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Opening day of trapping season 2012 – 13 did not go anything like I planned. Since early April this spring, I spent most of my time and thoughts preparing for a muskrat marathon effort from North Dakota to start, then on thru northern to southern zones New York and possibly other states later, too.
But the historical drought that swept this country and decimated water levels in most traditional muskrat locations nixed those plans. It simply didn’t make sense in any fashion to move my gear 24 hours’ drive west to another state, learn the ropes of a new area that far away while working with fringe populations of muskrats remaining.
Plan B then shifted to working muskrat populations here in NY up north along Lake Ontario and/or the St Lawrence River where big cattail creeks and backwater marshes traditionally held plenty of muskrats for everyone. But as the prior discussion detailed, a last-minute scouting trip to pinpoint exact locations for setting up shop there yielded no water, no muskrats and nowhere to go.
I was ready, willing but unable to follow thru with those carefully planned plans.
So I had limited choices. One was to nix trapping for now and wait until the southern zone water season opens here on Nov 25th to scratch together some limited muskrat catches in depleted populations. Another was to run a limited land line for coon. We don’t have enough of a coon population right here at home to make an all-day effort worthwhile. I planned on mixing in some coon trapping with muskrats up north along my travels, where active coon sign is heavier than here.
Of course that didn’t happen, so left me scrambling to find places for setting in my backyard. The idea of not setting any traps at all on opening day never crossed my mind. How could it?
Generations Of Locations
As I first wrote in my coon book nearly twenty years ago… once you figure out the methodical patterns of behavior for coon, you can actually visualize ahead of time where such trail locations will be found BEFORE you even arrive on scene.
The bottomlands around me are a mix of grape vineyards, cornfields and other field crops, moving waters and swamp. Surrounding the area are high hills of mixed hardwoods heavy in old oaks that haven’t been logged in one hundred years and probably won’t be any time soon.
Normal years have local coon populations working the bottoms when grapes ripen, then scouring the ridges for acorns as the mast crop falls. Coon also spend the entire time moving thru the lowlands when field corn first reaches milky stage, when it hardens up after highland mast is depleted and also as the wild fox grapes and then various aquatic food sources cycle into play.
All we need to know is this: local raccoons live in den trees on the high hills above. They move downhill to feed in the bottomlands below. Somewhere in between are key funnels of travel. It’s our job to figure that out, locate those key locations and block said paths with traps.
Very simple task :)
There’s a key set location not too far behind my house which leads as a network of different faint trails from the hardwoods hill above, across the highway and thru a stretch of goldenrod before blending into one main path next to an ancient willow tree. When the adjoining field is planted in corn, it’s a primary funnel spot for coon. When the field is anything other than corn, said trail is idle that year.
I’ve been trapping this exact location for at least twenty years now, and it never ceases to amaze me how each new generation of coon will adhere to the exact-same traffic pattern over time. The paths of least resistance behavior in all living things is alive, well and firmly entrenched in raccoon travel behavior. It’s not like coon today were shown where coon twenty years ago traveled. Years in between when land use and crop changes dictate specific movement, said trails go idle thru that stretch of time. But soon as land use once again attracts raccoon traffic, old traffic patterns get refreshed anew.
Similar story here. This view is from the edge of highway shoulder less than 100 yards from the front door of my house. Another network of trails converge from the hardwoods on the high side of road, meet at a point in the same tag alder clump that’s been there for decades now, and spills across the blacktop to wind its way thru the grassfield adjoining my side lawn.
I trapped this spot long before buying this house… actually, I moved to Denver CO and came back to NY again between the decades first setting this spot and right now, today. All that time it has continued to maintain coon traffic year after year. First day’s check this year yielded the biggest boar caught so far, 23lbs on the electric hand-held scales.
The main difference between now and twenty years ago is my choice of gear. #220 size bodygrip traps are not the greatest choice for general use on land in any populated state or area. They can still be used, but only in dog-resistance setups when baited. imo we as responsible trappers are better served to dial down in size to one step smaller bodygrip traps.
Since that time long ago, I’ve switched to mostly #160 size traps and found them to be equally effective in acceptance while vegetation remains thick. Natural pinchpoints have coon in the mindset of squeezing under and thru obstructions anyway. Once the season wears on and vegetation opens up, it becomes difficult to steer big raccoon into any size bodygrip trap regardless.
I’ve used different popular brands of #160 size trap over the past few years, and all of them work. I have not tried a #160 size trap that is not effective and useful for coon. That said, my first use of the new style Bridger #160 traps hase been a real eye opener so far. As the double catch depicted earlier and again the one above, big coon caught in Bridger #160s are KO’d and done right in their tracks. I don’t even see any type of catch circle or hind-foot scuff marks in the ground that you often will even with the bigger #220 size traps.
The black & silver boar whacked in this trail set thru tall grass was felled instantly… to the point where it never even lifted the trap from goldenrod stalks that stabilized each spring.
Short-napped sow on left, equal size boar on right. Both coon are in the 20lb zone, both hooked just behind the ears… both lights out on the spot. There isn’t anything not to like about how these small but deadly effective bodygrip traps perform in the field. Hat’s off to the Caven’s for their pro-trapper refinements to make what I feel is a line of bodygrip traps second to none.
Not all of my coon trapping efforts have been blind-set bodygrip locations. Some places heavily traveled by coon simply do not offer bodygrip trap setups. New DP style traps work great in these areas, but I opted to go with Bridger #1.5 coils for two reasons: hunter traffic and fox potential. Blended dirtholes are easier to hide from passing waterfowl or archery hunters that DP traps sticking out like visible sore thumbs.
Also, I was testing out a couple of Kishels lures that held promise for fox attraction, too. All sets were baited with large marshmallows from a dollar store and lured with either Coon Digger II or Sucker Punch. Turns out both varieties were very attractive to coon and fox alike.
A yearling red played nice with a yearling coon as both found the all-purpose lures attractive. They put their paws in the expected places, and perfect holds on both were a result. Considering the coon was much smaller than I have any interest in peeling, he was released unharmed without a hitch. Matter of fact, I released no fewer than eight (8) yearling coon from the Bridger #1.5 coils with zero paw damage with those rolled jaw edges. Nice to have that option when possible. Dinky hair coon are never of any value on the fur market and I personally prefer to let them go for a chance to grow bigger, prime and across my trapline path somewhere in the future to come.
Too Dry => Too Wet
I spent the first few days of our land season here in my zone searching for pockets of raccoon populations. Right here in my immediate area, coon and gray fox died off a decade ago and never really staged a complete comeback. There are fringe populations scattered about, with dead zones all over in between. Bridges and culverts that adjoin water, brush and standing corn used to be automatic for heavy coon trails connecting those dots. Too often nowadays there ain’t a visible coon track to be found anywhere on site.
My catches all came within a two-mile radius of home. Sure kept the gas bill down, but I’d have gladly burned some fuel every day in exchange for more traps out across active coon travel. Finally, two days after the opener I had a chance to explore some old-time trapping areas some distance from home for coon. Found what I hoped for: lots of standing corn, plenty of well-used trails in all the places one would expect them to be.
Trouble is, we have tropical storm Sandy about to pass thru starting tomorrow. It has potential to be the biggest rainfall in a brief period of time since Hurricane Agnes devastated the area some forty years ago in 1972. So we go from a record historical drought to what might be a record wet storm event… no happy medium in between.
If not for that, I’d have spent all day rolling coon sets into the distant area and put together a pretty decent roadline for production. Judging from catches in the past versus fresh sign I saw yesterday, I’d say maybe 50 to 100 coon potential in a week or so of rolling thru there. Hopefully we’ll get spared the high end of rainfall “guestimates” and storm will pass without major damage or flooding. If that’s the case I’ll try to lay out a line there over next weekend and manage for a week or so. Now that we scratched the board with a few coon pelted and ready to stretch, might as well turn it into a full-fledged, serious part-time effort.
That’s pretty much how the season of 2012-13 has begun to unfold. Four days in and weathered out for now. Ready, willing but unable to stretch the lines out any further until Sandy passes thru town. Good news is she won’t be around for long, and we still have a long season ahead to enjoy :)
After a 3.5 drive from home yesterday, I finally reached the first destination to scout for fall muskrat trapping up north. Season opens Thursday next, and it was time for the final precision scouting effort to determine exactly where opening day should be spent.
Truck was pulled over at the same off-road launch that I used this past April at the spring season’s end. If you looked closely enough, you might still see some faint shards of surveyor ribbon left on shore by other trappers before me then. Water levels looked good. Loaded the canoe with a brand-new deep cycle battery to power the 40lb trolling motor for an effortless push back upstream.
This particular flow winds its way thru a cattail & grassy bottomland for about three miles as the crow flies before it meets the migthy St Lawrence river. I have trapped this location fall and/or spring, on & off for the past twenty five years or so. Muskrat populations have always fluctuated between pretty good to stacked like cordwood in the times I’ve been there before. As I paddled my way downstream for the first couple hundred yards of the three-mile trip, it struck me odd to see almost no fresh muskrat sign at all. No feedbeds. No toilets. No shiny cattail and mud houses nestled back in the cover.
Looking close at the bottom of this flow with polarized glasses on did not paint a prettier picture. No muskrat holes or runs visible at all. None. As I rounded a distance bend that heads for a fairly straight stretch, it all came crystal clear in a hurry. The section of flow I had been on with its normal three feet of water only existed because of a beaver dam. Below that dam and for the next three miles or so was nothing more than a trickle of water. And mud.
I gotta tell ya… that sight left me with an instant sinking heart inside. Pretty much knew right then & there what the rest of my scouting trip would find. If this flow, a tributary to the St Lawrence Seaway was nearly three feet below normal water levels, that must mean the whole big river itself was drawn down the same.
Mind you, these were the exact-same waters Holly and I spent a long weekend kayaking back in early August. At the time, water levels were normal and summertime muskrat sign was ample if not abundant. I saw no reason then why this time right now would be anything other than business as usual on the fall trapline up north.
But I guess ten week’s time can make all the difference in a historical drought event. The yellow line on this NY map outlines my road trip yesterday, which took from 7:30am departure from home to 8:30pm arrival at the same. Thirteen hours of driving with a few interludes of paddling or walking in the mud resulted in no trappable muskrat populations found.
All of the old-timers I’ve talked to or that others have talked to and relayed in conversation say to a man that they’ve never seen water levels this low in New York state. Not just up north… most everywhere.
So if the men who’ve lived here all their lives that are now in their 70s or 80s cannot ever recall drier times, what does that tell us? Suggests to me that this summer has been at least that long a historical mark for lack of surface water tables.
Regardless, one thing is clear. My plans for a marathon muskrat trapping season are on hold due to rain delay. Or more aptly put, total lack of rain this year. Yesterday was also the open of trapping season in North Dakota. I’ve heard from friends out there that muskrat populations are decent in the big waters but small flows and shallow sloughs are dried up and nonexistant for the most part. It’s not like NY is dry while most other parts of the country are normal to wet. The historical drought of 2012 has been constant news everywhere, all summer long.
Everywhere I looked yesterday, remnant muskrat populations remain. A couple of spring-fed sloughs along the highway were mushroomed with new muskrat houses as ample water levels = ample water animals present. Give those areas one winter and spring season of normal to high precipitation, and muskrat numbers should bounce right back again. I did see plenty of fresh beaver sign and if weather conditions permit I will be up there this spring for a flat-tail trapping trip. But as for muskrats spring or fall? Not this year.
It remains to be seen how the water season here in my part of NYS unfolds ahead. That opens about a month from now, on November 25th. Meanwhile the land season comes in here this Thursday, canine and coon trappers have no shortage of critters to work with out there. I’ll run some short lines for coon in the local area, but by no means will it be a concerted efforts. Gas prices are high, coon prices are low and my normal work day schedule is not conducive to longline efforts for canines.
A ten-day muskrat trip was carefully planned and scheduled starting Thursday. 500+ traps are all ready to go. Boats and canoes and motors and gear remain ready to deploy. And there is nowhere to go with nothing to catch when you get there.
So our first season opener comes in four days from now. I’ll shift to Plan B and dabble with some coon while I wait for the water season to commence here on 11/25. The only plans I have that remain intact for the season of 2012 – 13 are to enjoy the great outdoors, have lots of fun and catch some fur where found. Anything other than that is under rain delay for now.
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After all this time, the next batch of fur is scheduled to ride in that very same place of prominence in my truck… two weeks from today. The water season up north opens thirteen days from now, a day which will be spent setting traps somewhere or other from 7am to nightfall. The day after that, Friday Oct 26th will yield the first of this season’s fur as we check the line before spending the remainder of that day setting more traps until dark.
No doubt this year will be fun, exciting, entertaining, educational and memorable. Maybe a bunch of other good things too. But it won’t be one of recordbook catches for me or probably anyone else.
The historical summer drought and significantly lower fur populations are a limiting factor, a reality we face. Much like grain farmers this year watched sky-high corn prices rising in the futures market, while they looked out across parched cornfields with stunted stalks and maybe one smallish ear per stalk in the better fields. Muskrat prices may very well rise to $20 or more this season, but many if not most trappers across the country are staring at prime water locations in the past that are now barren mud.
Long-term, this drought impacts water animals only until normal water levels return. If ample moisture falls in the way of rain and snow this winter, a restoration of standing water sources will mean a return to solid furbearer populations post haste. But in place where the affects of drought may linger into next year, could be a reduction of water animals for some time to come.
Back in March and April, I had tentative plans to trap North Dakota first and then our regular season here in New York, followed by a potential trip (or two) to New Jersey and/or North Carolina (beaver & otter) and then back to North Dakota for the spring season to wrap things up. The key word there was “tentative” because everything was based on weather patterns. Unfortunately, we all know how this summer turned out.
That leaves me with starting and ending this fall & spring season ahead trapping rats and beaver up north, with the usual mode here at home in between. It’d be nice to visit New Jersey for a spell in late February / early March… something I still look forward to. North Dakota is simply too dry overall for me to make the 24+ hours drive each way and operate that far from home with fractional muskrat populations. That still remains possible next spring if reports out of the midwest on rat catches are more favorable than expected. But in reality, that probably waits until the fall of 2013 from what I hear direct from sources on location out there.
I’m also prepared for the fact that running out of available muskrat locations here is a very real possibility. Half the places I’ve scouted are either bone dry or too dry for sustained populations. That means half the places I had potential to trap and likewise others did too are non-existent this time. So that in turn means me and all those other guys are left with fewer spots that remain.
An early freeze-up and lots of ice this year would probably work well in my favor. Most muskrats trappers out there in my state are not willing to work thru the ice, they are open-water only. A relatively few guys look forward to working thru the ice, because they can pile up solid catches from locations that are inaccessible in open water. I prefer to trap open water but will not hesitate to run all-day lines thru the ice if/when normal winter weather conditions return. Last year we had no ice at all to work with in my area. Nor do I expect to ever see such a non-winter season during wintertime here again.
Other than that, I’m mostly prepared and ready to start. About all that’s left would be painting and flagging stakes, moving my gear to the staging area up north and a few other odds & ends. Any mid-season changes in plans such as more emphasis on coon or fox will be dealt with at the time. Each of those critters are simple to cold-roll prospect and set up for. Finding them and preparing gear for such efforts is not a problem.
Above & beyond all else, this trapping season will be another year of being outside, enjoying the depths of nature and wildlife to its fullest. Whether it all goes according to script or nothing as planned remains to be seen. I’m every bit excited about my 40th year stringing steel as I was my very first. Maybe a bit more. Looking back on all the years past… I know how much fun there is in store!
Luckily for me, only thirteen days left to go :)
Now that’s not good for a longtime coon trapper addict, someone who spent a lot of years chasing ringtails in the daylight and dark. There was a time I thought that addiction might be cured, or at the very least quelled. But each time I run across hot, smoking coon toilet locations or beaten-down trail networks connecting food and travel zones, that oldtime itch to lay out some steel and block those paths tends to flare up again.
My general area of the state used to have a lot more coon around than it does today. But just like too many other places across the country, we’ve had our bouts with rabies and distemper to knock raccoon numbers back.
Add to that progressive habitat loss, with decades of intensive logging and of late the heightened land clearing for small grain crops and a lot of ancient, hollow den trees are gone for my lifetime. It takes an oak or sugar maple too near 100 years of growth to get big enough and hollow enough for sheltering coon. I don’t have that kind of time left in me to wait for today’s ten-inch trees to get there again.
Today’s coon that cannot find enough open room in remaining hollow trees for shelter are more and more taking to ground dens for winter shelter. Whether that affects fur quality overall or not, I can’t say. I do know that fur buyers used to tell me that coon denning in hardwood trees would have the glossiest fur from frequent rubbing against oils in the wood.
Regardless, my travels thru the state take me past roadside trail locations much like the one pictured here. That specific place does not have a cornfield this season and likewise no rutted path of travel this time around. But more years than not for the past three decades and counting, a creek on one side and a corn field on the other side of that highway = what you see right there.
In the past I ran mostly #220s in such trails with a mix of #11 longsprings for blind and baited sets along with #1.5 coils when available steel began to run low. The difference now will be #160s replacing the #220s by law and prudence, along with new dogproof (DP) traps where crisp trail set locations don’t exist and baited sets take over.
I’ll still rely on #11 longs for some blind and baited locations as needed, too. They are my preferred foothold trap for coon on dryland sets and in shallow water: perfect grip across paw for comfortable, secure hold and they do a fine job with incidental mink, red and gray fox as well.
I’ve used #160 size bodygrip traps a fair bit for blind-setting coon trails in recent years with near equal results to the #220 days. Early on when vegetation is thick and natural pinch points exist, either trap is about equal.
As the season wears on and vegetation opens up, then we see some coon balk at the smaller #160 that would probably still steer into a #220. Eventually all bodygrip traps become less effective than baited sets late in the season, overall.
A pair of coon taken with #220s in late November (as pictured) naturally gravitated against those tag alder saplings, which served as a natural pinch point, albeit open air. I’m not sure that would work equally well with #160s set legal (in blind trails without bait) here in NY, which mandates the top of jaws be no higher than 8″ off the ground. That eliminates jacking the trap up 4 – 6 inches off ground and creating a higher window presentation for snaring coon.
But, as the opening picture showed, big coon naturally squeeze themselves under, into and thru some pretty narrow places by choice. It’s simply a matter of being a bit more picky at where we deploy those #160s to nail even the biggest coon that come along.
As with any lethal trap, my #160s will only be used in places where pet traffic is not an issue. That’s where the DP traps really shine. It’s easy (or at least somewhat easier) to secure permission when the landowner sees how DP traps function. A quick demo of what’s deployed usually gets the green light where dogs or small livestock happen to roam. Even cats can be discouraged from catches if sweet or fruity baits are used.
Those #11s are key in heavily-used but open trails where no pinch points exist to blend in bodygrips. Then it’s simply a matter of bedding in the little foothold where coon traffic dictates, and they’ll be there in the morning when we come.
Although I’m mentally committed to a primary focus on muskrats this year, I will allow myself some time in distraction for putting some ringtails in the truck. Also, if I happen to run out of muskrat locations far from home before our local water season opens one month later, it’s no big deal to stretch out the coon line and shift gears in that direction for a little while.
Either way and anyways, I look forward to a mixed bag of fur this season ahead. Thirty days left until the first stakes get stuck in the mud. I’m ready get started right now!
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Well, as of 7am this morning we’re down to merely 37 days and counting before the season of 2012-13 officially begins. Seems like forever ago when I pulled stakes last back in April, and settled myself in for a long summer break to follow.
I’m not quite ready yet for the start and quite frankly I don’t know if any of us ever really are. Seems like there’s always something or other we forget until last minute. This year I’ve been pretty good about steady pacing the workload, picking away at something or other most every day.
Noah Would’ve Understood If we’re gonna get serious about trapping, we’re gonna need two (or more) of everything. I have two canoes, and that’s about it. I need two 50lb thrust electric motors and enough batteries to not run dry during two day’s hard use. Also need two pairs of fresh waders… the ones I have on hand are pretty chewed up from rough going in beaver-snag infested waters. Neoprene and sharp sticks submerged in the silt and muck do not play nice together.
All the misc gear such as gloves and socks, inside-wader pants (fleece sweats) and insulation, jackets and coats including rain gear, polarized sunglasses for sunny days, patch kits, duct tape, first aid kits, etc are just as vital as traps and terminal gear. It takes all that stuff to operate traplines at high levels of efficiency.
Gotta make our extensive lists and check them twice. Details, details :)
Unofficially, I’ve been plugging along most every day with preparations and tasks to get ready… and still there’s more to go. Just finished dip-treating the last twenty-five dozen #160s, about five-dozen assorted footholds and three dozen #330s to complete the task.
Next up is the process of removing one spring from all the #160 and #220 size traps. That will include a few hour’s time standing in front of a table vice with music playing to break the monotony or better yet, volunteer help to converse the time away. For those who asked, I always remove the spring without chain, leaving trap chain on the lone spring for these traps. Factory chain is a vital part of my staking system for muskrat-mink bodygrip traps.
Basically this offseason I swapped out all of my existing #110 size traps for #160s instead. So my overall numbers of traps didn’t increase… just changed the assortment. I do have more steel to accumulate real soon (can we ever really have too many traps?) which include Bridger #150 and #159 bodygrip traps designed for muskrat (mink) specifically.
Also adding a couple different selections of canine foothold traps, but there’s no pressing need to get them ready for service right away.
Childhood Memories Have a 12′ aluminum car-top boat that my uncle recently gave me. It’s at least 50+ years old or more but great shape still. I recall him having that from my youngest memories as a child. Always fantasized about motoring around in it when I was a kid… now it’ll be serviced on the water lines for muskrat and beaver where flows are big enough to warrant but calm enough to handle that size. Right now it is just plain shiny aluminum, but about to get two coats of flat brown paint to kill the glare on sunny days. Next couple of sunny days that come along, that little boat will get its first major facelift since sometime before I was born :)
Stakes Are High
So far I have 30-dozen sumac saplings cut for stakes… 7′ and 8′ lengths for footholds in the big marshes where visibility sucks, and also under-ice work with baited bodygrips and deep runs. Last season never saw more than one day of ice hard enough to walk before it mushed up and/or went away repeatedly. Ice walking and the knowledge on how to systematically pick off rats from beneath its cover separates catches in the 100s versus catches in the 1,000s for New York trappers. Really looking forward to stretches of under-ice trapping this season where different areas inaccessible during open water become readily available once things harden up.
I need to paint the ends of those some bright flourescent color, and do the same thing to several hundred 4′ stakes for the #160s and #210s deployed. Right now there is a rainbow of vary-colored tapes on what I have… need to consolidate a color scheme so I know at a glance which are mine versus all the other stakes expected to be seen that don’t belong to me.
This summer’s historical drought has left the remaining local waterways with enough depth to cover a rat’s back choked beneath a thick covering of duckweed and algae that cooked in the sun for months on end. Normally we have several gully-washer storms during the summer that flush slow moving waters from warm weather weed coatings. Not this time. The same algae and duckweed that formed in May is still pretty much right there in the same spots. By now it has aged in the relentless summer sun. And it does not smell like fine wine or cheese, both of which tend to age well.
Considering the local “flows” which in fact ain’t flowed one bit since April are choked with vegetive sewage, I’m saving my fall scouting until the last few weekends before game time arrives. About half the places I intend to cover are very familiar waters while the other half are completely new to me. We deal with pretty much the same general situations in each location, but each location tends to have a personality all its own. I really prefer to cover the water at least once before loading up equipment and paddling (motoring?) out into the vast unknown.
Other than all that, just a matter of keeping busy with small tasks each day and marking off the days on our dwindling calendar until no days remain between us and the long-awaited start of 2012-2013 season’s fun.
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When I sold my spring muskrats from the March trip to northern-zone NY this past season, I actually swapped them for new traps instead of cash. Twenty dozen new Duke #160s followed me home from the show in Herkimer yesterday, along with some vintage B&L stoploss traps and other sundry items.
Cocolamus Creek in southern PA was the buyer, and I’ve waited until the NYSTA convention this weekend to take delivery. Saved the shipping costs involved and leaves me plenty of time to get them prepped for the fall season opener in late October straight ahead.
These traps need to lose the boxes, lose the factory grease, gain a light coating of rust followed by a couple coats of trap dip in time to dry by October 25th. Tall order? Nope… piece of cake :)
First step was unloading the truck. As you can see, I did it by myself and there was no careful stacking of the boxes from truck to ground. Gentle enough not to hurt the traps, boxes were already half opened in the process. We also have some 30-gallon containers to put them in, and a creek full of running water as well.
I’ve read a lot of tactics for removing factory grease from traps. Some suggest taking to a car wash. I’ve never found that to be effective at total removal of oils at all. Some suggest running traps thru an automatic dishwasher. I’m sure that works… but we’re talking 20 dozen pieces of steel here. My dishwasher is not quite big enough for that!
Many years ago I watched oil-soaked waterfowl and mammals being cleaned by hand using nothing more than Dawn dish detergent and water. How many times have you seen the t.v. commercials touting Dawn cuts grease?
So the easiest way I’ve found to strip factory grease from new metal is fill a container with traps, add some water, add a 1/4 cup (or so) of dish detergent to the water, finish filling said container with poured water to suds it all up nice. I’m able to fit about five dozen of these #160s into a standard trash can sized container.
From there I let the steel soak a couple of days minimum or until I’m ready to take the next step. Each day I agitate the containers by shaking them sideways to swirl the mix and refoam soapy suds. Not sure if that really matters or not… but who doesn’t like making bubbles anyway?
Next step, a few days from now is to pour off the soapy water, load traps in the bed of my truck and finish rinsing them off at the car wash. We’ll continue this story when that time comes. Once totally cleaned, traps go back in a water – white vinegar bath mixture to etch the steel and promote light rusting in rapid fashion. Then we rinse them again, let dry and dip with trap treatment coating of our choice.
This leaves me with +/- forty dozen #160s and maybe five dozen #210s to begin the season with. I’ll add another twenty dozen Bridger #159 single-spring 6″ traps to round out the collection. Need more than enough inventory on hand in case of heavy theft or other unforeseen loss potential, in addition to trapline rotation strategies. Where 48-hour check laws permit skipping a trapline check on the third or fourth day and setting a fresh line elsewhere, checking both lines next day and continuing the shift from old line to fresh sets require lots of extra steel.
To this point in time I’ve liked Duke #160s best of all for muskrats specifically, but the Bridger #159 is equally effective and more feature laden for the same general price. Considering I remove one spring from my Dukes to begin with, the Bridger #159 saves me that extra step to bother with in preparations.
All brands work and each trapper has their own preferences. How you set the trap, how you position the triggers and specifically where you set each trap means everything in the end. What brand or particular size said trap means least of all in the equation for success.
That’s it for the first step in this simple trap-cleaning process for now. More to come, this week :)
The summer season gradually winds to an end. Days are getting shorter. Nights are getting cooler. Opening days for trapping seasons 2012 – 13 are drawing nearer. Crunch time is on the distant horizon. time to get serious about getting ready for the big events!
I still like to boil and wax my canine gear in typical “old school” style out of part nostalgia, part habit and part fear that changing things up might impact results in negative fashion.
Truth is, I’m probably just as well off to dip every trap I own and then wax or otherwise seal the canine traps afterward. Regardless, I have dipped all of my water traps (and footholds for coon) with various dip products thru the years dating back to 1990 if not earlier.
Definitely learned a few things in the past two decades and counting when it comes to dip-treating traps. By no means is any rocket science involved here. Matter of fact, I think a lot of trappers probably over complicate the project. So let’s walk thru the past two days in my yard here for an overview of what I personally do.
Weather is perfect this week for treating traps. Gotta make hay while the sun shines… or in my case make both old and newer steel shine while time is still on our side.
I had roughly ten dozen #160s, four dozen #220s, seven dozen #1.5 coils and two dozen #2 coils with a few other misc make & model traps prepped to dip. Not a big pile of steel to deal with… couple gallons of liquid dip and an hour’s messy labor should get the job done :)
All foothold traps get some type of small object between the jaws to prop those inner surfaces open. I have a bunch of miscellaneous nails and screws laying around, so I grabbed something short and used those for this process. These traps are Bridger #1.5 coils new last spring, their first trip thru the speed dip baptism process.
Compare those prior to some aged #2 Victor reverse-jaw coils that were pretreated with a vinegar soak to strip old rust, dirt and debris away from bare steel. These traps are as open-pore steel ready to accept dye coating as you will ever see.
Step one is always pouring the liquid medium in our selected container first, then gradually stir the dip product in for smooth, even dilution. I learned long ago not to simply pour in globs of dip to an empty container and then add the gas dilution afterwards while expecting that mess to slurry real nice. Doesn’t work well that way at all… pour the gas first, gradually stir in dip and allow it to mix thoroughly to begin with. As with most any project in life you can think of, prep work is everything.
My personal preference has always been white gas or stove gas, aka coleman camping fuel. I have used unleaded gas before and it works fine, but the white gas seems to dry quicker and leave a more even coat finish. Maybe that’s just me, maybe I didn’t work with gasoline enough. By no means do I imply that my way is the only way, or that other liquids won’t work as well.
But hey… this is my story, my chronicle and that’s what I do, dammit! <laugh>
Once the dip mix is properly diluted and stirred, time for the bathing to begin. I like to dunk my traps by the dozen when it comes to small footholds. Bodygrip traps are laid flat in piles until they just stick out above the surface of liquid, whereupon a little sideways sloshing gives everything a nice even soak.
A mix of brand new #160s and some three years old now that haven’t been treated since their first time dipped, three seasons ago. I expect a lot more time afield and in the water for them this season alone than the past three seasons combined, so everything gets well coated ahead of time this time around.
Nice, smooth coat after the second round dipped. First bath on Wednesday, second bath today (Friday) and that’s it for them… ready for a lot of long, hard use in their future straight ahead.
Our virgin Bridger #1.5s took on two thin coats of cover, but in usual patchy fashion for new steel. They were cleaned of all grease and grime but not completely rusted, so I expect they will need be dipped again before next season begins.
A few pointers I keep in mind from experience learned the hard way…
Always wear old, worthless, decrepit clothing from head to footwear at all times while working dips. Whatever you have on will be spattered and ruined for anything else but the next paint job or septic tank inside inspection you have in mind. So don’t even almost think about wearing anything you care about for this job. A trip to salvo for used clothes is a much better idea than “trying to be careful” than attire you don’t want ruined. Believe me, it will be ruined when you’re done :)
Prepare the dip mix well diluted and blended before traps hit the surface. Add gas to your chosen container first, gradually pour in the dip medium from its can and stir, stir, stir, stir like you are mixing your own kid’s wedding cake. If you mix the dip solution thoroughly first, everything else is a breeze from there.
Dip traps in the solution once, remove when wetted and soaked, then shake them vigorously to remove drips and runs. This is where the ruined clothing aspect comes from. Flecks and drops of dip will be flying all over the place. An outdoors project well away from anything you don’t want stained, for sure.
Better to dip traps a second or third time than try to get one thick coat of coverage. Like any other paint project, thin coats layered are much more durable than a thick coat on its own.
Traps that have been dipped before do not need be stripped of old dip before retreating. Just clean any dirt and debris from them, redip once or twice and good to go. Those #220s of mine in that pile have several coats of dip on them dating back fifteen years or so now. I have no plans on taking them back to bare steel any decade soon. Dip, redip and redip some more.
That’s more or less the preseason drill for me. I’ve dipped traps during beastly hot weather, barely above freezing weather, high humidity, low humidity. Never once have I had major issues with finishes drying hard enough soon enough for expedient use. I think the important steps are stirring the blend well, dipping several thin coats and shaking off excess liquid in between.
Follow similar steps = enjoy similar results for yourself. Dip away!
Time has mercifully wound itself down to merely 68 days remaining until the start of our new trapping season here in New York. Funny how it seems like only a million years ago since I pulled the last stakes and shipped the end of a season’s catch off to sale.
My how time crawls when we’re waiting impatiently to have fun! <lol>
My own personal gameplan for this season ahead has taken firm shape. I had hoped to begin my year out in North Dakota chasing after thick populations of muskrats along with various other incidental furs. But the historical drought event this country has suffered since spring greatly reduced shallow waters habitat and muskrat numbers overall. For sure there are still plenty of animals to be caught out there, but the difference between that and staying here to work the NY areas is not great enough to merit extra time, travel, effort and expense to operate so far from home.
That trip will have to wait until April 2013 when spring season arrives. So I turned attention to trapping various public and private water flows in the northern zone of NY, where water season opens Thursday October 25th to start. It also runs thru April 15th, 2013 if a spring trip for muskrats and/or beaver merits that effort there.
It will still be out-of-area trapping because the nearest point of water from my front porch is a solid three hour’s drive and the furthest distance planned is just shy of four hours away. I do have arrangements with a close friend to store gear on his property and run freezers for holding catches and fur. The plan is to skin very little while on the road, spending max time tending lines from daylight to dark and maybe a bit beyond either end of those extremes.
That early season game will be a juggling act between home and away for roughly a month until our southern zone water season comes in, or until I run out of acceptable density muskrat locations up north. Whichever comes first.
I’ve made a couple of road trips north to scout the general region and familiarize myself with some new locations. Even talked Holly into joining me for one of those scouting trips under the premise of it being a two-day getaway trip. Actually, it was her trip planned, she asked me where I’d like to go and it just so happened to be along the St Lawrence seaway area. Imagine that? <grin>
My hit list of places to go has now been narrowed to fifteen with ranking of preference from top to bottom based on various factors combined. When scouting muskrats at this time of the year, overall populations are deceiving. Vegetation is thick, cover is dense and you just don’t see a whole lot of feeding activity visible. It is more about looking for ideal water conditions and habitat than it is counting actual muskrat numbers.
Once summer turns to fall and temperatures cool off, emergent vegetation goes away and the entire scene changes. Then you can see channels, runs, bank dens and later on actual muskrat house construction. For now it’s all about general exploration and familiarity of the areas. Soon it will become missions of precision scouting for details. Next month begins those efforts in earnest.
Other than that, just idling time away with necessary prep work. Dipping traps to treat, looking to purchase the final round of traps and gear for this fall – winter effort when the New York State Trappers Assoc convention arrives at the end of this month. That still leaves plenty of time to prepare any new and used traps for line use and wrap up all loose ends for misc missing gear. Need to be sure I have more than enough traps in case of harsh theft or extreme high water conditions that can reduce equipment without warning.
So here we are, checking each past day off the calendar until such time comes that opening day arrives. Meanwhile, taking all the necessary steps involved to prepare ourselves best we can while enjoying what still remains of summer & early fall in the process :)
Well, maybe the word “soon” is relative. I’m not wishing time to pass too quickly because that’s my life flying by in the process. Everything will unfold in its own good time. Right now is a somewhat quiet time before the real preparations begin for a long, long trapping season ahead.
New York starting dates for the 2012 – 2013 season are set for both halves of this state. Thursday, October 25th opens land trapping here in the southern zone and everything up in the northern zone with a close of April 15th in water. Sunday, November 25th kicks off water trapping season here in the southern zone where I reside, closing date the usual Feb 15th 2013.
At this time my general plan is to work some water stretches in the northern zone for muskrats from late October thru Nov 25th. That will depend on what I find thru some late-fall scouting trips in various locations. If I cannot find enough sign to merit the effort away from home in that direction, I’ll either land trap here or look to deploy elsewhere.
November 25th begins the bulk of muskrat trapping here at home. Depending on area-wide populations and access secured, I might have enough muskrat water to work with all season long here. Then again, I might not. We can also expect a more normal winter season this time around with plenty of ice and snow. Could even see that right on the November opener… which has happened plenty of time before. No guarantee of open water and easy trapping when our water season rolls around in this neck of the woods.
In the middle of winter when freeze-up settles in and snow covers the land, I’ll be ready to run some winter fox lines that break the monotony of muskrats – muskrats – muskrats thru a six month stretch. Considering the first rats traps will get wet in late October 2012 and the last ones pulled sometime in April 2013, that’s half a year of working the water wherever I find myself in between.
So all of my plans have contingency backup plans as well. If the fall season here in NY turns up nil muskrats north and not enough coon to keep me happy here at home, I’ll be prepared to head elsewhere for early season muskrats instead. I expect to run an extensive spring 2013 line for rats out in the midwest to wrap the season on that end. Should that plan somehow fall thru, I’ll spend time up in the northern zone NY for water trapping until the April 15th close.
There might be a stretch where I either run out of fresh areas for muskrats and/or run into weather harsh enough to stall things out in the mid-winter stretch as well. With that in mind, I’m looking for a contingency plan there as well.
All my life I have heard about, read about and wondered about trapping the eastern shore tidal marshes for muskrats. Way back when I was still a kid, stories on that in “The Trapper” and “American Trapper” magazines fascinated me. Something about the idea of endless acres of mixed marshland habitat along with the extreme challenge of fluctuating water levels and a dollop of winter weather mixed in seems like a complex challenge for water trapping.
After an extensive amount of internet and telephone research, it looks like a trip or two on the public marshes of New Jersey will fit right in. Turns out there is a lot of public access water there, it’s roughly a seven-hour drive from my door and seasons run from Jan 1st thru March 15th. Our season here in my part of NY closes Feb 15th and the usual spring season out west usually starts sometime in April. I looked for a place to fill that void in between, and found one that seems to fit perfectly :)
A lot of emails have asked about my plans = progress towards an instructional DVD on muskrat trapping. Well, that project is finally complete. I’ll save that discussion for another conversation post in here later today, but for all those who have asked, we will do our dead-level best to help push your muskrat (and mink) production a little bit better this season ahead.
Also, the next stage of production here is a YouTube videos channel. I expect to post a lot of frequent, brief but helpful segments about all aspects of traps and trapping. Look for that to go online soon.
Mid-summer is here. Trapping conventions season is upon us. Weather conditions are ideal for treating traps and gear. Fall will arrive sooner than we think. Time to get busy getting ready for a long, loooong traplines adventure ahead :)
A few readers asked about my backyard wetlands sanctuary, and I happened to be on the far end of property this evening while spying on the local muskrats. So for all those who wondered, here is a rat’s-eye view of what they see from a waterline perspective :)
I have a bunch of emails from trappers asking what my
expectations guesses are for next season’s fur prices to come. The simple reply is, no one knows for sure.
There is no possible way to predict or assure anyone of anything. I learned that much in the summer of 1987, coming off record high fur prices and heading into the fall season ahead. I had a very profitable season of 1986 – 1987 and prepared for the mother of all longlines ahead. Bought a new 4×4 Chevy fresh off the factory line. Bought twenty dozen BMI #220s and twenty dozen #1.5 Montgomery coils. Bought a bunch of other stuff, too. Lots of it. I was well prepared to be cookin’ with peanut oil soon as season came in.
But the stock market crash in October 1987, mere days ahead of the trapping season opener took fur prices up in flames with it. So I have firsthand experience and a lifelong lasting memory of how quickly things can change in the wild furs world.
Meanwhile, final Canadian auction house sales went well overall at the FHA last month and NAFA sale this week. Fox and coyotes sold very well, mink and muskrats very well, everything else did fine. I’m sure some trappers were disappointed because some items brought less now than various sales last winter. It is core human nature to expect trees that grow to the sky, to expect prices to keep advancing with no end or even pullback in sight. But that’s not how it works in the world of commodities, of which wild furs definitely are.
Having sold red fox in the past for $100+ averages and then a decade later sold even better fox for a $18 average, repeating that process with $40 coon to $5 coon, $9 rats to $2 rats on average, I’m here to tell you that current fur prices are good. Real good. At the very least, they definitely don’t suck.
Anyone who expected $20 rats and $100 beaver and $200 otter next year simply because has not yet learned how this game works. Likewise, anyone who hung onto their furs just because the summer sale has to be higher prices than the winter sales has not yet learned how this game works. Nobody rings a bell at the price highs. No one knows where price levels will be in a month… not even the fur buyers.
This is definitely a game of speculation, all the way from every level of participation.
So I don’t have any better guess or feel or insight on what next year might bring as anyone else on earth does at this time. I know that prices paid in the country got a little bit frothy at the highs for premium goods, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see somewhat lower prices overall before anyone sees new recent highs again.
Truth is we can do real well with $35 red fox and $8 muskrats and $20 male mink and $18 western coon. Of course I’d prefer double or even triple all that when it comes time for us to sell.But the reality is, fur prices are going to fluctuate from one season to the next and quite often one part of each season to other. That’s the game. Don’t be disgruntled by oscillating prices that may not hold up to higher-highs all the time. Don’t be discouraged if you ain’t getting rich this time around.
Truth is, fur trapping is not the easiest, high-paying work to be found. For those of us who are addicted to the core, we will be out there until our bodies simply won’t hold up no more.. even if fur prices fail to hold up long before then :)