Commitment, and a Contingency Plan

During a recent discussion, several of us trappers were discussing the potential problem of getting sick while in the middle of running a trapline. Not actually getting sick while you’re out on the line — although I guess that could have been a part of the discussion too — but rather getting sick during the string of days when you’re operating a trapline.

Trappers are, for the most part, a pretty rugged bunch of folks, and the general consensus of the conversation was “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” In other words, run ’em no matter what.

Several trappers told stories of running their lines with a raging fever, stoking themselves up on flu medicine and Alka-Seltzer before leaving the house, having to stop their trucks several times to “add to the bait pile” and so on. One guy said that when he got home from running his line on one such day, he felt so bad he couldn’t even get out of his truck after parking it in the driveway.

And it’s true, catching a cold or the flu or some similar sickness is no excuse for not running your trapline. You can go hunting or fishing today without having to go again tomorrow, but when you stick a trap in the ground, you’ve made a commitment. Sick doesn’t enter into it. Set a trap today, and you have to go check that trap tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that.

If yours is an all-lethal-set line and your state has an extended check law for lethal sets, that’s one thing. But if you have non-lethal sets out, you have both a moral and, in most states, a legal duty to run those sets daily. No exceptions, period, end of report.

But what if something happens that’s more serious or debilitating than cold or flu? One trapper in the conversation talked about having a heart attack.
“The next day I couldn’t suck it up and check traps because the doctor wouldn’t let me out of the hospital,” he said.

He was back out there a couple weeks later. I told you trappers were tough. But, in the meantime, he had to rely on somebody else to visit his sets and pull them after his heart attack. He didn’t like it much, but it’s what he had to do.

I know how he felt. One morning in 1978 or 1979, I was heading to work after running my line when I got T-boned by another car at an unmarked intersection. The impact was on the driver’s door, and when the door caved in, it swatted me into the footwell on the passenger side like I was a tennis ball. It basically broke the left side of my body — several neck vertebrae, left arm, left collarbone, three ribs and the left side of my pelvic cradle — and it was a dead cinch I wasn’t going to be able to run my traps the next morning, or any other morning for quite a while.

Fortunately, that year I had a trapping partner, a younger fellow who was just learning to trap. He didn’t feel confident enough to keep on trapping without me, but at least he was able to run and pull the line over the next few days.

It goes without saying that when something serious like a car wreck or heart attack happens, running the trapline the next day is out the window. Family emergencies can also crop up, making it impossible to check the line for a few days or more. Yes, when you set traps you make a commitment, but like the famous bumper sticker says, “(Stuff) Happens.”

That’s why having a contingency plan in place ahead of time is such a good idea. Marking set locations on a map, or keeping a simple but easily understood set of notes (or, preferably, both), can enable someone who has never been there before to go out and either pull or spring your traps if problems should arise. That’s what the guy who had the heart attack did. He drew a map for his son and grandson, who were able to find and pull all his sets. Other trappers use a county map, marking set locations on the map. Still others keep notes, using GPS coordinates or odometer readings to help others find their sets if necessary.

You don’t have to write a novel to keep a good set of trapline notes. All that’s necessary is to note the location and the number and type of sets there: “Crooked Creek bridge — pocket set under NE side, #110 in high trail on SW side by honeysuckles.” Something like that, so a person unfamiliar with your line could go there and look around a little bit and be able to find your sets.

Yes, trappers are tough. But there are times when even the tough can’t get going. And when those times come, having some sort of written record of your trapline is pretty good insurance.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to Visit Spencer’s Web site at for information on his trapping products.

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