By RON TSCHIDA Chronicle Staff Writer
Just before Christmas, Big Sky resident Rick Reed was driving up Swan
Creek Road off of Gallatin Canyon and let his dog, Bull, out of the
car to run for exercise.
After a bit, Reed saw the dog veer off into the woods, but figured
Bull would soon loop back to the road as he always had before.
But the dog didn't show up. So Reed turned around, headed back up
the road and then back down again without finding Bull.
At that point, with darkness falling, Reed grabbed a flashlight, found
the dog's tracks and followed them into the woods. A short distance
in, he found the dog fatally caught in a snare trap. Reed retrieved
an axe from his truck and cut the snare as quickly as he could but
it was too late.
"I hunt and I fish for a living," said Reed, who grew up
in Wyoming and works as a guide. "I'm not opposed to trapping.
I'm opposed to irresponsible trapping, close to trailheads, close
The trapper had set his snare in a legal location, said Mick Chesterfield,
a game warden with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Regulations spell out where traps can be placed near roads on public
While it was a legal set, Reed estimates it was less than 100 feet
from the road and that's too close, he said, especially along a popular
road like Swan Creek.
Reed would like to see an increased awareness and responsibility by
both trappers and residents.
"People are coming into the area who are not familiar with life
in the West," he said.
Newcomers need to know that hunting, fishing and trapping occurs and
is legal, he said.
But trappers need to realize the area's changing fast. It doesn't
make sense to trap next to popular trails, he said.
Since his dog died, Reed has learned of a couple of other instances
near Big Sky where traps were set near trails, and at least one instance
of a dog being caught, but not killed, this winter.
"A family should be able to take a dog for a walk on trails without
having a leash," he said.
Paul Schmidt, president of the Montana Trappers Association, said
the Reed's experience was unfortunate.
"I'm really sorry that happened," Schmidt said. "We
try and tell the guys to stay away from areas that are heavily
used. It's just common courtesy. There's lots of backcountry we can
The association conducts classes every year to teach trappers the
right way to go about their business, Schmidt said. Members subscribe
to a code of ethics and if a member violates that code they can be
kicked out of the group, he said. If the association learns of a member
breaking the law, the trapper is reported.
On the other hand, he said, pet owners need to take responsibility
by keeping an eye on their pets and knowing how to release them should
they be caught in a trap. FWP has brochures available that tell recreationists
how to release pets from traps.
Reed said he knows some people won't understand why he's not ranting
against trapping completely.
"I did find my dog dead in a trap," he said.
It was a tough time. But trapping, just like the hunting and fishing,
has a long heritage, he said.
"I don't want trappers to get punched in the nose, so to speak," he