Trapped By My Own Stupidity

I have a confession to make…something I’ve admitted to few people in my life up until now.   In fact, the little story I’m about to relate remains one of the most embarrassing moments in my sportsman’s career.   So why am I about to share this with you now?   Two reasons…first, as I reflect back now nearly 30 years later I have to admit it is rather funny.   Not to mention I also just finished reading about another outdoors writer who had the very same thing occur to him…almost down to the detail.   Somehow, I’m now taking some solace in the fact I have not experienced this life event completely alone.

What happened?   Well, during my second year of trapping (when I was about 14 or 15 years old) I actually trapped myself.   Due to my negligence and youthful inexperience of placing the trap…it released and my right arm happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.   The jaws clamped around my wrist so tight I’m not sure if it was the surprise of the trap unexpectantly being triggered or the pressure it immediately placed on my wrist that got me most excited.

It happened like this.   I had just purchased a new Victor Conibear #220 trap for use during the water trapping season mostly for use on raccoons.   The conibear trap is intended to be a “killer style” trapping device because the springs release with such power and velocity that it will either snap the neck on the captured prey or it will eventually choke off the air supply.   It’s an effective trap when used properly, but it’s also a trap that’s not forgiving because of the nature in how it works.


As I recall the details…I had just gotten home from school and I rushed out into the woods to tend my trap-line.   On this particularly November evening, I decided to place my new trap in a promising spot.   For those who are not familiar with the operations of the trap, you will see there are two springs on either side of the device.   These springs have to be compressed together on both sides of the trap which is no easy task…at least not without the use of the proper setting tool.   The particular tool I used required BOTH hands to compress one spring at the time on either side…then you moved on to the other.   Eventually with both springs compressed…you can set the triggering mechanism to fire when an animal attempts to move through the square opening.

I had just finished driving a long stake into the hard ground to secure the trap when I foolishly decided that the triggering mechanism had some debris on it that had to be removed.   Instead of placing the safety catches on both of the springs…in my youthful exuberance I chose to carefully tempt fate.   SNAP!!!!    Before I could even react to the surprise of the device clamped on my wrist a flood of thoughts passed through my mind.   First and foremost was the thought of how I would explain breaking my wrist to my mother if indeed I had injured myself.   Secondly, my trapping buddy was due to come walking by on the river at any time and I most certainly didn’t want to have him see me in this predicament.

The problem is how do you release a trap from your arm when it ordinarily takes two hands to operate the springs in the first place?   Furthermore, when your hand is growing more numb with each passing moment and you are unsure if you have broken any bones…the situation seems to be quite desperate.

Well, after several agonizing minutes which seemed almost like an eternity…I finally used my free hand and a knee to carefully compress each of the springs.   Once free, I immediately laid on a log and dowsed my sore wrist into the cool running river water to help relieve the swelling.   Fortunately, the trap released shut on the narrow side of my wrist…because had it closed on my wrist turned at a 90 degree angle it most certainly would have done some damage to my arm.

As I recall it that particular trap did not see a whole lot of use for the remainder of that particular trapping season.   Oh sure, I did use it again in seasons to come…but I had a whole new respect for the conibear “body-gripping” style of trap.

Over the years I did share my mis-adventure of being trapped by my own trap with a few select friends…and of course they laughed quite heartily.   But to this very day I have not had the courage to tell my mother what happened for fear she might still somehow attempt to take my traps away from me.   You see…every night when I left the house heading for the trap-line she admonished me…“Don’t get hurt or I will take those traps away from you!”   To a young trapper…the only thing worse than being embarrassed by getting caught in your own trapset would be to lose the privileges to participate thanks to a parent who was concerned you might get hurt out just having some fun in the woods.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Longliners I’ve Known

This evening I was paging through one of my outdoor magazines and I came across a term of which I wonder if most sportsmen are familiar these days.   The term is “longlining” and unless you are a trapper or have trapping-related interests…I’m guessing you probably have never heard of it.

In fact, if you were to Google the term you would be more apt to find it used in connection with commercial fishing operations and not trapping.   But that’s not what we’re talking about here.   I want to introduce you to a type of sportsman that I’m speculating is slowly becoming a dying breed within our sportsman community.

Essentially a longliner is a trapper who during the season spends the better portion of the day tending to and managing his trapline.   I’m not talking about a recreational trapper who spends a few hours before work…or a schoolboy who checks his traps after school.   Nope, I’m talking about the sportsman who likely has 100 or more traps set at any one time and likely drives 100s of miles each day to accomplish that task.

In many ways this sportsman keeps a low profile and does not like to advertise his presence as he moves through his territory.   The main reason is most trappers I know seem to be a solitary bunch…and with good reason.   If others see what they are doing…they stand a much better chance of losing a trap and wasting a set.   That’s why I would venture to guess most sportsmen would not even know if a good longliner happens to be working an area where they hunt or fish.

Now I started thinking about the longliner this evening not for who they are…but how they must be effected by our changing world.   When your sport requires you to drive 5,000 or more miles each season…certainly the increasing cost of gas is a big factor.   So, too, must be the loss of places to trap with fence-lines being removed and houses popping up seemingly all over.   Not to mention that when you must live with the volatile fur markets…it all boils down to a lot of hard work for very marginal profit.

Still, anybody who has ever trapped knows that most people in the sport do not do it primarily for the money.   Oh sure, it helps pays some bills and I’m sure for some it supplements the household income…but I will be the first to contend there are much easier ways to make money than trapping.   In fact, what drives most trappers is the one-to-one challenge of trying to outwit a fur-bearer…a feeling quite similar to trying to outsmart a wiley old buck or to waylay an old gobbler.

But the longliners I know have a passion for the sport that goes much deeper.   They spend most of the year fixing equipment and preparing for the fall season that may only last a few weeks, depending on what type of animals are being trapped.   Of course, some diehard longliners don’t just settle for a few weeks…they will move across the country maybe starting out by water trapping in a tri-state area in late November/early December…and then moving on halfway across the country to partake in dry land-trapping after predators through the holidays and into January.

The work is hard…the days are long…and the nights seem to grow shorter and shorter as the season progresses.   Most of these longliners use their vehicles as their mobile office where they both work and sleep.   Sound glamorous?   Well, if you haven’t figured it out by now…the life of being a sportsman is not always about comfort and convenience.

So the next time you are out pheasant hunting and you see a guy parked alongside the road wearing rubber boots…you might just be looking at a longliner who doesn’t have much time for chit chatting.   In fact, most of these folks are on such a tight schedule that you can almost set your clock by when they will check their sets each day.

Today I introduced you to the longliner because I’m convinced most hunters and fishermen are not aware of this person’s existence in the outdoors.   Just as you take your deer hunting or your fishing very seriously…there are folks who use that same energy level to trap mink or fox.   It’s time this passion gets recognized as a legitimate facet of the sportsman community.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

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.