Are steel-jawed leghold traps with teeth still used?


The short answer is no.

Once common around the world was a kind of trap known as a steel-jawed leghold trap. Sometimes referred to today as a “conventional steel-jawed leghold restraining trap”, these are rarely seen these days outside of museums, and have not been used for most Canadian furbearers for decades.

These are restraining traps, meaning they are designed to keep an animal alive on land until the trapper arrives and can decide whether to dispatch the animal or release it. In practice, though, animals were often injured, and thus unsuitable for release.

The main reason for this was the trap’s design. Two jaws had sharp teeth that interlocked tightly on an animal’s leg, often causing injuries.

Modern descendants of these restraining traps are far more humane, thanks to several key modifications. Most notable are changes in the jaws. Teethed jaws have long been banned, while today’s jaws consist of two flat bars with rounded edges that are laminated or coated in rubberized padding. They may also be offset so they can’t close completely.

Another key refinement is in the trigger pressure required to activate a leghold trap. When combined with correct setting of a trap, this almost guarantees that only target species will be caught by their foot rather than their calf, allowing the animal considerable freedom of movement. It is for this reason that the term “leghold” trap has largely given way to “foothold” trap.

Other important modifications have been made to how traps are anchored. A foothold trap is typically held in place by a chain connected to the ground or a nearby object like a tree. By incorporating a shock-absorbing spring and a swivel, the animal is far less likely to harm itself trying to move the trap.

As proof that these modern foothold traps are humane, they are used not only by fur trappers but also by wildlife managers who trap live animals for tracking and relocation.

As for the legal status of conventional steel-jawed leghold traps, the development of more humane traps dates back decades, culminating in the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS), ratified by Canada in 1999. Under the AIHTS, traps are certified as meeting these humane trapping criteria for use with 19 furbearer species, including 12 caught in Canada: beaver, muskrat, river otter, marten, fisher, raccoon, badger, ermine, coyote, wolf, lynx and bobcat. Since conventional steel-jawed leghold restraining traps set on land have been banned under AIHTS terms, none of these species can legally be caught with them.

The use of AIHTS-certified leghold (or foothold) restraining traps is legally limited to coyote, wolves, lynx and bobcat.