Cumberland Times-News

March 9, 2013

Bird dog survives killer trap, keeps hunting

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— Bari is one lucky 33-pound, female French Brittany spaniel, having survived unfazed the jaws of a Conibear trap this past November near Piney Reservoir in eastern Garrett County.

“My brother Tom and I were hunting grouse,” said Bari’s owner, Bill Vogtman of Frostburg. “I keep her collar set so when she goes on point it makes a steady sound.”

Bari was nearby, but out of sight, when Vogtman heard her start to make noises that she was in pain. “It was a lot more than a yip,” he remembered on Monday, Bari sitting at his side.

“Then she went silent, but we could hear her collar. That’s the only way we found her. Tom got to her first.”

Unlike leg-hold traps that capture, Conibear traps are meant to kill, according to Harry Spiker, a biologist with the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service.

Vogtman demonstrated the trap, the metal bars closing violently against the wooden board that in the real world of marshes and wetlands would be the head and neck of the target animal.

Spiker explained that Conibears come in square sizes of 4, 8 and 10 inches. The 4-inch version is set for muskrat and mink, the 8-incher for raccoon and fisher and the 10-incher for beaver and otter.

“Bari wasn’t moving and her tongue was hanging out. Tom said he thought she was dead, but he remembered from some outdoor magazine article a long time ago that the trap could be opened,” Vogtman recalled.

Vogtman said his brother was strong enough to force the springs to relax and, surprisingly, Bari pulled her head out.

“We hunted for another hour and a half and she was fine,” he said.

Vogtman said the trap was in a box and baited with fish and was placed on dry land near a beaver dam.

Spiker said the size of the trap, 8-inches or smaller, allows it to be legally set on dry land in a wetland setting in Maryland. The larger Conibears must be at least partially submerged.

There is no requirement in Maryland for the owner’s name to be on a trap. Written permission is required to trap on private land and a letter from the DNR is needed to trap on public land.

“The description of the trap and bait makes it sound like a classic raccoon set,” Spiker said. “In the past several years, this is only the second incident of a domestic animal being trapped in the state that I know of.”

To see a video of Spiker demonstrating the use of Conibear traps and a special technique for opening them once sprung, go to the Times-News website at

Vogtman had already learned about this technique and will carry a cord that can be used to quickly open a Conibear should the situation arise once more. “You can do it with a dog leash, too,” Vogtman pointed out.

In fact, Vogtman bought a Conibear, an 8-incher, the same size that grasped Bari, and practices opening it.

“I’m not against trapping,” he said.

Spiker said a relatively new trap is gaining popularity. Generically known as a dog-proof trap, it is a pipe with a bait inside. Once the raccoon or other animal with prehensile hand reaches inside, a trap closes, holding the furbearer.

Vogtman estimates that from the time he heard Bari vocalize pain to the time she was freed was about 30 seconds.

Fortunately, the trap did not impact the dog’s windpipe and her head was slightly to the side when the hunters got to her.

“Thanks to my brother’s strong grip and good distant memory the incident had a good ending,” Vogtman said. “Much longer in that trap and I would have been carrying my hunting buddy and lap warmer out of the woods in tears.”

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at