Learn to Trap at the Collins Marsh by James Downey, Naturalist at Collins Marsh

Wisconsin Trapper Learn to Trap Article


Learn to Trap at the Collins Marsh 10.11-10.13.2019

My name is James Downey and I am the Naturalist at the Collins Marsh. The Collins Marsh is a 4,200 acre State Wildlife Area in Manitowoc County. Conservation Education Inc (CEI) is the public group behind the nature center and outreach events here at the Marsh. CEI was founded in 1954 and worked closely with the DNR to create the Collins Marsh. Today, I live in a house on the property that was originally a farm built in the 1930s.

We just built a brand new Nature Center that replaced our previous Nature Center that was not heated and was actually originally a chicken coop. We have such an opportunity here to educate people of all ages on numerous topics in wildlife, conservation, and the great outdoors. I’d like to tell you about our first Learn to Trap that we hosted to accomplish just that and get people interested in trapping.

I have been trapping since I was 14 years old, and 13 years later it just keeps getting more fun and interesting for me. I have had the privilege to learn from many trappers, all folks who truly care about the outdoors. To these men and women, nothing is more important than the future of trapping and the people who will be the future of trapping. One gentleman in particular stands out, my friend and Trapper Education Instructor Dan Cichantek. Trapper Dan is a local outdoors enthusiast who volunteers his time to teach Trapper’s Ed, fight invasive species, be part of the local CDAD committee, participate in Conservation Congress, and contribute to a number of local fish and game organizations. Trapper Dan brainstormed this idea to host Learn to Trap and structured the entire event, presentations, and mentors. Hats off to Dan for an excellent job!

The Learn to Trap program allows students to go through the necessary Trapper’s Education, which is required as Hunter’s Safety is for hunters, to be able to purchase a trapping license and legally trap in Wisconsin. They do this by reviewing the handbook before the course. In addition, students then actually setup a trapline, check traps, and put up their fur. So much learning is packed into one weekend and ideas are shared by all! I even came away with new ideas and learned more about a favorite hobby of mine. We can all be lifelong learners of the natural world around us!


On Friday, 10/11/19, the brand new Neustadter Nature Center opened its doors for its first event after its grand opening on September 29th. This event was to be the first Learn to Trap event ever held in Manitowoc County. That night we welcomed 13 students of all ages, many mentors, and three DNR staff to present for our class. Two DNR Game Wardens presented on the rules and regulations of trapping while DNR Biologist Steve Easterly presented on the biology of local furbearers. Steve Easterly is the Biologist in charge of the Collins Marsh and two other local wildlife areas and is a true leader in his position. He works very closely with CEI, the public, and numerous fish and game organizations and goes above and beyond to give of his time.

On Saturday morning, attendees were required back at the Nature Center by 8 AM where we looked at the fur collection and learned about cable restraints from a demonstration hosted by local trapper Bob Grall. Then students and their mentors left to set traps. Many stayed within the Collins Marsh while others traveled nearby. Trapping lasted until mid to late afternoon depending on the group. On Sunday, students and mentors met at dawn to check traps. By 10 AM we all met at Trapper Dan’s Fur Shed to put up our catches and learn how to handle fur for the rest of the day until early evening. The most popular catch was raccoons while some caught muskrats as well. It was incredible to watch mentors take their time with their students to show them how to carefully skin and flesh their animals. Even many of the mentors shared ideas between themselves on the best methods to skin/flesh/board fur. A special treat for me was that my 13 year old nephew took the class and had a blast!


This was an outstanding event and we will definitely do this again next year! Hats off to Dan Cichantek, the DNR staff, all the mentors and volunteers, and Rebecca Van Lanen for taping this and producing videos from this event! We all have the chance to introduce someone new into trapping and further this important tradition. I ask you to seriously consider your contribution to this mission and find time to take a kid along. Thank you for all you do.


James Downey

Neustadter Nature Center

20021 County Road JJ

Reedsville, WI 54230