After All These Years Trapping Still Captures My Interest

Check back in the history book far enough and you will discover that in most states trapping and the fur trade was the impetus for exploration and eventual settlement. In Minnesota, for instance, records of the fur trade date back into the 1600s. Long before the lumber industry, minerals or agriculture drew settlers to the wilds of Minnesota, it was the fur trade that lured trappers to discover the riches of Upper Great Plains states.

I remember fondly how I first became interested in trapping. Fortunately, I grew up on a farm that had a small river meandering through it. During the summer months as a child, I would spend countless hours playing in the water catching chubs, crayfish and blood-suckers. I thought I knew everything about the river…but boy was I in for quite a surprise.

On one fall day I encountered my buddy, Mitch, in the river wearing hip boots and obviously doing something I was curious about. Mitch indicated to me that he was trying his hand at trapping…in particular he was trapping for mink and muskrats. I said WHAT? There’s no mink or rats down by the river. After all, I had grown up with this river in my backyard and if there were any such critters to be found I would surely have seen them with all the time spent near the river.

Wow…did I soon discover I had lots to learn about the outdoors. Indeed, it was trapping that peaked my interest in everything outdoors. I suppose you could say I cut my sportsman’s teeth, so to speak, by “laying steel” in the river in and around my family’s farm.

As I reflect back I truly believe that my experiences as a trapper helped develop my keen outdoor skills in ways I could not have otherwise gained them. Sure, in the beginning you make lots of rookie mistakes…and eventually you grow tired of finding empty traps each day. In time, however, you do your research and you learn about the proper ways to humanely catch these critters. Furthermore, trapping forces an interaction with the animal that is at a level higher than, for instance, the hunting sportsman likely ever reaches. Indeed, for a trapper to consistently succeed one must depend on much more than luck…it’s necessary to map out strategy by thinking like the quarry you pursue.

A good example of this is when I would trap for mink. You would imagine yourself as the mink and where his likely travel routes might be. You speculate when the mink is traveling along the riverbank under exposed tree roots, etc…and perhaps when he must enter the water to swim to continue the journey upstream. Sometimes, as a trapper you would make artificial “sets” that would be visible and attractive to a mink. Along the way every precaution must be made not to leave human scent or to disturb the area in some unnatural way.

During my high school years I was so into trapping and the outdoors that nothing in the fall could interrupt this activity. I was not real popular with the school football coach when I told him that no way was I participating in that after-school sport. I needed all the time I could get after school for tending to my trapline and processing my furs each evening for market.

My interest in trapping couldn’t have come at a better time, either. The heyday of modern trapping had to be back in the mid to late 70s when fur prices where at an absolute premium. It was common for raccoon to bring $40 to $60, male mink would commonly bring upwards of $45 or more, red fox were averaging around $70, and even muskrats brought $8 or more for quality pelts. Sure, this kind of money to a young high-school kid certainly looked attractive, but the real thrill for me was to outwit some very wary animals.

I’m proud to admit that trapping served as a great foundational experience from which I eventually branched off into many different areas of outdoor enjoyment, such as deer hunting, turkey hunting, etc. But as I reflect back on that morning when I caught my very first mink…on that particular day I was on top of the world with excitement. Coincidentally, the day I caught my first mink was also the morning when Mitch caught his first red fox with a dirt-hole land set.

Certainly much has changed in our world during the past 25 years. I’ve gotten older and I don’t have the same desires I once did to experience leaky, cold boots each morning. While trapping can be very challenging and fun, what most people don’t realize is its very hard work that is time-consuming. Yet, sometimes the price you pay as a youth is worth every bit of the experience and the fond memories for later in life.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.