Bloodthirstiness runs deep in the average pre-pubescent country boy. At least, it did in this one. Many an English sparrow and starling fell to my trusty Daisy Red Ryder before I finished losing my baby teeth.
The armament and the victims changed as I got older. A succession of shotguns and rifles replaced the BB gun, firearms that increased in gauge and caliber as I got bigger and able to handle the recoil. Concurrently, the sparrows and starlings morphed into squirrels, ducks, doves and rabbits. I still wanted to shoot a pile of everything, and felt somehow cheated if I failed to take a legal limit every time out. I won’t say I viewed those less-than-the-limit hunts as failures, but I was less than satisfied.
Then came a growing interest in big game, and the bloodthirstiness continued. Turkeys, in particular, induced this feeling. I loved turkeys and hated them, too; they fascinated me and frustrated me. I’ve always adhered to the daily and seasonal limit, but I admit to many days when I just wanted to kill ’em all.
I felt much the same way about deer, both the whitetails at home and the mule deer out West. Ditto antelope and other hoofed game, although these animals didn’t get under my skin to the extent turkeys did. Even so, I went through a lot of years believing the only good hunt was one with a dead critter at the end of it.
With trapping, it was the same way. The first year I trapped, as a 12-year-old knothead, it was with a dozen #1 longsprings I found under the Christmas tree. By the time my second year as a trapper rolled around, I’d managed to save enough lawn-mowing money and bottle-deposit return money to buy another two dozen traps, and by the third year, I had more than 60.
High school, and later college, prevented me from an all-out plunge into longlining, but as soon as I was out in the workforce, I started longlining, running 100 to 125 traps. The same thing happened that had happened earlier, except on a bigger scale; over the course of a few seasons, my line grew from 125 sets to 175, then 250, then well over 300. And somehow there I was, going at it from well before first light to well after dark, rushing and running over my line so I could have time to put in a few new sets before turning my muddy old truck toward the barn.
Although the fur check was a big part of the reason I was going at it so hot and heavy, an equally important reason was because I was still caught up in the bloodlust of youth. I wanted to pile up the largest catches I could possibly achieve, not just for the money but also because I wanted to catch ’em all.
For oh, I don’t know, call it 30 years, I went at it as hard as my job and the physical limitations of my body would let me. Being exhausted wasn’t just a sometimes thing, it was my chronic condition for a full 2½ months every winter. During the course of the average season, I’d lose 20 to 25 pounds, go through at least two pairs of waders, and put more than 10,000 miles on my truck.
And of course, I’d put up some pretty good numbers. No need to go into that here, but trust me, they were good numbers.
But in recent years, I’ve noticed a weakening of that bloodlust that had me by the throat throughout boyhood and young manhood.
“Weakening” might be the wrong word, though. “Mellowing” might be closer.
It started, interestingly enough, with turkeys — the species that induced my most severe bouts of bloodlust. For the first 15 years I hunted turkeys, I was a fanatic. I’d run up mountains like a goat at the first hint of a distant gobble. I’d shoot the first legal turkey I saw, then run to it and dance around it like a wild man. And I’d be lying to you if I didn’t still sometimes feel like killing ’em all and dancing around their piled carcasses after a frustrating stretch of days string themselves together. But nowadays it’s a fleeting feeling, usually brought on by aggravation and fatigue.
About five years ago, I started catching myself occasionally declining to chase a distant gobble on the chance I’d find one closer. More significantly, I found myself occasionally passing up a sure killing shot at a longbeard. Sometimes I’d just let one walk away.
And this tendency seems to be spreading into my trapline activities as well. Last winter, my partner Bill and I decided to quit our high-production water line toward the end of the season, and spend the last few weeks catching a few foxes and bobcats in the high country. We caught a few, but we’d have done a lot better if we’d stayed on the water and kept pounding the ’coons.
And this year — as I write these words, as a matter of fact — Bill and I are taking a few days off from the trapline, after only a little more than a week of trapping. The reason, we’re telling ourselves, is because the folks who run the dams upstream are planning to send a big slug of water our way and since we don’t want to lose a bunch of our traps, we’re waiting it out. But that’s only half true. We could make our sets above the anticipated new high-water mark, and that way we’d still be able to get out there every day and do what we love to do.
The truth is, neither Bill nor I are nearly as bloodthirsty as we used to be. Maybe higher fur prices would make us step on the gas a little harder, but probably not very much. We’ve just figured out it’s possible to enjoy the trapline experience without having to go ripping through it like our hair was on fire, that’s all.
Who’d’a ever thunk it?
Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Spencer’s Web site at www.treblehookunlimited.com for information on his trapping products.