “It is an old-time heritage, and it is fun learning how the old-timers did things. Sort of a lost art.”


The Art of Trapping


Ryan’s morning starts early. Before he goes to school at Prairie Branch Elementary School, where he is a fifth grader, Ryan goes out to check the dozens of traps out behind his house and resets each with fresh bait. Trapping is carefully regulated in Missouri. The season begins Nov. 15 of each year and for animals with fur, it ends Jan. 31. Permits are also required to take, possess or to sell the furs from the animals according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.


Trapping not only protects homeowner’s property from damage caused by wildlife, but it can also help with overpopulation of different types of animals, which is one of the large benefits Jeff Butler sees to the activity.


“Game control is a big deal because you begin to see healthier animals when they are not over populated like the coyotes were a few years ago,” he said. “I have shot coyotes in my backyard numerous times that had mange so bad they had no hair left on them and would not survive the cold winter. The conservation folks like the trappers helping to control the numbers and assist with the overpopulation problem as well.”


Ryan said this is the first year that he and his father have really started to do more with trapping. He said they have been spending more time studying the traps and experimenting with different types of lures to see what kind of animals they can capture. “I was sad the first time we caught an animal,” he said. “But now I get really excited. I love playing around with the animals and preparing the fur. It is almost like Christmas when we catch one.”


In Missouri, traps must have smooth or rubber jaws, limiting the injury to the animal. The trap can also include a foot-hold, foot-enclosing-type, cage-type or cable restraint devices. Traps must also be labeled with the user’s name and address so it can be easily identified.


The father and son duo have even caught a couple of bobcats or wildcats with their traps. According to state law, bobcats or their pelts have to be taken to a Conservation Department agent prior to being sold. It is against the law for a bobcat pelt that is untagged to be sold.


“The mandatory tagging of the bobcats is their way of keeping track of how many there are, the size and the county where they are living,” Jeff Butler said. “There is a conservation aspect to it as well as a humane aspect to trapping.”


Trapping and Preparing the Fur


The traps that Ryan and his father use do not kill the animal. Ryan said the animal has to first be killed with a choke pull before it can be removed. The animal is then released then skinned, and meat and fat is separated from the fur itself. The pelt is finally placed on a stretcher. Depending on the animal, Jeff Butler said it can take one to two weeks for the fur to be stretched and dried in preparation for selling.


“It really is quite a process to go out a bait the traps every morning, prepare the fur and sell them,” he said. “But Ryan stays with it. The colder it is, the quicker furs tend to dry. There really is a lot involved to prepare a fur properly because you don’t want any mold to grow or the fur to be damaged in any way.”


Once the trapping season ends, Ryan and Jeff have two weeks, until Feb. 15, to sell the furs. Butler said they generally go to a fur buyer in Columbia, Mo. But there is also one in Tennessee. He said because of the short selling period, they usually have to accept the first offer on the furs, which are later sold to buyers in Canada, China and Russia.


“Furs don’t really stay in the United States anymore,” he said. “They leave the country to be used in fur coats, gloves and hats. Actually, ... opossum fur has a nice soft pelt and is used a lot as the lining inside of women’s gloves.”


An Outdoors Boy


But it is not just trapping that Ryan loves. He is on a wrestling team and also plays football. His true love, however, is the outdoors.


“I go hunting for turkey, duck and geese, and I hunt for deer. I use a bow and arrow, shotgun or rifle,” he said. “I think I like being outside because I like playing around in the woods, and I love animals. I would much rather be outside than inside. It is a lot more fun and interesting.”


Jeff Butler said he thinks that is why they both enjoy trapping so much - it gives them time to be together and the fun of spending time in the outdoors.


“He is not one to sit in the house, watching television and playing video games,” he said. “He would much rather be outside with me, baling hay, working with the horses or trapping. That is just the kind of boy he is.”


Even though he is only in elementary school, Ryan has already thought about what he wants to do after he graduates from high school. No surprise, it is something he can do outdoors.


“I would like to become a hunting guide,” he said. “I want to be able to direct people on the best places to hunt and to inform them about the animals. It seems like something fun I can do and something I would really enjoy.”