Archive for February, 2012
About a year ago now, I was cleaning out my collection of traps in the barn and trying to decide on the fate of some. There were #1 longsprings and #1.75 coils that I hadn’t used for several years and didn’t know if I’d take them afield any time soon.
A couple of guys on Trapperman.com had given away traps to young people just getting started in our sport. I thought that was an excellent idea, and exactly what I was looking for at that time. I proceeded to qualify a few young people and divided what I had to share amongst them. Threw in some books and other goodies for good measure as well.
One of the recipients, Braden Miller in South Dakota sent me this picture and note a short while later. Sure looks like he had a good time on the spring muskrat line in early 2011! The following brief exchange below describes this season for him so far:
[BM] Hey! I’m doing good, and ended the coyote season with 11, and got just over 400 rats so far! How have u done?
[AP] a few less rats than you so far! <lol> big congrats on an excellent season!
[BM] Yep, but the spring trapping will be very good! Your traps worked great this year and the majority of the coyotes I caught were with them! Thanks again!
As it turns out, I could have made use of those #1.75s this year had I hung onto them. But ya know what? I’m still glad I gave them away, and I’m especially glad Braden was able to some midwest coyotes with them.
After all… isn’t life itself all about give and take?
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There was just enough glare ice on the still and slow-moving waters this morning to keep my canoe in the barn. With only seven days left to the active season here in my part of New York, there is little time left and none to waste. I spent the day checking on small spots and puddles where pockets of rats picked up can add up by day’s end. But alas (again) there was nary a rat to be found.
While headed off to distant ROW properties I know hold some rats, I stopped on a whim at my former neighbor’s house. He happens to own several hundred acres of farmland, having sold the dairy herd last spring and switched entirely to crops. Behind their farm which was across the road from where I lived for ten years is the upper stretches of Cohocton River, which joins a few other flows headed south to eventually spill its way into Chesapeake Bay. I’m still quite a ways upstream from there… several hundred miles, at least :)
Now the water in question we speak of is literally one big artesian well that boils up out of the ground and joins the river (still just a creek, actually) soon after. The picture above shows what is called the “Blue Hole” where water literally swirls straight up out of the ground thru blue clay. It was the mining of “marl” clay that created these potholes which unearthed the subsurface flow many years ago. The water never truly freezes right there, and in mid-winter becomes the home for countless thousands of minnows. Local mink and otter like that, for sure.
Anyways, turns out a mutual friend of ours had taken six beaver earlier this season along with a handful of rats. It’s one of those grassy bottomland flows where the rats get big, real big from a diet of native bluestem grasses high in protein. It used to hold less water, was mostly one creek channel with side runs and pretty easy pickings for late winter trapping. Simply line the creek channel with #210s and sharpen those skinning knives.
This year the beaver dams are extensive, and water floods the entire bottom. That former creek channel is silted in completely and doesn’t even discern itself on the bottom in most places. Luckily I know it’s there, because one wrong step into it would put my head below water before I found bottom. One reason why I now ALWAYS wear a lifejacket when prowling any swamp. Too many potential traps like that exist in places I’m not (yet) intimately familiar with.
So I put in a few probe sets, need to return tomorrow and fill it with #210s because the existing runs are a little too wide for any smaller traps. From the general look of things there, I should be able to pull 30 – 40 rats by next Wednesday… and then it’s full-pull for another season passed.
Life slows down for me this weekend, gives me a chance to catch my breath. Our weekend magazine edition will post online Sunday, along with this month’s newsletter article exclusive to that format alone. The topic de juer will be trapping scent posts for muskrats along with making your own homemade and very deadly muskrat lure. It’s a timely topic, with tactics and tips we can put to use on the spring line next month. If you haven’t already enrolled in our newsletter membership base, I’ll repost that form again on Saturday. Enrollment is always free and it will always remain that way to our readers.
The end of trapping season here is just the beginning our our trapping coverage in this forum. We’ve got a lot of new features about to come online, not the least of which will be extensive videos footage of furbearers working mock sets, traveling their natural paths and a whole lot of educational coverage… brought to you by the furry critters themselves :)
I wish I had all night to visit, but back to the fleshing beam and boards for me. Coming to you on Sunday with a bunch of new material from several different voices. See you then!
Yet another beautiful February day in Upstate NY! This sweatshirt weather with grass showing and water flowing is not a typical trapping season.
Today I decided to head to the swamp close to my house and see if there were any water critters moving about. Since I was not setting or planning on getting in to the swam too deep, I threw on my knee boots to do some scouting( hind-sight is 20/20).
I find a gap in the brush and start my trek. The swamp looked very promising flowing water with narrow channels, tufts of swamp grass, and some old beaver chews. I thought to myself these are great signs of what’s deeper in this swamp. Doing your homework before a mid-season scouting trip like this really pays off, so before I made my outing I took a peek at some areal maps on my computer to find the best route.
I continued my mission searching for any bit of evidence of life, not seeing to much besides a broken down beaver dam and an old hut, not a trace of any furbearer that I am after.
I decide to go a bit further before I give up my quest. I cross one of the feeder streams that meanders through the humps of grass… Or attempt to.. Word to the wise when scouting in a swamp always opt for the waders over knee boots, and never trust a swamp grass hump. The good news is once the water in the boots warms up it isn’t too bad!
I figured I had done enough damage for the afternoon so I decided to head for the trees, and take the dry way home. As I get closer to the other side of the swamp I spot a few signs of life, a set of fisher tracks and a few sets of k9 tracks, they will have to wait until next season.
All in all I had a great day outside. Just remember when in doubt wear waders, and never trust swamp grass humps no matter how sturdy they “look”.
Happy Trapping :)
The end to yet another busy week has arrived. My taxidermy shop has been very busy all week between taking in bounties from this season for tanning, to prepping mannikins from the past deer season I have not had much spare time.
When you have so much to do it is hard to even know where all the time went! I do enjoy being busy as I find it rewarding to wake up every morning and go to bed tired every night.
Spending time tanning and working with fur got me thinking I should write a little about the process of a small scale tanning operation like mine.
It all starts with you the fur trapper, you make a catch and decide that this catch is going to be on your wall! From this point on it can go one of many ways… You can skin the animal process it and put it up just like any of your other catches, then ship it or deliver it to my door( I like to have visitors.) or you can bring the animal to me whole, or I will also accept fresh frozen hides. I will take in a fur for tanning in just about any form you want to bring it with the exception of slipping or still breathing!
Now the fur is in my hands what’s next? If the fur is dried it must be rehydrated until pliable, if green it is ready for the washing process. All fur goes through my rigorous cleaning/ degreasing procedure. First the pelts are placed into a degreasing wash with a commercial solution, they are hand washed making sure both the hide and fur are fully penetrated. After this the pelts go through a cold water rinse and a few minute drip dry while I prepare the next wash. The next wash is a odor eliminating wash along with a second wash of the fur, it is very important to start with a clean fur so the end product can be it’s best. The pelts will once again go through a cold water rinse and be hung to drip dry for a couple of hours.
Now the pelts are prepped to enter the tanner. My tanner is a 22gal auto tanner from TASCO company. The tanner can take a good amount of fur depending on the size of the pelts. This tanner works off of a pre-mixed commercial chemical solution, water, and 50lbs of air pressure. Once the pelts are loaded into the tanner it is kind of a set it and forget it operation (for the moment), the furs are in the solution for a minimum of 4 hours as the tanner slowly turns to tan the entire batch evenly.
When the tanner has finished it’s cycle my hard work begins. All hides must be drained, then rinsed and hung fur side out to drip dry. I will blow the furs out individually to speed up the process, then place them on a stretcher fur side out over night. The next day I invert the pelts to skin side out and place back onto the stretcher. The drying process takes the longest, about 2-3 days for the 70% dryness I am looking for.
The skins are now starting to look leather like and are ready for the next step. I oil each skin by hand and roll them in order for the oil to sweat into the hide, this takes one night. It will ensure the best flexibility on the finished product.
Once the hide has absorbed the oil it goes into the breaking process. I break all hides by hand at this point, hope to have a tumbler soon but, I work with what I have. Each pelt is rubbed over an edge to stretch the skin fibers and bring back flexibility and suppleness. It takes about 30 min average, some larger pelts more, smaller pelts less always using the the same process.
Once the leather is flexible the skin is once again inverted fur side out. Each pelt is then blown out and brushed to make it as pretty as they can be.
A commercial tannery has a lot of tools that make these processes more efficient so more fur can be processed in a shorter period of time. The biggest difference from my small scale tanning to the big guys is the turn-around time, I can have your fur back in your hands in less than a month, the big guys have a 6 month plus time frame. In the end you always have a beautifully preserved fur that holds the memory of your catch and will last a lifetime.
… before I sleep. It’s 10:30pm est, I’ve been skinning for awhile and those furs you see on the table need to go on those boards behind them. I should have the truck cleaned, packed, loaded and ready to head out by daybreak tomorrow.
Running and rotating one existing line on private ground, adding some foothold traps and continuing the push upstream all morning. Then lunch, change into dry clothes and push my second canoe into public waters for one more float thru some familiar territory.
The big male rats are cruising heavily now: fresh droppings on every old toilet, aged beaver mudpie and anything that resembles a clump of dirt along water’s edge. They aren’t marking the downed logs and timber or debris yet… but my catch is running 85% males to females.
So tomorrow and Sunday are all about laying out footholds on toilets, setting body traps in fresh runs and pushing from dark to dark both days. Pull the private line Monday, the public line Tuesday and see where our numbers are when snow flies Tuesday night.
That’s about all the time I have to visit with y’all for tonight… and spare time might be in short supply for the next three days. But the end of season draweth nigh, it’s too close for comfort and I’m close enough for my own personal season goal to see it nearly within reach.
Miles to go before I haul out my canoes for the final time in our southern zone season, too :)
It was late in the day when I pulled my canoe up to an iced-over channel that lead to a grassy slough off the river. A heavy trail of bubbles trapped below waning ice led to the visible house nestled back in the cove, so I wound up setting four #160s on location. Two of them in the main run itself just inside the river’s edge, and two others in a shallow run that led to a heavily used, fresh droppings toilet.
I could clearly see a double on rats in the main channel as my friend Bill Hall swung his end (stern) of the canoe around, pushing my end (bow) up into the shallows. As I stepped out of the boat, a third rat’s tail was floating by the toilet. The fourth trap rested untouched. Heck, three out of four rats… all big males at that ain’t too bad for one stop.
My first act was to remove the untouched trap and position it somewhere else or safety hook the springs and take it further upriver where we intended to extend the line. As I approached the empty trap, I could see a live muskrat lying motionless on the bottom, mere inches from swimming into the open jaws. Soon as he saw my boots in the muck, that muskrat flipped a 180-degree turn and disappeared beneath the grassy runs in front of me.
After way too long, it sure was good to be back online. I’ve spent the past week either riding around with a truck full of traps looking for somewhere to set, waiting for ice to clear off, waiting for flooded waters to recede, or both. On Tuesday I made the mistake of floating into an unexplored waterway which when examined by Google earth, simply didn’t make sense. The lake outlet I intended to float didn’t show up on the satellite maps as a steady stream running… it appeared to disappear at times.
No matter, those minor details cannot deter our muskrat mission. I pushed off by myself with a dozen #330s, five dozen #160s on stakes and various other gear into the wide, deep lake outlet channel. By and by I soon realized firsthand what the earth maps were trying to depict. That big flow reached a delta of grassy bottom woods, ash trees mixed with tag alder, and promptly spread out a mile wide and ankle deep.
Long, miserable story short: I launched the canoe at noon, reached my pullout point some four miles away at 5pm. Four miles, five hours. Five brutal, gut-busting hours of dragging my laden canoe over, under, around and thru every possible obstacle you can think of. I won’t take any more time relating that saga, because I’d just as soon forget it ever happened to me.
Earlier that day, what appeared to be a minor software glitch for this site turned into an all-out, outright website crash. Thru a couple twists of fate, coupled with a bad judgement error on my part, the entire database of articles, images, comments… everything got wiped off the server with one click of a button.
Long, miserable story (II) short: I spent hours on the phone with customer service of the server host before we finally got things restored to prior normalcy. We did lose a bit of data and a couple of unanswered comments… due to the site being restored by turning it back to an earlier date in time. Suffice it to say none of that will ever happen again, end of story.
In any event, it is good to be back online and sharing experiences with you once more. Once more, and forever more :)
I pulled the untouched trap, reset the catch-filled trap and made my way back towards the river-edge run. Those two catches waiting for me there weren’t going anywhere. I had cached some gear from the canoe back downstream, making space in the center for pulled traps with room on both ends for heavily-dressed trappers.
This was the first time all year I wasn’t in the boat myself, so it took a little arranging to make sure ample room was had by all. In that cache was the good camera, and Bill dutifully paddled back over there to retrieve what I forgot. While he paddled off, I held the unset trap in my hand and pondered whether to set that in its new location first or clear the double catch and reset those instead.
Thinking I’d have Bill snap a couple photos of the double when he returned, I picked out a narrow spot in the run and shoved its stake into the mud. No sooner had I done that, my hand still on the top of that stake when “snap”… the trap fired off.
By random fate and perfect timing (at least for me) the muskrat that played possum back near the toilet set had worked his way thru the underwater labyrinth of runs and attempted to make good his escape into the open river depths ahead. In less than perfect timing for him, I barely managed to block his path with the only empty trap around. He’d have needed to dodge a couple of other muskrat bodies in his way that currently clogged the other traps, but that was it.
This location is private ground that was somewhat worked over in the first two weeks of water season, more than two months ago. Meanwhile, big male rats are now on the move. Fresh toilets with piles of droppings are showing up more and more. Simply a matter of setting the channels and runs, setting the toilets and let those big boys come to us.
There are fifty-two #160s guarding travel zones in there tonight. Tomorrow I’ll rotate half of those and add another couple dozen #210s as well. Saturday I’ll keep rotating upriver, and add another forty #110s for two final trap checks. Monday I’ll pull everything, as Tuesday is forecast to return the reality of winter to western New York.
Been a very unusual weather year, to state the obvious. We’ve had literally no ice trapping season at all. Then again, we’ve had just a wee bit too much ice for most floating efforts, too. Just today this grassy bottom river marsh is opened enough to traverse. Chunks of ice floating by in random fashion means a few more stretches off the back sloughs will be accessible tomorrow. Three more set & check, one more check & pull and the open water season here in our zone comes to an end.
Here’s hoping a continued push upriver keeps rolling into fresh new toilets and endless travel runs. I’ve got one more round of late nights skinning left in me before I’m sick of it all for another year.
Sick of it all. Yeah, right! <lol>
There is Nothing Like Your First
by Wade Looker
I started trapping muskrats with my dad when I was 8 years old. He started taking me on the line with him from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper. Ever since those days I have been catching fox, coyote and bobcat on my own.
It seems like every time I talk to a trapper about how they got started this is the answer I receive. Well, it’s not my story. I actually just started last year! I had always been interested in trapping but did not have a good source of information to form a basis to start from, nor did I have time in my rigorous fall and winter basketball schedule. Finally, I started college and was no longer tied to the court. I was able to run a small trapline with a college friend on weekends and Christmas break. I soaked up all the information that I could from books and websites and other sources.
I gawked at the pictures that I saw of huge catches of raccoon and muskrat and dreamt of having my own catches, but what really caught my eye was the coyote pictures. Something about going out and catching the smartest animal in the woods just spoke to me. I read as much as I could about catching the elusive “songdog.”
I did not make any sets during the weekends because I only had 2 check days, however, once Thanksgiving break came I made some sets. My family had routinely seen a coyote running the fencerow behind our house. I took two traps (I had heard about gang setting) and made a dirthole set and a urine post set at the fencerow. A couple nights later I heard lots of howling from the fence row and I was restless with anticipation at the thought of having a coyote in the morning.
I awoke first thing in the morning and went to check. It became painfully obvious that I did not have a coyote awaiting me. But the news only got worse. As I got closer I started to see how events unfolded. I went to where the trap was supposed to be and found an empty trap bed, and a few feet later found a stake. According to the books, a trap cross staked with two 18” rebar stakes should hold coyotes. In this case, the books were wrong. I had made a catch but unfortunately the coyote has pumped the stakes out of the ground and ran off with my trap. A few days later, one of my neighbors shot the coyote and was able to return my trap. Lesson one: coyotes are powerful animals.
A few weeks had passed with me away at school. I read something about cable stakes on a website and ordered a dozen. There would be no escaping next time! Finally Christmas break arrived and found me back on the line. While deer hunting a property, I saw 4 coyotes and was able to secure permission. I immediately went to where a finger of the woods protruded into a cut corn field. In this finger of woods was a pond. I set a trap at each side of the pond’s dam. One was a urine post on a corn stalk. The other was a double dirthole with sheep’s wool.
I also went back to the fencerow to make more sets. I had read about something called a post hole set. It is where you dig a hole about a foot deep and about a foot across. You put small holes in the side of the bottom of the hole for bait and lure. Directly in the bottom you put a trap. I also put another dirt hole and another urine post set there.
Each day I checked I became less and less confident in myself. There were tracks ALL OVER the sets at the fence row but I could never connect. I had traps dug up and snapped which taught me lesson number 2: bed your traps ROCK SOLID. After learning this lesson I remade all my sets.
Finally, after another few days of waiting I came upon this… my first ever trapped coyote! I can’t describe to you the elation I felt. I had finally done it. I went out and caught the top natural predator in my area. I had been able to get the smartest animal around to step on a tiny piece of ground! I felt more accomplished than I have ever been as a trapper. It was caught at the pond dam set! While this was definitely not the biggest coyote I have now caught it is without a doubt the most memorable.
It was finally time for me to go back to school and end my season. I pulled all my traps except the ones at the post hole set. The field was still pretty wet and I did not want to drive across his wet field with the four-wheeler. I awoke the next morning, the morning that I had to leave, and saw this beautiful female awaiting me. Every other trap was frozen except for the one that caught her. I sure am glad I decided to wait that extra day.
So even if you don’t start trapping like most others do, there is still time to catch up. I encourage everyone to get someone else involved in trapping no matter their age.At 20 years old, I caught my first coyote and I can honestly say that there is nothing like your first.