Dateline: 16 March 2006
Years ago, it was common for rural men and boys to trap. Trapping is a craft that goes back to the founding of this country. The fur trade was once a vital part of our national economy.
That’s what my boys and I learned a couple weekends ago when we went to an all-day trapping course at a small sportsman’s club in Navarino, N.Y. Marlene had called the N.Y. Dept of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over six months ago to find out about taking the class, which is needed to legally trap and sell furs. She was told that trapping courses aren’t given very often these days because there isn’t a lot of interest. But we were put on a 4-county list— as soon as someone somewhere in the four counties had a class, we would be notified. We signed up for the first class that came up.
So it was on a cold, snowy February morning that Robert (now 15) and James (now 11) and I (now 48) drove 45 minutes to Navarino. There were maybe 25 people taking the class. There were a couple of other dads there with their sons. The rest of the class were mostly average-looking, young and middle age rural guys. A couple were sort of “gnarly” lookin’ rural types— the kind that would scare you if you happened upon them while walking in the woods, especially if the woods was their property.
We had several teachers that day. There was Al and Bill and Bob and Mike and Karl. All of them, with the exception of Mike, were old timers, which means they were older than me. Each of these men were avid trappers and I think they have been trappers most all their lives. Judging from the looks of our trappin’ teachers , I’d have to say that trappers are a special kind of people. They’re not the kind that you’d ever imagine would spend one day working in a Dilbert-style cubicle. They are independent outdoorsmen—there is a old fashioned wildness to them. You might say they are “a little rough around the edges.”
Well, me and my boys learned a LOT that day. Bill, the oldest old timer there (he looked to be in his 70s, and maybe even older than that) showed us all kinds of traps and supplies that trappers use. Al told us about the N.Y. State trapping regulations and safety. Bob, the biggest man of the bunch, wore a vest of shorn beaver fur (absolutely beautiful fur!) and spoke about how to properly “euthanize” a live animal after you catch it. Karl gave us a skunk skinning demonstration. Mike skinned a good-size mink that he saw get hit by a car. He brought it home and put it in his freezer to save it for the skinning demonstration. Mike stretched the skinned fur over a special wood stretcher board and showed how to flesh it and pin the hide down for drying.
When Mike was skinning that mink, one of the trappin’ teachers gave the class some marital advice: “If any of you boys finds a woman that will skin for you, marry her!” This comment met with nods of approval from the trappers and laughter from everyone else. By the way, the only woman in attendance was Bill’s wife, a nice older lady who we were led to believe, helped her husband with his trap line.
A DEC officer showed up and spoke to the class. He said that he had two daughters who spent most of their life at the shopping malls and he thought it was great to see dads and sons trapping together.
Most of our trapping teachers were involved in nuisance animal control (trapping is more like a sport and part-time money making hobby). During breaks, we enjoyed listening to Al regale us with nuisance animal stories. He told us about how suburban people get all upset when a wild animal, like a coon or skunk or fox shows up around their house. He said most of those people don’t even own a gun (to which Mike commented: “That’s why I have 25 of ‘em.”) and even if they did, they can’t legally shoot it in the suburbs. As a result, there’s lots of wildlife control work around.
Coyotes are a big nuisance hereabouts. Sometimes they eat those expensive little suburban dogs. Al says some folks want him to trap the coyotes alive and take them two hours away into the Adirondacks and let them loose. But, he says they would die there because there is very little food for a coyote in the Adirondacks. There is, however, lots of food in the farmlands and suburbs of central N.Y.
Some nights I can hear coyotes yipping in the near distance outside my house. I’m hoping me and James and Robert can trap us one or two next season. That would be a thrill. Al says that coyotes thrive in adversity— you can trap and shoot and poison them and the population increases.
Al also told us about the time he and a friend used an electronic raccoon caller at a farm that had a lot of coon problems. They turned the caller on and Al says the coons came swarming down the sides of the barns and out of the nooks and crannies. They shot 47 of ‘em before his friend’s gun jammed and they hightailed it back to their truck. After getting the gun unjammed, they went back and found the calling equipment had been destroyed by the angry animals. Now that was quite a story! I think trappers have some of the best stories.
After lunch we all went outside to learn how to set traps. It’s not like setting mouse traps in the basement. There is a lot more to learn and know than you might think. It was freezing cold and windy outside. Everyone was visibly chilled and looking forward to getting back inside— except, that is, those gnarly-looking fellows. They had half as much winterwear on as anyone else and didn’t look cold at all.
At the end of the day we took a two-page multiple choice test and we all passed it. So now my boys and me are certified trappers. That doesn’t mean we’re experts, but we know the basic rules and we know a whole lot more about trapping than we knew before. Now we need to get some equipment and actually do it!
I have to admit that I don’t really have a lot of interest in trapping and skinning wild animals. But, like I said, my boys really do, and that pleases me to no end. Trapping offers adventure, excitement, and reward for the work and effort and skill that is put into it. It gets boys outside in the fresh air. It gives them self-confidence. It teaches them about God’s creation. It teaches them responsibility. The way I see it, there is no downside to lawful and responsible trapping. And when a father and his boys can learn and experience all of this together, that is all the better. It is exactly the sort of thing that fathers and sons need to be doing to build strong relationships and lasting memories. So I’m going to be a trapper next season. Stay tuned.
If you like hunting, trapping, guns, and stuff like that, I invite you to read some more of my essays...
How Not to Shoot The Bull
The Charging Woodchuck
Going to The Trapper's Convention
Boys Will Be....Warriors (Part 1)
Boys Will Be...Warriors (Part 2)
Life Lessons From an Old Maine Woodsman
How to Butcher a Chicken
The Fun, Fast Way to Skin a Deer