By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A Minnesota hunter is pushing for change after his dog was caught and killed in a trap.

Mark Johnson’s 7-year-old lab, Bronco, was killed in a body grip trap while they were grouse hunting near Bemidji in October.

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“He’s my buddy. Happy-go-lucky. Little bit of a spaz, but when you are hunting it’s all business,” Johnson said.

From the day he brought Bronco home, Johnson spent countless hours training and playing with his yellow lab.

Time together helped forge a special bond between man and man’s best friend.

“He trusts you, you trust him. It’s what happens after about 4 or 5 years, you see that. So, pretty special,” Mark said.

On Halloween weekend the duo went on their annual grouse hunting trip near Bemidji.

They were walking along the river and Bronco got ahead of Mark.

“Of course he got a whiff of the scent on the trap and I heard the ‘yelp’ and I had to jump over the bank and slide down, and that’s where he was,” Johnson said.

Bronco was caught in a Conibear trap that had been half submerged in the river.

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Panic set in when Johnson realized he didn’t know how to get the trap off.

“In the heat of the moment the dog is dying, you are trying to help it, and you can’t get that thing off,” Johnson said. “Just totally helpless. It was the most helpless thing I’ve ever felt.”

Johnson and a hunting buddy did what they could, but Bronco died on the river bank.

After losing his friend and companion, Johnson is hoping a change is made.

“I’m not against trapping. It’s a pursuit in the outdoors I’ve even thought of doing when I retire. But I tell you, something has to change on this. There’s just too many dogs going down,” Johnson said.

The group “Sportsmen Take Action” says that more than 30 dogs have gotten caught in the Conibear or body grip traps since 2012, and more than a dozen have died.

But they say there are likely far more cases that go unreported.

Several groups are urging lawmakers and the DNR to raise the body grip traps at least five feet off the ground on public land where dogs can’t reach them, but other game still can.

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Or if they are in the water, they want the traps fully submerged.

John Lauritsen