Goin’ To The Trappers Convention

“I grew up in the suburbs and never did any of this stuff when I was a kid.”

That’s what I said to one grizzled old trapper I met at the trapper’s convention my two sons and I recently attended.

The man’s expression changed from a friendly smile to furrowed-brow mock concern, as if I had just told him of the death of a family member or, perhaps, the demise of my favorite cur coon hound (if I had one).

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” he replied.

I chuckled at his response but it made me think... it is a sorry thing. For so many generations, rural men have trapped for food and fur and to protect their livestock from predators. These men taught their sons to do the same. Together, they shared in the experiences that come with this ancient agrarian rite of passage.

I know several men who learned to trap from their fathers. But almost none of these men have taught their sons. Only in recent history has this multigenerational skill declined so that it is now almost extinct.

Many fathers these days are too preoccupied with conforming to the industrial system of laboring away from their homes for long hours. They simply don’t have time to teach such things to their sons. And so many sons are too busy conforming to an aimless youth culture defined by rebellious inner city hoodlums.

Besides that, in our “enlightened" modern age, animals now have new rights. They are people too, you know. They have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Incredibly, in some people’s minds, some animals have more of a right to their lives than does an unborn baby in its mother’s womb.

Fur trapping is now politically incorrect. Nevertheless, two of my sons have, by God’s grace, expressed a great interest in trapping animals for their fur. I say “by God’s grace” because, with so many popular culture opiates vying for a boy’s attention, I dare say it has to be something of a miracle that any boy would desire to trap and harvest wild animals for their furs.

Though I can not teach my sons to trap, I can encourage their interest and, together, we can learn. With that in mind, early this last spring, the three of us took a New York State trapper’s certification course. I wrote about it here.

I also bought the book, Trapping North American Furbearers, by Stanley Hawbaker. I bought that book because Scott Terry, who is a real farmer/trapper recommended it. I also bought a couple trapping videos. One is all about trapping coons with Tom Miranda. The other video has four hours of fur handling instruction (skinning, fleshing, etc) for all kinds of critters from coyotes to skunks. The Stanley Hawbaker book is now dog-eared. It was the one book, besides his Bible, that James took to Bible Camp last summer. And the videos have been watched many times.

Last month we expanded out knowledge of trapping by going to the New York State Trapper’s Convention in Frankfort, N.Y. The convention consisted of a lot of vendors selling all kinds of trapping supplies. Some of the vendors were professional trap supply retailers, but many were tailgate sellers. We made several rounds of the show and discussed among ourselves what we needed to get and where it would be best to get it.

There were also seminars to attend throughout the day. One seminar we went to was about coyotes. we learned that, back in the 1800’s, there were no coyote east of the Mississippi. There were, however, timber wolves. As the wolf population was destroyed (because they preyed upon farm animals) the coyote moved in.

Many coyote are so big (up to 80 pounds) that they are mistaken for wolves. The way to tell the difference is by the feet. Coyote, even the biggest examples, have dog-size feet. Wolves have much larger feet.

At another seminar we learned about hunting and harvesting ginseng from a ginseng hunter. That was interesting.

Then, right after the ginseng seminar, a couple of fellows showed up with some tools to give an unscheduled trapping demonstration. It turned out to be Andy Stoe, of buckwheat hull and trap-dip fame, and the renowned Adirondack trapper, Johnny Thorpe. Here (below) is a picture of Johnny making a dirt set. Me and my boys had a front row seat, and learning from Johnny was one of the highlights of our day.

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Another neat thing about the convention was the “grub stake” trapper baskets they gave to kids throughout the day. The baskets were stocked with traps and supplies and they gave one out every couple of hours. After they announced a winner, the drawing started all over again and we would head back to the main building so Robert and James could get their names in the box again. There were a few kids at the convention with their dad’s but not too many.

Even still, James and Robert did not win a grub stake. So we started buying some supplies. James bought himself a pack basket, a couple conibear 160 traps, and some of Andy Stoe’s trap dip (this is where his farm market earnings came in handy). Robert bought some used #1 traps from a tailgate seller. I bought three coon-cuff traps, which are designed to catch coons but not dogs. Then I bought a dozen #1 traps which will also get a coon, but will work for mink too. We’re focusing on coon and mink because we know they are active along the creek that runs behind our house.

I also bought a Johnny Thorpe video (which was good but not great), a book about ginseng, and a thin pamphlet-like book telling how to make and use “wooden egg” traps for catching coons.

The wooden eggs are nothing more than plywood boxes with a small diameter hole in the top and a trap inside. Bait is put inside. The coon reaches in the top and the trap snaps. Wooden eggs work on the same principle as coon cuffs but are cheaper and allow the use of #1 traps. I have some scrap 3/4” plywood in my shop and it’ll be a good project for us to make the boxes together.

I guess we did our part to help the economy by buying those things and some other ancillary equipment that day. In theory, trapping should pay for itself. Robert and James hope for a profit and I hope they do make some money at it. I understand fur prices are up after years of being down. Whatever the case, in my mind, it really isn’t about making money. It’s about anticipation, adventure, having a good time together, and making memories.

Stay tuned....

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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

Trapping Class

The Charging Woodchuck

Boys Will Be....Warriors (Part 1)

Boys Will Be...Warriors (Part 2)

Rabbit Hunting Boy

Life Lessons From an Old Maine Woodsman

Needed: More Americans With Guns

How to Butcher a Chicken

The Fun, Fast Way to Skin a Deer


Lynn Bartlett said...

Funny you should write about this ... Last night we were heading to a friend's house and hit something that ran across the road. On our way back we found the animal, and stopped to see what it was. Well, it was a mink! Of course we had to bring it home, and this morning Jonathan skinned it. The pelt is very nice, in spite of it not being in prime condition since it isn't cold enough yet. Of course, this got Jonathan all excited about trapping again! We'll be anxiously waiting to hear about your adventures!

Marci said...

They have a convention for things I never dreamed of. I am sure your boys really loved it.

May the Lord bless your huntin' boys!!!

Anonymous said...

I can tell ya, If Johnny says it works, it will work. I've been friends with Johnny for some time. I've even trapped with him. As with any thing sometimes your own personal touch added to a trick can produce fur. I saw you fellas at the convention and wish ya luck.

Anonymous said...

That is great that your boys and you are interested in trapping, I would reccomend joining NYSTA and the NTA. My dad and I have been trapping as partners for over thirty five years now and he and I just attended the NYSTA regional NTA at Herkimer where my dad just introduced me to Mr. Johnny Thorpe.
My dad met some greats like E.J.Daley and Pete Rickard.

Anonymous said...

Ran across your blog and HAD to read this entery. Trapping was my thing for many years (we're the same age by the way)but the crash of the fur market in the 80's caused me to stop when my boys were babies. I've regretted for years not teaching them the art. Two of the masters were among my good friends, sadly one has passed. The mention of Andy Stoe and Johnny Thorpe gave me a warm feeling to! As Phil Robetson (The Duck Commander)once remarked at another "convention" of sorts when I asked him to autograph a hat for my youngest son - "he could do a lot worse than hunt ducks." Same goes for your boys, they could do a lot worse than hunting & trapping. I hope they've continued with it. There is no other activity that will teach a man (or boy) as much about nature as learning to read animal sign and deciding exactly which square inch some animal will place his foot that night! I'd considered trapping again this past fall but outside factors made me decide against it. I've shed a lot of material things through the years but I've held onto my traps for twenty years now. Part of the reason is nostalgia, part the knowledge that in the worst of times, they can feed me and maybe provide some barter goods. Without the fur trade N.America would have clung to the seaboard for another hundred years.
God bless.