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The grizzled elders of the fur trapping world, concerned for the conservation of the craft, tell trappers to bring a friend along on the line. Show them what it’s all about. Try to educate others and share the experience. My brother did just that.
I won’t say I’m a dedicated or skilled trapper. Work and motherhood has brought my time on the line to an abrupt halt, but I consider myself an advocate. My passion for trapping can be traced back to a drizzly November day many years ago. It was mid-morning. My brother Bill and I were out running the line, which spanned from one end of town to the other. I was driving my old 95 Ford Taurus, the kind that still had the square body and a bench seat, and he was riding shotgun. The trunk was loaded with equipment and dead animals. We put that car through a lot.
The day had started off unproductive. The first few spots we checked turned up nothing. We parked the car at the base of a hill, down an old dirt road, and prepared to hike into the location where we had set the night before. To get there we had to surmount a steep hill still wet from the night’s rain and lingering fog. On the other side of the hill is a long decline, steep at first and then gradual as it levels with the forest valley below. About three quarters of a mile into the wilderness, we reached the mucky pond and creek where we had gang set the area.
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There’s a culvert under the path that connects the pond and creek. Both sides were set, 110 on one end and a 160 on the other, and both sides held a muskrat. We were excited. A double! We collected our catch and moved on to the next trap, a Duke #1 coil spring set at the end of a small drainage pipe nearby. Our grins widened as we saw the dark brown fur of a mink in the water. We high fived and reset the trap. There was one more to check yet.
We walked along the edge of the pond towards the last set, a PVC pipe set in the bank of an outlet of the pond. My eyes quickly noticed the deep, dark gray fur of a big raccoon held in a Duke 1 ½ on a muddy ledge above the water. The bank within his catch circle was thrashed. We quickly dispatched the critter.
These four animals were all trapped within 25 yards of each other. Satisfied, we loaded up and began the walk back out to the road. The hill that stood between us and where we left the car never appeared so long and steep as it did on that day. The waterlogged raccoon seemed like it weighed 50 pounds! We took turns carrying it as we made our way up the hill.
Something happened that day. It wasn’t my first time on the line, but it was the first time I remember feeling really excited about it. Something about the thrill of a catch, the challenge it presents, and the connection with nature all worked together in me that day to spark an enduring interest in fur trapping.
After that I decided to take a local trapper education course. I found one at the Deerfield Fish and Game Club. It was spaced out over the course of a few days, on weekday evenings. The first night I was anxious, so I came in quietly and chose a spot near the back. I was the only female there for her own education. The other women in the room were mothers of tween boys taking the course.
We learned a lot about BMPs, or Best Management Practices. The instructors explained the documented laws and the unwritten code of trapping- both equally important to the brotherhood of fur takers. Although trapping is a solitary sport, our actions as trappers affect other trappers. We represent each other. Many people outside of our community of sportsmen do not understand us, or our sport. One lazy or unethical trapper taints the reputation of all trappers. It’s crucial for the future of trapping that we stick together and carry out our practices in the most ethical and proactive manner possible. This means checking our sets on time, not setting near a place where people walk their dogs or can easily see our sets, not trespassing or trapping on land without gaining permission first, and conducting ourselves in a respectful manner in public forums.
One of my instructors was Pasquale “Pat” Benzo, who was a big name in the trapping circle in my neck of the woods. At the end of the course there is a written test. When finished, I brought mine up to the desk where the instructors sat and handed it to Benzo for grading. I nervously shifted my weight to one foot and then back to other as he silently went through the answers one by one. Finally after what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a minute or two, Benzo smiled widely and marked my grade on top and slid the exam back across the table. I had passed with a 92 percent, to my great relief, and he even scribbled “good luck on the line” across the top of the paper. On my way out the instructors stopped me and said if I had any questions while out there in the field to give them a call. I sensed that I had crossed over from the world of outsiders, that I had been accepted. Despite my lacquered nails, my combed hair, and my femininity, I had been inducted into that rough and tough trapping community.
The following year I went to my first convention, the New York State Trapper’s Convention, held annually in September at the Herkimer County Fairgrounds. I went with my brother and his friend Shawn. The lady at the ticket booth acted happy to see me. I didn’t know her, but we shared a kinship; two rarities in the male-dominated club. She let me sneak by for free. (Solidarity, sister!)
It was a hot, sticky day and the dust from the dry grounds stuck to us as we walked in from the parking lot. I had brought a wad of cash because it was time to scour for deals and stock up. It reminded me a little bit of used car shopping. We inspected all the mechanisms of the second-hand traps, looking for signs of weakness, accepting the little indications of wear and tear. My brother took the lead, haggling with the weathered rednecks manning the booths. It was a lesson in negotiation.
My senses were alert to the varying textures, scents, sights, and noises. The silky furs were proudly displayed on tables and racks. The aroma of many pungent lures blending in the open air took my unsuspecting nose by surprise. Trappers of all ages crowded the booths, shouting conversation with the vendors over the loud crowds.
My arms were heavy with purchases on the way out. I was tired, but I was satisfied. My mind drifted towards the frosty autumn mornings to come.
When I decided to go back to college to complete my degree, I struggled to find enough time to devote to my outdoor passions, which also includes hiking, hunting, and fishing. Trapping is time-consuming, especially when it’s done right. But there’s really nothing like it. It requires a high level of dedication and tolerance for discomfort. There’s pride in it because it is so difficult. Catches are gratifying. There is satisfaction in hard work. I think that’s why it continues, despite a poor fur economy, public pressure, stricter guidelines, and declining numbers of young trappers.
During college I made a documentary about the current climate and history of fur trapping in New York for a film class I was taking. It was my favorite project of my entire college career. I was unsure of the reaction I would receive when I submitted this project to my professor at the private liberal arts college I attended. But he gave me an A and was so proud of my work, he used it to show off the program to prospective students visiting the college. That’s success in my book.
After I graduated, I returned to the outdoor-centered life that I love. My passions are an integral part of my life and crucial to my wellbeing. I would not be who I am today without these enduring connections to the natural world.