BETHEL — By about 9 a.m. on Saturday, a standing-room-only crowd gathered under a large blue canopy at Neil Olson’s 38th annual New England Trappers Weekend.

They came to listen raptly to Randy Cross, a premier bear trapper in North America and the chief bear biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for more than 30 years.

Maine’s bear trapping season starts on Monday, Sept. 1, and ends on Oct. 31.

Olson spoke highly of Cross and his skill at bear trapping.

“Randy Cross is probably the only man that I can say has trapped over 2,000 bears,” he said. “He’s unquestionably one of the most knowledgeable bear men in the country.”

Cross shared his knowledge of how and where to place cable-foot snares and what works best for bait to get the bear to step in the snare with the desired foot.

“It’s so easy to make a million mistakes,” he said amidst a heavy odor of campfire smoke from grills and campfires at trappers’ camps on Olson’s property.

When sharing one trapping scenario about bears coming to a central spot, Cross suggested hanging a bag filled with doughnuts between trees in two good trapping circles. He said to set one trap in the ground on each side of the doughnut bag for “dumb” bears.

For smart bears or trap-wary bruins, he offered a different strategy.

“The farther back you set (the snare), the better your chance of success,” Cross said. “If you set it closer to the bait, he knows your scam.”

He also advised bear trappers to set their snares six hours before the time they want to catch a bear and to thoroughly scrutinize the area before doing so. Then he urged them to minimize disturbing the environment.

“A bear will know that the ‘furniture’ has been changed,” Cross said. “A bear remembers how everything was and will know something is up.”

After taking and answering a few questions, Cross took the crowd uphill into the woods and gave demonstrations on how to set a bear snare beside a tree, using the tree as an anchor to hold the snared bear.

“You need to set the trap so that when you walk into an area, you say, ‘Where the hell is that trap?'” he said. “Our whole thing is trying to trick bears.”

Cross highly recommended carrying a little garden shovel to dig out a shallow hole in which to set the trap underneath a false floor. Then, breaking off a small branch and removing the leaves, he cut what he termed a “green stick” and placed it under the trap’s pan to prevent lighter animals like raccoons and bear cubs from springing the trap.

Cross next showed how to create the false floor by breaking twigs into small sticks and arranging these over ferns. Next, he took moss and pine needles and rubbed it between both hands about two feet above the false floor and off to the side for wind drift to create a natural look.

He also advised trappers to watch nature shows on television and YouTube about black bears to learn how they walk and step to best determine where to place a snare.

To better entice bears to walk into a trap circle, Cross said his favorite bait isn’t doughnuts. Instead, he said he uses the bright orange cream-filled, chocolate cakes covered with marshmallow frosting and coconut flakes that are called Snoballs.

“It’s so bright, a bear can see it 70 yards away,” he said. Cross also suggested placing five or six doughnuts on either side of a snare and, if having problems with squirrels and raccoons stealing the bait, to hang a doughnut bag on nearby trees.

Other than Cross, few trappers wanted to share their thoughts on bear baiting and trapping, much less identify themselves.

Trapper Linda Bridges of Kennebunkport said she traps everything from canines to beaver and muskrat, but not bears.

“I have not trapped bear, because it does require a lot of work and a lot of time and I don’t really have the time to devote to it,” she said. “But when I retire, I intend to.”

Bridges said it’s more difficult to trap bears as opposed to canines and other fur bearers.

“It’s a lot harder, because you have to be able to predict the bears better, and you’ve got to know where they are,” she said. “They’re very elusive and that’s the tricky part. That’s why we use bait in the northern part of the state, in that the habitat is so diverse that it’s hard to find them.”

Many people came to socialize, examine and buy trapping gear and learn tips about the trade. Several children of all ages attended with their parents.

“It’s a very family-oriented affair,” Olson said. “People come and enjoy each other’s company and have a lot of fun. We try to promote the kids’ contests, kids’ fishing, an eel race, scavenger hunt and a kids’ auction, so it’s centered around the kids.”

Amy Riendeau of Berlin, N.H., said she and her boyfriend, who she described as “a big trapper,” brought her 7-year-old daughter, Olivia Labbe, to the event.

“We come for the kids activities and to check out all the cool stuff,” she said. “Olivia’s favorite is the eel race and she wants to maybe try it this year.”

David Bean of Rumford said he began trapping 15 years ago after visiting an Olson’s Trappers Weekend and has returned ever since. He said he traps mink and fisher, but mainly coyotes and fox.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “I meet a lot of people and there are a lot of nice, sociable people here. And I like to learn the new ideas for trapping.”

Linda Nunn of Groton, Vt., said she and her husband, Melvin, have been attending the event for more than 20 years. A woodcraft artist, Linda Nunn makes an animal-related craft each year and gives it to Olson to either hang up or auction off.

She said she used to skin the animals that her husband trapped. They are members of the Vermont Trappers Association.

Melvin Nunn said he’s been trapping water animals like muskrat, beaver and mink, since the age of 12 in 1952.

“This is our vacation,” he said of attending Olson’s event. “It’s the most fun around.”

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