Along the Traplines Today
Austin Passamonte 02.01.12
“Trapping? You mean people still do that these days?”
“I used to trap years ago when (fill in the blank) and I’d like to get back into it.”
“My (relative, neighbor) traps, and talking to him about this year it has me anxious to get started.”
These are all very common responses I hear whenever the subject of recreational fur trapping is brought up. Many people think the only mode of trapping left today is for rodents inhabiting their kitchen, or that local guy with an ad in the yellow pages who wanted $250 to remove a nuisance squirrel from grandma’s attic.
Truth is, recreational trapping as a sport, pursuit and in some cases a profession is definitely alive and well. Alive, well and growing in popularity all the time. To some people the idea of trappers and trapping evokes images of mountain men, buckskin clothes and beaver pelts wrested from hostile indian territory. That was accurate some three hundred years ago as the westward exploration and expansion of our country was taking place. But modern fur trapping is a far different story indeed.
Most states in the U.S. require some type of structure training from certified instructors before a trapping license or permit can be purchased. Those basic lessons include education on season dates and regulations, the type of traps and equipment permitted, sensible use of equipment in harmony with urban society, people and their pets.
Animal traps today include versions of the historic “paw-hold” style along with a variety of others. There are similar traps designed to be completely dog-proof for use with raccoons as the target species inside of public and private hunting areas, wire mesh box or cage traps on land are useful in many situations and square-shape traps with a round-bars design that close in scissors-type action for quick dispatch of target species on land or in water. Best-management practices have been studied in scientific fashion to develop and perfect the best possible performance from trapline equipment in use today.
Wild furs from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere have enjoyed a resurgence in demand that can best be described as dramatic boom in the past several years, courtesy of strong desire for fur products in Russian, China, Japan and other newly affluent markets. Fur coats have been coveted since time immemorial for natural comfort and durability in the coldest possible weather. Appearance and beauty are added features to the natural function of this 100% renewable resource.
The fact that wild furs are indeed a renewable resource fits right in with the “go green” movement of late. Nature cannot be stockpiled: wild fur-bearing animals are amongst the most populous and widespread species out there. Coyote, fox, raccoon, bobcats, beavers, mink and muskrats are primary species of interest along with opossums and skunks as incidental catches. All of the critters listed above are thriving and in some cases creating a nuisance situation across the country. Beaver dams often flood precious acres of bottomland timber and field crops. Beaver cuttings can decimate sections of corn fields, ornamental trees and shrubs or critical vegetation. Raccoon damage to sweet corn, grape vineyards and fruit orchards can be considerable.
From a wildlife standpoint, coyote and bobcats are very effective predators of newborn big-game animals. Fox, coon, possums and skunks all take heavy tolls on ground-nesting bird and mammal nests of young. Threatened and endangered species of birds or mammals might hinge on the balance of survival or extinction solely due to focused predator control.
Those are all good reasons why animal trapping in the modern world remains a highly effective tool of conservation management, not to mention the fact that muskrat (known as “marsh hare” in east coast restaurants), beaver and raccoon meat are highly desirable table fare in many parts of the country. Other uses for animal carcasses post-skinning include making baits and lures for trapping efforts, feed for animal farms, wildlife rehab centers and zoos and other protein-based renderings. I would opine that the greatest “waste” would be fur-bearing animals lost to various disease or death on highways from traffic.
Part of the recent resurgence closer to land use involves the green movement, but another part is the global economy’s downward spiral and economic contraction. Not everyone can still afford out-of-state or exotic hunting and fishing trips. When those seasons end in any given state, then what is an outdoorsman (or woman) to do?
Fur trapping is a pursuit that usually runs from late fall through winter and in most cases right into early spring for most states in the U.S. If the weather is still cool or cold, chances are there is something still open to be pursued. The best part is, trapping is a sport that can easily pay for itself (or more) in time. Many experienced trappers realize some type of profit above costs each year. A number of them use the extra income for Christmas gifts, a new gun or maybe save towards an out-of-state trip.
As with any profession that involves money, a small percentage of fur trappers make much or most of their annual income on fur sales alone. Current fur prices this season include red fox and coyote selling for $25 to $50, raccoon and beaver pelts from the teens to $30s, male mink at $25 and muskrats averaging $9 to $10 nose count across the board. That can add up substantially for top-level trappers in Iowa who bag two to three thousand coon per season or mid-west muskrat trappers who put up five to ten thousand muskrats in good years.
But the vast majority of active fur trappers out there each year are men and women who view it as a part-time, weekends and vacation type of sport that supports itself. Cash or checks from fur sales cover gasoline and travel, perhaps add to more traps and gear purchased, etc. Some trappers have their own vest, coats, blankets and teddy bears made from furs. Regardless, it is much easier to justify time spent afield in our great outdoors when it does not drain the family budget… or actually adds to it instead. Much easier see to your family and significant other when a fur check comes home at season’s end, versus one more credit card bill.
We could easily go on and on, but suffice it to say that trapping as a hobby, pastime or profession in modern times is alive and well. Our time spent here going forward will detail exactly what it takes and what one needs to enjoy success in one of mankind’s oldest pursuits of all. Thank you for joining us in conversation, and I look forward to discussing the specifics of traps and gear next time!