Thousands expected at trappers, fur takers convention in Washington County

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Dave Eckels has been a trapper since he was 10.

Now at age 50 and director of Division 3 of the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, he is organizing the group’s annual convention, which runs today through Saturday at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

”We’re expecting one of the biggest attendance [totals] because we’re having a joint rendezvous with the Fur Takers of America, which should have between 5,000 and 7,000 conventioneers from all over the nation."

The three-day event, open to the public at a cost of $5 a day, will include trapping-related demonstrations and classes, trap-setting and skillet-throwing contests, 219 vendors plus another 100 "tailgate vendors" outside the grounds, a pig roast and banquet, and an award presentation at 5 p.m. Friday. Tickets for the beef and chicken banquet are $15.

"The trap-setting contest is a timed event to see who can go down a line and set a series of traps the quickest," Mr. Eckels, of Finleyville, said. "Winners for the skillet-throwing contest are determined by who can throw one the furthest. Trophies will be awarded to the winners of both contests."

The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, located next to the fairgrounds, will run trolleys all day on Friday, with pickups at the fairgrounds walk-in gate. Guests can ride a refurbished antique trolley on the four-mile, round-trip track with a stop at the museum for a tour. The price is $9, with discounts offered for children and seniors.

From 8 a.m. to noon Friday,  the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold a Cable Restraint Class in Hall 4 for those who want to be certified. The cost is $15, and participants can register at the District 3 booth in Hall 1. From noon to 2 p.m. Friday in Hall 4, Nancy and Jim Mahoney will lead a free class on making fur hats, and participants are requested to bring along a tanned fur that will be used in the class. The Mahoneys will also lead a free Dutch-oven-cooking demo from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday. Locations will be listed on the program’s brochure.

Ninety percent of the convention’s indoor vendors will be selling trapper-related items, but crafters, leather crafters and animal artists Sharon Davis from Montana and Joe Goodman from Ohio also will exhibit their works.

Founded in 1938, the Pennsylvania Trappers Association is the oldest trapping organization in the nation. Current membership is around 3,500 with an annual fee of $30, which includes 10 magazines annually, or $10 without the magazines. The Pennsylvania Trappers Association is divided into 11 districts with Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington, Greene and Fayette counties grouped in District 3.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, the association will hold a general meeting at the convention.

According to Mr. Eckels, the trapping season runs from the end of October through the middle of February with the beaver season extending into March. Current prices for pelts are $8 to $10 for raccoons, $30 for foxes and coyotes, and $11 to $14 for muskrats, although prices fluctuate frequently.

"A trapper can make some money, but with gas at $4 a gallon, it’s not as profitable as everyone might think," he said.

Although Mr. Eckels has been trapping since he was 10, neither his older brothers nor his father were trappers.

"I always liked the woods and hunting and fishing, so things went on from there," he said.

According to Mr. Eckels, the number of fur-taking licenses has increased over the past five years, with 38,000 to 40,000 licenses issued in Pennsylvania last year. Each association district holds a free trapper school annually. This year, District 3 will hold its school from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Sept. 20 at the East Monongahela Sportsmen’s Club, 5717 Ella Hollow Road in Elizabeth.

Barry Warner, 68, of Dallas, Pa., was a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission for nearly 38 years. Now retired, he currently serves as the public relations director for the Pennsylvania Trappers Association.

"In this day and age, the traps and devices may look like the older traps, but a lot of changes have been made so that they are more humane to the animal targets," he said. "We encourage people to attend the convention because we emphasize ethical and responsible trapping.’’


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer:

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