Rustic Maverick and His Start in Trapping - By Gypsy Trailblazer
Hello my friends, welcome back! This time I am going to introduce you all to one of my greatest friends, Rustic Maverick. Born and raised near a significant mountain range in the northeast, he is the living spirit of a true outdoorsman and I think you will enjoy many of the conversations I have with him. For over 41 years, he spends as much time as he can on the trap line. Like all friends, he shares his trials and successes with me as he checks his trap lines. Due to the terrain where he lives, cell phone signal can be very poor so we keep in touch by exchanging text messages. (Surprisingly text messages will send on barely one bar of signal, so keep that in mind in case you have signal issues.) Join us as I share our latest discussion…
(A picture appears in a text on my cell phone of animal tracks in the snow, with the caption, “Let’s see what we have on the trap line today!”)
Gypsy Trailblazer (GT): How did you get started trapping?
Rustic Maverick (RM): I don't really know the why. Why do people climb mountains? No one in my immediate family trapped, but for some reason when I was like 3 or 4 years old, I saw a Daniel Boone movie or series on our black and white TV, and I remember him tracking bears and other animals. I thought that was the neatest thing to be able track and catch a beast. Then there were other things he did like building shelter and fires, and finding food in the woods. I don't know why it tripped my trigger but it did. Must be something primal, but I decided back then that I wanted to be able to do that, or at least some of it. So it started me gravitating towards anything outdoors that had to do with wilderness survival or primitive living; books, TV shows and movies. There was Davey Crockett, the Pony Express, storybooks of Native Americans like Crazy Horse, and the mountain men. Once I started reading about them, the westward expansion, the fur trade, and incredible things some of them had to go through, I was hooked. These people were my boyhood heroes and I wanted to be like them.
As fate would have it my folks got divorced when I was about 6 or 7 years old and my mother moved us into a house across the road from my grandmother's. It turned out one of the teenage boys from the neighboring farm was trapping on my grandmother's land. One Saturday morning I happened to be there when he came to check his traps and I got to walk with him around her pond as he checked raccoon and muskrat traps. That was the day I got to see my first critter in a trap. It was a large raccoon that had gotten caught at a muskrat set that was baited with a slice of apple on a stick at the water’s edge. Well that did it! It was not my trap, or my raccoon but from that moment on, I was a lifelong trapper! There was no turning back. My problem was I had no traps or knowledge. As you would guess, I hung out with that kid at his farm and on his trap line as much as I could. The two places I loved to be the most. He kind of got me headed in the right direction. About age 8 my father gave me some old muskrat traps that a friend of his had hanging in his garage and did not want. Dad also gave me a book called "Trapping North American Fur Bearers" by S. Stanley Hawbaker. That book not only started my trapping education in earnest but also my love for reading. It is still in print today. At age 9 mom remarried an older widowed farmer that had lived through the depression and had farmed with horses. He raised blue tick coonhounds and hunted raccoons and trapped foxes, both out of necessity. The raccoons were in the corn so bad one year they started hunting them to try to save the corn crop and that started him on raccoons. In the 1940s or 1950s when chickens were big business, he started trapping red fox to keep them from killing the chickens. He lived about 30 miles from a well-known trapper of the time by the name of Pete Rickard. He came and showed my stepfather how and where to set traps on the farm to stop the red foxes. My stepfather as old enough to be my grandfather but for a kid who had a desire to learn about the old ways it was a dream come true. Instead of watching TV every night with my mother and two sisters, I would sit at the kitchen table and grill my stepfather about how they, hunted, trapped, farmed, and just all around lived back in the "old days.” It was the best history lesson a boy could have. Some of those sessions would start at 7 pm and go to 2 or 3 in the morning. I think he loved reminiscing and I loved listening. He was the first person to show me how to make a dirt hole set for fox and he bought me my first real good dozen of traps. They were round jaw number 2 victor traps. He taught me everything he knew about trapping, from types of traps and trap sets, to animal behavior and skinning the catch. He was hands down the most instrumental mentor I had in my trapping career, and I loved him for it.
Back before the 1980s, trapping techniques were held very close to your vest. Times were hard enough that if you knew how to trap foxes or mink and to a lesser extent raccoon and beaver, you kept quiet on how you did it. You did not want everyone to be able to hone in on your turf or animals when what you were doing was feeding you or your family, so it was hard to learn anything. Unless you had a mentor and that’s what my stepfather was and I will be forever grateful to him for what he did for me.
GT): Which animals do you typically trap?
(RM): Mostly fox, coyote, raccoon, fisher, mink, muskrat, and beaver. Otter by mistake 😉. They are reintroducing them around here and they are getting so thick it is hard to keep them out of beaver sets, and the state still will not open a season on them. If you catch one you are supposed to turn them in if, they are dead, and release them if they are not harmed. I have released a few. I trap bobcats occasionally. I have been neglecting them because their market price is down in my state and I would like to see them become more populated. If I have the time, I may do some glory trapping and trap a few next year. They are getting thick here where I live in the state. A co-worker caught seven this past season, and three other trapper friends each catch one or two each season even though they are just targeting coyotes. Glory trapping is trapping for exotics like bobcats and fisher, the things that few trappers catch numbers of but would like to.
(GT): How can someone get started trapping?
(RM): Today it is a whole different ball game. Besides having a mentor as a kid, I also had a few books written by known trappers like Hawbaker and O.L. Butcher. There was The "Fur-Fish-Game" magazine and another one in the early 1980s called "Trapper and Predator Caller" but that was about it. Most written articles were kind of vague on the information. They would say such things as set your trap where the animal would be sure to pass close by it. Then they would say set your trap so the animal would have to cross the trap to get to your bait or lure. Sounds simple, right? Sounds pretty basic, no? Well it is. "IF" you have the experience of catching critters, but if you have never caught a critter you do not have experience, and remember your reading to find out HOW to catch critters. It sounds simple but if you have never trapped YOU TELL ME where does a fox travel most often. Or a mink. Alternatively, raccoon. Or beaver. Not so easy is it? LOL! Now set that trap where an animal has to cross it. Ok. Do you set it on top of the ground exposed? Do you dig a hole to make the trap level with the ground? I'll tell you it depends on how and what your trapping. Do you cover the trap with anything? If so, what? Leaves, grass, dirt, snow, water, dried livestock manure? 40 years later I say yes to all that. How do you keep sets from freezing in late fall and winter? Most of these fine details were hinted at but you pretty much had to put in your time on the ground and in the woods to be able to kind of read between the lines, so to speak. Tom Miranda was the first person to offer trapping instruction courses via video cassette in the early to mid-1980s, and boy was it a game changer! Today if person wanted to start trapping, they could learn as much or more in 3 to 5 years as it took me to learn in 25 years.
Today with Google and YouTube, you would learn things in an hour that may have taken me 3 years of trial and error or waiting for someone's book to come out. There are very few secrets to keep on from becoming a proficient trapper in a relatively short time. There are state and national organizations you can join, like Fur Harvesters or the National Trappers Association. That can get you started and connected to a network of like-minded people. There are state and national trapper conventions held every year with live demos of set making and trapping techniques. YouTube is also a good starting point, but there is even better information to be had in the plethora of instructional books and DVDs put out by trappers that have done what you want to do as a trapper. The information age is truly amazing to a guy like me that grew up in the hills and cow country where even today cell phone use works intermittently! LOL! Anyone wanting to get started trapping today has almost all the information they need literally at their fingertips. That being said information is useless until its put to use, and you still need to get on the ground and gain experience. Sorry, there is no short cut for that, but at least you can know where to start and have a basic idea of what you are looking at while out there. All thanks to the web. Amazing!
RM would love to share his knowledge if you like to learn more about trapping. We can chat about trapping in general, or specific animals. Please let us know if you want to keep up with this discussion. See you next time!
Thanks for reading.
By Gypsy Trailblazer
Bravo Echo Out,