You know I like to promote the wide variety of hunting and fishing opportunities we have in Nebraska. In my opinion “Mixed Bag Capitol of the World” says it all. Fishing, for a wide variety of species found in Nebraska, is definitely my favorite, but that does not mean that I do not like to hunt and trap. In fact I decided a long time ago that maybe the best way to be successful in the field and on the water is to be flexible and versatile. Yes, there are still some fishing opportunities to be had right now, even some open water opportunities in the relatively mild weather we have had in December, but right now I would rather we get some ice so I can ice-fish. Did I ever mention I love to ice fish?!
So, for now I am waiting on ice, what to do? Admittedly, the mild, dry weather ain’t the best for pheasant hunting either, so for the first time in a few years, I dug into my collection of traps and am back on the trap-line! My son and I have not done any trapping in recent years; muzzleloader deer season has occupied some of our time or we have had an early freeze-up and were on the ice fishing instead of trapping.
Most of my trapping has been water-based; muskrats, mink, raccoons, maybe some beaver. I have never done much dry-land trapping; probably should learn and practice some more of that sometime. I guess when it comes to coyotes and maybe a fox or bobcat, I would rather call them (see, I said I like to do a little bit of everything, whatever the conditions dictate). To trap the aquatic and semi-aquatic furbearers, a person has to pull on the chest waders and a pair of waterproof gauntlets and climb up and down creek banks. That can be a lot of work, and I guess I ain’t as young as I used to be. But, I do not know, maybe I am just drawn to water?
I am a more casual trapper than most. If I were more serious about it, my scouting and preparations would have started months ago. Instead I needed to burn some leave before the end of the year, so I pulled out the traps, got them in working order and then start poking around some locations to see what I can find. There have been some years when I made good money from my trapping, but in no way am I trapping to get rich. I am doing it because I like it. Having a trap-line gives a guy a good excuse to be out in the field every day. Besides that, it is in my blood.
Both of my granddads trapped. I am sure I do not recall the exact details, but I remember hearing something about the hospital bill when my dad was born being paid off with muskrat money. I know Grandpa Bauer did some trapping, mostly of muskrats on our sandhill lake on the ranch, but most of the stories I heard of trapping came from my Gramps Roth. Again I cannot remember all the details, but I believe that trapping supplied an important part of the income during some winters for my mom’s family back when Gramps was trapping.
I never got to trap with my Gramps Roth; man would I have liked to tag along with him in his day! I do not know, maybe I would have had a hard time keeping up with him? I know he tromped around a lot of the Elkhorn River and associated backwaters, creeks and wetlands near Atkinson. When I started trapping back in my junior high days, I asked a lot of questions of my Dad and Gramps and read everything I could find on the subject. There were no videos back then, so other than what I could learn in conversations with others I pretty much learned by reading and by trial and error. The Nebraska Game & Parks Commission had a trapper’s manual that I learned a lot from; much of that material can be found here in the same form even today, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/hunting/guides/furbearer/furbearers.asp . Although I never got to run a trap-line with my Gramps, I learned everything I could from what he told me. Many of the tricks I use on my trap-line today I learned from Gramps.
Way back then, Gramps put-up his furs and mailed them to “Sears & Roebuck”. Can you believe that? He mailed his stretched and dried furs to Sears! A few days later they would mail a check back to him. Gramps always bragged about getting a bonus on some of those checks, a bonus for the best handled furs to be received at Sears & Roebuck that day. Somewhere along the line Gramps got rid of all his traps and trapping equipment, but I have a few of the old wooden stretchers he used for his mink and muskrats.
I can remember Gramps telling me stories about trapping mink. His eyes lit up a little bit when recalling those stories. That may have been because mink were a prized catch back then; Gramps got really good money for a big, buck (i.e. male) mink. I can remember him telling me that “Sears & Roebuck” would pay him $40 for a good buck mink. And then Gramps would emphasize the story by saying, “. . . and that was back when a dollar was worth 99 cents”. Even in my fur-trapping hey-days back in the late ’70′s and early ’80′s when fur prices were really good, I have never received $40 for any mink I have trapped. Gramps always said that ranched mink is what brought the prices down from what he used to receive for wild mink.
Regardless, I would have to say that mink are my favorite catch, and I am sure they are because of those old tales from my Gramps Roth. Of our Nebraska members of the weasel family, otters own the water, weasels own the land, and mink own the edge between the two. Mink trapping requires some attention to detail; they can “weasel” their way into any little hole looking for a variety of terrestrial and aquatic prey. Sometimes I think I spend too much time making my mink sets because I want them to be “tight” and just right. A guy could put in several muskrat or ‘coon sets in the amount of time I spend on some of my mink sets, but oh how I want to catch a mink. Another thing a mink trapper has to have is patience. Mink can “run” a relatively large territory, especially the buck mink, and once they pass through an area it can be several days before they return. A trapper just does not go out and catch all the mink in an area in just a couple of days.
I like to wait until well after the opening of trapping season because the mink pelts will be prime then, and I have had really good success trapping mink after things start to freeze. When the waters are starting to lock-up for the winter, if a person can find pockets where there is still some open water, those places will be mink magnets.
When I am running traps, oftentimes by myself, a lot of things run through my mind. You are reading some of them here. You can probably tell I think a lot about my Gramps Roth when I am “on the line”. Maybe that is the biggest reason I am really happy to be back doing some trapping again.
While trapping I have been thinking some about my late neighbor too. The house my family and I live in now is next door to where Dale used to live and his wife still does. In his prime Dale was a paratrooper during “the war” and an excellent outdoorsman too–hunter, fisher, and trapper. Unfortunately, by the time I met Dale he was not able to get out in the field or on the water much anymore–his eyesight had deteriorated pretty bad. Dale liked to tell stories though, and I liked listening to him. Again, I wish I could have run a trap-line with him. Before he passed, he sold much of his trapping stuff; I am honored to tell you that I bought some of it and Dale gave me some too. Not being able to get out on the water or in the field anymore about killed Dale, I know it hurt him a lot. It hurt me to see him that way. I also think of Dale when I am on my trap-line. I am honored to be using some of his traps, some of his gear, much of it is the best trapping equipment I own. I hope he would be proud too.
Let me tell you one last little story from my trap-line. I think something else I appreciate about being back on the line are the smells, the scents. A person’s sense of smell can stimulate all kinds of memories too. Yes, there are lots of stinky baits and lures, but some of them are not unpleasant at all, and smelling them reminds me that I am carrying on my trapping heritage again. All members of the weasel family, Mustelidae, have an odor; everyone knows that skunks smell, but so do the other mustelids. Many is the time that I have known I have caught a mink before I ever got to my trap because I could smell mink. That happened again yesterday, took me a minute to find that buck mink under the grass and water, but I knew he was there. I could smell him.
I think Gramps was there too.