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Luring the trappers of tomorrow

Andrew Howell of Howell Bros. Fur Co. out of Mauston, Wis., explains how to flesh a badger to an attentive crowd at the annual Minnesota Trappers Association Rendezvous and Convention in Barnum on Friday morning. The convention, held at the Carlton County Fairgrounds, continues through midday Sunday. (Bob King / / 5
Kathy Burbul (left) and her neighbor Harlee Anderson, 9, both of Kettle River, run their fingers through the soft fur of a beaver hide on a table of furs for sale Friday by Hardscrabble Hill Hide & Fur out of Spring Valley, Minn. Burbul bought the hide to use in a fur blanket she’s making to use on sleigh rides. (Bob King / / 5
Dan Croke of Duluth demonstrates the use of a Conibear 330 beaver trap for open water trapping. He’s showing how a beaver might enter and get caught in the trap. He spoke Friday at the trappers convention. (Bob King / / 5
Gill Gigstead of Detroit Lakes, Minn., looks over a vendor’s selection of traps at the annual Minnesota Trappers Association Rendezvous and Convention in Barnum on Friday. (Bob King / / 5
Scents to lure everything from coyotes to bobcats and muskrats were for sale Friday by John Coakley, who owns The Trapper’s Haven, at the Minnesota Trappers Association Rendezvous. (Bob King / / 5

BARNUM — With a cluster of rapt young boys looking up at him, Shawn Johnson was talking about the time he got a finger caught in a wolf trap. He held up a couple of traps much smaller than a wolf trap, his little finger clamped firmly in one of them, talking about the potential pitfalls in a trapper’s life.

“Any trapper who’s honest will tell you he’s been caught in about everything,” said Duluth’s Johnson, president of the Minnesota Trappers Association.

Johnson was addressing Minnesota’s trappers of tomorrow during a seminar at the annual Minnesota Trappers Association Rendezvous and Convention on Friday at the Carlton County Fairgrounds in Barnum. The event continues through Sunday, but today will offer the best chance to take in seminars and demonstrations, and to stock up on mink lure and coyote urine, if you need that sort of thing.

This is the 55th annual gathering of Minnesota’s trappers. The convention moves to different locations around the state each year.

The crowd was building in the heat of the day on Friday. Vendors hawked everything from saddles to wolf hides ($395) to fiberglass drowning rods for beaver trapping. Used traps, sorted by size and style, were for sale all over the grounds. Traps on tarps. Traps on trailers. Traps on tables.

“I got a 14 Jump,” said Gill Gigstead of Detroit Lakes, Minn., holding up a weathered steel trap. “For coyotes and wolf.”

Gigstead has been a member of the association for more than 50 years.

Near a small set of bleachers, Andrew Howell of Howell Bros. Fur Co. explained the finer points of removing the flesh from the inside of a badger hide. Two dead bobcats and three dead beavers lay on pallets nearby waiting to star in ensuing demonstrations.

Where trappers gather, there is no whitewashing the oldest enterprise in North America, the trapping of furbearers and preparing them for fur markets across the world.

A vendor’s sign for a particular type of muskrat trap proclaims: “The Muskrat Motel — They check in … they don’t check out.”

Calvin Bacon of International Falls had brought his four grandkids from the Twin Cities to the convention. They were at a fur vendor’s booth Friday morning, touching the luxurious hides of wolves, coyotes, fox, beaver and other critters.

“I’m a trapper,” Bacon said, “and these kids live in the Cities. I’m just trying to introduce to them why we trap furs. It’s not as gory as they think it is.”

Grandson Taylor Ferris of Woodbury, Minn., would like to get out with his granddad.

“I’m very interested in it,” Taylor said. “I’m looking for extra time off from school to go out with him.”

Minnesota has about 8,000 licensed trappers, down from a high of 25,000 in 1980. The number of trappers fluctuates every year depending on fur prices. MTA president Johnson and his fellow trappers look for every opportunity to bring young trappers into the age-old activity.

Trappers of all ages can find virtually everything they need at this convention — muskrat lure, weasel lure, bobcat urine in stained liter bottles, little muskrat traps, huge No. 4 Newhouse wolf traps, deer antlers, wrought iron hooks, Stack-A-Rat stackable muskrat floats, binoculars, snowshoes and beaver pelts.

“I love the beaver,” said grandmotherly Kathy Burbul of Kettle River. “There’s just something about a beaver hide.”

She makes fur blankets for sleigh riding from the pelts of mink, muskrat, rabbit, fox, beaver and sheep. As she admired a beaver hide, her young neighbor, Harlee Anderson of Kettle River, stroked a beaver hide with a thoughtful look on her face.

Seminars and activities continue today, including a kids’ pine marten nest-box building activity, a trap-setting contest and at 3 p.m., a Department of Natural Resources K-9 demonstration by conservation officer Scott Staples and his German shepherd, Schody.

Admission is $5 for adult MTA members, $10 for adult non-MTA members and free for kids. Take the Barnum exit off Interstate 35, follow it to town and follow the MTA signs to the fairgrounds.