First Time Running Trapline
Kris Pope has been completely hooked by the excitement, anticipation and tradition of trapping.
I rounded a point in the field and came face to face with the prettiest coyote I had ever seen. My adrenaline level went sky high, and I was frozen in awe.
In all honesty, this coyote did not have a silky, silver coat. Actually, the pelt had a brownish tint to it and was slightly wooly. What made this coyote so special was the fact that clamped securely on its foot was a No. 2 coilspring trap that I had set two days earlier. Some beginning trappers speak of going months or even seasons before trapping their first coyote, and I had caught one in two days. Needless to say, I was mighty proud.
I became interested in trapping during my high-school years. My uncle let me borrow a huge stack of Fur-Fish-Game magazines, and I became intrigued by the different trapping articles, and especially by the tales of trappers running traplines in wilderness Alaska.
I am always looking for an excuse to spend more time in the woods, and the potential to make a little money trapping did not hurt either. That was it for me, the fire was lit, and the more I read, the more the desire to try this new outdoor pursuit grew. Over the next few years I devoured anything even remotely related to trapping.
I eventually found out about the Georgia Trappers Association (GTA), and last year I joined up, intent on running my first trapline during the 2004-05 season. I attended the GTA convention, which is an absolute must for anyone who is interested in trapping. I paid close attention at all of the demonstrations and talked to nearly everyone there. I absorbed all the information I could. I attribute much of my success to those guys who were willing to answer my questions and work through the demonstrations.
This past year was my second year in college, and I was fortunate enough to get all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That gave me four-day weekends to trap, plus the three weeks of Christmas break, and I could hardly wait for trapping season to roll around.
I kept my sets — trapping lingo for where you place your trap and bait — pretty basic for the first year, mainly because I did not know any elaborate types of sets. Most of my canine sets consisted of dirtholes, which is simply a hole dug into the ground to imitate a rodent’s burrow or something similar, with a backing — a tree, rock or stick — behind the hole to prevent the animal from approaching from behind. The trap is firmly bedded in front of the hole, and dirt is sifted onto the trap to conceal it. My canine sets were baited with beaver meat or ripe persimmons.
Most of my raccoon sets were either pocket or PVC sets. A pocket set is a hole dug into a creek bank, preferably on a steep bank so the animal cannot approach from the back, with the trap bedded a few inches in front of the hole under water.
A PVC pipe set is a length of PVC pipe hammered into a creek bank, with a foot of the pipe exposed, kind of like an inverted pocket. The mouth of the pipe is 10 to 12 inches above the water, and the pipe sticks out over the water. You want the pipe high enough so that the raccoon has to really work to figure out what is in the pipe. The trap is bedded directly below the mouth of the pipe. Last year I used four-inch pipe, but this year I am going to try two-inch pipe, to reduce weight and bulkiness. I usually bait coon sets with chunks of fish and fish oil or a commercial lure. Concealment of the traps is not as crucial as with canines, because raccoons are not as cautious.
My beaver sets consisted of blind sets and castor-mound sets. A blind set is simply a trap placed in an animal’s travel path, with no visual attractor. Blind sets can be adapted for any animal if you find good trails.
A castor mound is a beaver’s way of marking his territory. The beaver will make a pile of mud and debris on the bank and secrete scent from castor glands onto the mound. You can make an artificial mound and put some lure with castor in it onto the mound. The beaver will come demolish the mound and make a fresh one of his own to show that that area is his turf. The trap is placed in front of the mound, and a snare, foothold, or body-gripping trap can be used to guard the mound. The key, as with trapping any animal, is to get the beaver to come through or over your trap to get to the mound.
I secured permission to trap on some land in Newton and Henry counties, and a few days into the trapping season I had my first opportunity to set some traps. Around a small farm pond I set a couple of traps for muskrat as well as beaver. On the creek below the pond I set three traps for raccoon. Although I only had eight traps out, I was pretty confident that they would see some action. I was anxious for morning to come, and was up before the sun, ready to run my trapline.
I checked the muskrat and beaver sets first, but they were all empty, so I headed for the creek. The first trap was untouched, but as I approached the second trap, I could see something had been there.
In a bend in the creek I had made a pocket set, and about 15 feet away a PVC pipe set. From the looks of things, I had caught a good-sized raccoon at the pocket, but evidently I did not catch him very well, and he pulled out of the trap. That was a tremendous disappointment, but it happens, that’s just the way it goes. He ought to still be around next season.
One important point to make is that the traps do not harm the animals, in most cases. Traps are not designed to break bones and oftentimes do not break the skin. Most trappers feel an obligation to do everything in their power to minimize suffering of a trapped animal. There are different size traps for different animals. Trappers add swivels, shock springs, and heavy-duty chain to their traps to ensure that the animal does not harm itself should it fight the trap, and also to ensure that the trap stays put and the animal does not run off with a trap on its foot. Many trappers nowadays also pay extra for their traps to have rubber jaws or laminated jaws. A rubber-jaw trap is a trap with a rubber piece on the jaws which tends to be easier on an animal’s foot. A laminated-jaw trap means that a piece of wire is welded onto the top of the trap jaw flush with the inside edge of the jaw to disperse the pressure of the jaws on the foot. Traps can also be purchased that are double jawed to prevent an animal from chewing on its trapped foot. No trapper wants an animal to escape injured, and it is rare that an animal that gets out of a trap is hurt.
Most traps are not ready to go right out of the box. Trappers put a lot of extra time and money into modifications to ensure that their traps are as humane as possible. Not only does this assure that wild animals are unharmed, but it also allows the trapper to release, unharmed, any domestic animals that may get caught.
The second morning proved to be better than the first. I headed for the creek, intent on checking the raccoon traps first. As I passed the pond I saw something out of place on the island where I had set two beaver traps. I shrugged it off and kept walking, but a second glance revealed something moving on the island. Hot dog! My first critter. I ran to check my coon sets, all of which were empty, then ran back to the pond to get a boat to retrieve my catch.
I had caught a hefty beaver in a snare set in a slide the beaver had been using. I was grinning bigger than a possum eating roadkill as I paddled back to shore to show off my catch. I think it took me about five hours to skin and flesh that beaver, and another hour to sew up all of the holes I had put in the pelt. Several times during those long hours I vowed never to trap another beaver, but then I would remember the anticipation and excitement that comes with setting traps, and I knew I would be at it again soon. I wound up catching two more beavers before the season ended. I improved at skinning and fleshing them, but I still shudder when I see pictures of guys with 30 or 40 or more beavers they caught.
Another great memory of this past season took place the weekend of the ice storm. I had set about 10 traps that Friday for raccoon, fox and coyote. I hoped that the ice would hold off until early morning to give the animals a chance to move. I awoke Saturday to a winter wonderland of sorts. Ice was everywhere, including on the roads, but luckily my traps were just up the road, so I could walk to them.
As I got to my first trap I realized that I had not brought my camera. Since the first trap was empty, I decided to wait and see if I caught anything before going to get it. My second set was empty as well, but as I approached my third set I saw something hunkered down beside the log I had used for backing. I stood 20 yards away trying to identify the critter when it raised its head, and I saw it was a grey fox. I had caught my first wiley canine in a dirthole set baited with some ripe persimmons, and of course, I had to run back home to get my camera. That was all for Saturday, but Sunday proved even better, with my first multi-catch day. I had another grey fox, and the coyote I mentioned earlier. Both were caught in dirthole sets baited with either beaver meat or persimmons. Three canines in one weekend, I was on cloud nine for all of the next week.
I did have a few disappointments to go along with my proud accomplishments. Somehow I managed to avoid catching any skunks last season and was not able to add them to my catch list. I was pretty disappointed by this, but it was probably more like a blessing in disguise. Especially seeing as how every time I entered the house I was already being greeted with hateful looks and everyone grasped their noses. Even my grandmother, who helps me clean fish in her kitchen and let me boil a snapping turtle in her good boiler, refused to give me a hug after I had finished skinning critters.
I was also disappointed with my possum catch. I figured I would be able to side my fur shed with possum pelts, but I only caught one grinner and that was on the last weekend of trapping season. That just means that there are that many more for next season, so long as the cars do not get to them first.
My trapping season was not without the calamities that befall all trappers either. I had several snapped fingers, and dirt flung in my face. I learned that when purposely tripping a trap, you should turn your head away, because that dirt stings the cheeks and it does not taste good either. I went over the tops of my waders more times than I care to remember, and while pulling muskrat traps after a rain, I forgot my chest waders and had to wade in waist deep water in hip boots.
On one of the last weekends of trapping season I had set traps for several hours and was pretty exhausted but still had a few more places I wanted to set. Specifically, I had a creek where I wanted to set some traps for raccoons. I found a good spot with one side having a steep bank, and commenced to driving my five-foot sweetgum stake into the bank. I drove it in a bit, then hit something. I moved, started driving and hit something again. As I pulled on the stake to move it again, it broke. My patience was wearing pretty thin when I noticed a dead tree laying across the creek. It was a bit longer than I like, but it would suffice as a drag. I started to pull the log, when I heard a thump and turned just in time to see my bucket fall over and all of my equipment fall out into the creek. After doing a little hollerin,’ I fumbled around in the water, eventually finding everything. As I stood there in the creek, putting everything back in the bucket, I could not help but laugh. I was just taking the hazing that everyone gets when they enter into the trapping fraternity.
It seems that the most memorable events tend to coincide with harsh weather. The coldest weekend of the season I had some beaver traps set on a stream in Henry County. The temperature was in the teens, and the wind was howling as I drove in the darkness to check my traps. When I arrived it was light enough to see, so I put my chest waders on, a jacket, a neck gaiter, and a stocking hat and headed for the stream. As I dropped down into the creek bottom, the wind was not as bad but I could see ice around the edges of the stream. I checked a couple of empty snares, then headed downstream after my other sets. All of which were empty except for the last one. I had a dandy beaver in my last trap, which warmed me up a bit.
I tossed him onto the bank and reset the trap. I took a few pictures of the beaver, whose wet fur had already begun to freeze, then I grabbed him by the back leg and proudly hefted him up and over my shoulder. I was feeling like a sure-enough beaver trapper, that is until his tail caught up and whacked me in the side of the head. Then I just felt like an idiot holding a beaver. That’s the kind of learnin’ you just cannot get out of a book.
I wound up catching one muskrat, one possum, three beavers, four raccoons, four grey foxes, and one coyote during my first season. Not too shabby in my opinion. I skinned all of these animals, with the intent of selling the pelts. I stretched and dried the furs, which involves scraping off all of the fat on the pelt and putting the hide on a board for several weeks. This process keeps the hide from rotting.
Fur buyers want the pelts stretched differently depending on the type of fur. Animals like muskrat, possum, and raccoon are stretched fur side in, which means the hide is exposed. Coyotes and foxes however are stretched fur side out, meaning that the fur is exposed.
There are also two different ways of skinning the animals, case skinned and open skinned. Beaver is the only animal that is skinned open. A cut is made from the base of the tail, up the belly to the lower lip, and is skinned that way, resulting in a flat, round pelt. Everything else is case skinned. Case skinning involves making a cut around the back ankles and down each hind leg so the cuts meet. Then the hide is simply pulled inside out off of the animal resulting in somewhat of a tube.
I made around $85 on all of my furs, which I was pretty happy with, but definitely do not quit your job to get rich off of trapping. I did find out that now the thing to do is to sell the canines live to fox pens. Right now they are worth a lot more live than the hide is, so I plan on selling to the “live market” this winter. The one important thing about selling the coyotes and foxes live is that their feet and legs cannot be hurt in any way or the pens will not buy the animals, another reason why trappers take pains to prevent injury to the animals.
Trapping is a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed every minute of it, and I wound up spending more time in the woods than normal, always a good thing. Joining up with the Trappers Association was the smartest move I made, and I am proud to say I am part of that organization. If you are interested in trapping, and can make it by the Buckarama, talk to whoever is at the GTA booth, they will be glad to talk to you, and you can get information on their convention. You can also contact me by e-mail at <[email protected]>, and I will help you out any way that I can.
There is no way to describe the excitement and satisfaction that comes from catching an animal in one of your traps. Knowing that you outsmarted an animal in its own element is a pretty good feeling. It is also nice to know that you are helping to keep our trapping heritage alive.
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