Trapping With A State Champion
Annabel Wilson is 20 years old and already has a GTA Adult Field Trials State Championship under her belt.
As I watched Annabel Wilson walk up and down a woods road that led into a Jefferson County cut corn field, I knew exactly where I would put a dirt-hole set.
“That little tuft of grass right there,” I whispered to Mike Wilson, Annabel’s dad.
A minute later, the confident 20-year-old wildlife student at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College picked her spot, an area 10 feet from where I had mentally selected.
“Why there?” I asked.
Her explanation on where the animal would likely travel, along with the predicted wind direction for the evening, made sense. I guess a 50-year-old can learn a few lessons from a college student. Plus, anyone, regardless of age, who has won a Georgia Trappers Association Adult Field Trials Championship is worth listening to. She won the event in 2021 when she was just 17 years old.
“I got a piece of property, and I set it up with 12 traps,” Annabel said. “That first morning I caught a beaver and a gray fox, and the second morning I ended up with two beavers, two bobcats and one coyote and ended up with seven animals that weekend. I won by over 100 points.”
Interestingly, the second-place finisher in the championship event that year was Abigail Zerwig, the only other female trapper in the field in 2021.
“That win felt pretty good,” said Annabel. “Most of the time I am aiming to beat daddy, then my brothers and then Josh Hall, but it made me feel good beating all the old guys.”
Josh Hall, GTA’s current president, has been teaching Annabel since she was young. There’s a lot of love and respect there, but Annabel smiles when talking about competing against family and friends.
“A lot of what I know is from the GTA,” said Annabel. “Daddy taught me a lot of stuff, and Josh taught me a lot.”
Annabel made quick work of putting in her dirt-hole set while I stood back and watched. I was blessed to have received an invite from Annabel and her parents to hang out for two days on their family farm. Since I am passionate about trapping, I went into sponge mode as I rode around with Mike and Annabel.
“I am more of a land trapper,” said Annabel. “My favorite animal to trap is probably a fox, even though I don’t catch many of them because I’m not usually in fox heavy locations. I probably catch more bobcats than anything. I do enjoy those because they are pretty feisty.”
One thing I noticed about Annabel as we went from trap set to trap set was that she didn’t carry a whole lot of extra stuff with her.
“On every set I have my kneeling pad, my trapping hammer, my driver to drive my earth anchors in the ground, my sifter, peat moss, another sifter for the peat moss and my trap,” said Annabel.
There’s a number of things she doesn’t carry that many trappers do.
“I don’t carry around a drill (for the dirt hole) because it’s something you have to charge and remember to bring and lug around. I don’t use a trapping shovel, so I just use my driver when I am making dirt holes,” said Annabel. “I used to use polyfill (under the trap pan), but it’s another thing you have to remember. Since we started using peat moss, that replaces the need for it. Also, I have never used sheep’s wool (in the dirt hole). For putting bait and lure in the hole, I just use sticks because they don’t cost anything. I bring the fewest amount of things to my set every time.”
I liked her technique. Sometimes I think I need to downsize all the junk I’m toting on a trapline.
“My favorite bait across the board is Spiked Mice by Southern Snares & Supply just because it’s one of the first things I ever used, and I’ve caught a lot of animals on it. I use that in combination with Fox Frenzy, a lure by Mark June.
“Some other really good baits are Lucky by Rusty Johnson. He is originally from Chula but now out of Idaho. Also, Widowmaker by Mark June is really, really good.”
Although Annabel credits GTA, Josh Hall and her dad for teaching her to trap, she has developed her own style and methods.
“Daddy uses a different trap than I do,” said Annabel. “I use an MB-450 offset, and he uses an MB-550 offset. I like the smaller feel of the 450, and they catch just as well as the 550. Daddy likes to have his sets really blended in and looking natural, but I don’t care too much if it’s really natural or not.
“I don’t use a lot of urine on my sets. My dad and brothers use it, and it works great for them, but I’m more of a lure person. Lures are a lot smaller and easy to tote around. Again, I like to keep it pretty simple when I’m lugging stuff.”
Life in Tifton at ABAC is busy for the sophomore when she’s not catching coyotes and bobcats. Annabel is an officer with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry and involved with several college groups at Baptist churches in Tifton. Outside of church functions, she is a member of the Wildlife Society and the Forestry Club. The goal in all of that is to live a life of serving others through trapping.
“Trapping and trapping education is something I really want to be involved in,” said Annabel. “I know USDA has wildlife services, and there is a lot of trapping involved with that. I know DNR has some hunting-education programs, and it would be cool to get into that and get into the trapping part of that.”
I’ve known Annabel for a few years now. We are both trapping instructors for GTA’s Youth Field Trials in Swainsboro every winter. When she was in the sixth grade, she won that state championship, too. Once a trapper turns 16 years old, they are no longer eligible to compete in the youth event and can only participate in the Adult Field Trial event. However, she knew that once she aged-out, that she wanted to teach others how to trap.
“It is so rewarding to see these kids work hard all weekend and then catch their first animal, whether that’s a raccoon or beaver,” said Annabel. “The girl who won it this year didn’t catch anything her first year. Then last year she caught a raccoon, and this year she caught a possum, raccoon, beaver and a coyote. It’s great to see their progression over the years.”
So what is it about trapping that makes Annabel Wilson tick?
“The reason I love trapping is twofold, the people and being outdoors,” said Annabel. “Trappers are some of the kindest and most respectful people you will ever meet. They are my biggest cheerleaders and have made me feel welcome and included from the very start.
“Also, being outside provides a sense of tranquility that you just can’t find anywhere else. Being able to use my knowledge of animals over the years and put that information into practice and then seeing the results is very rewarding. Since I’m not naturally a quiet or patient person, trapping provides an opportunity to be in the woods without having to feel antsy and bored. Every morning on the trapline is like Christmas morning, and there’s no feeling like it.”
As we enjoyed “Christmas” morning together in Jefferson County on Jan. 14, our first stop would be the set from the beginning of this story, the one I missed by 10 feet. As we pulled up, there he was dancing. It was the very critter she likes to trap the most because she doesn’t usually find herself around a bunch of them.
“A gray fox!” she announced.
A common mistake would be to think that after taking so many critters since her start in the sixth-grade that her level of excitement would dwindle. Not hardly.
“You come around the corners of those woods and fields and you’re trying to lean over the dashboard and see. You never know what you’re going to catch,” said Annabel.
If you’re feeling that inner nudging to poke your head in the door and see what trapping is all about, you just hit the lottery.
“Go to the GTA website or Facebook page,” said Annabel, who recently became a director of the non-profit group. “We post all events through year.”
Along with having booths at outdoor trade shows like the Outdoor Blast and Buckarama, GTA’s annual convention is held in September, and their Spring Fling is usually in March or April.
“These events are the best way to get into it,” said Annabel “You will get contacts and people who will share everything with you. There’s very few secrets that people hold back. Every time you watch a demo at one of these conventions, you learn something new no matter how long you’ve trapped.”
Annabel didn’t stop at her gray fox. She capped off her two-day trapline with two bobcats—one that weighed 25 pounds—one coyote and one possum. These were all sets she planted and created herself. She set about half of those traps in the rain before I got arrived. That’s a real testimony to the effectiveness of peat moss. Of course, being a former state champion may very well may have something to do with that success…
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