Editor’s Call: The Season From Hell

Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

The weather threw a wrench into many trappers’ plans this year

 

One of my trapping buddies has a standard answer when some other trapper talks about how difficult it can be to keep a trapline functioning productively. “If it was easy,” he says, “women and children would be out here doing it.”

Before you get huffy and fire off a note to tell me women and children are out there doing it, let me explain that my buddy is kidding. In truth, he’s one of the most ardent recruiters of women and children into the trapping subculture. His little joke is his way of downplaying the hardships of trapping, and of telling complainers that if it’s in your blood, the hardship and bother are worth it.

Still, some seasons are tougher than others, and for me and a lot of other folks across the country, this one has turned out to be the trapping season from hell. Early cold weather, mid-season flooding, deep snow, and cold front after cold front after cold front have combined to reduce favorable trapline conditions from coast to coast. After the first few weeks of mild weather gave way to what appeared to be the new ice age (can you say polar vortex?), it quickly became apparent that few records were going to be set this season, unless it’s low-catch records you’re talking about.

For my partner and me, it was a roller-coaster ride from Day 1. We delayed our start for about 10 days because our opening day was too early and the fur wasn’t prime. When we tried to get started, we had motor trouble and couldn’t go. Since this happened just before Thanksgiving and the required part wasn’t delivered in timely fashion, we didn’t get started until nine days later.

So we were almost three weeks in the hole from the get-go. When we got started, we discovered a surprising lack of sign and scarcity of furbearers on our stretch of river, even though we’d seen ample sign earlier in the year. We caught some fur, but it was disappointing, and then after five checks, we had to pull everything or risk losing our equipment in a huge snow and ice storm.

The snow and ice didn’t leave for nine days, and then we made our third attempt of the year to get something going. We caught a little more fur. This time we got in six checks before having to pull in advance of what turned out to be eight inches of rain, and this time instead of waiting out snow, we had to wait out a flood. That took a week.

Then we got back into it hot and heavy, trying to catch up, but the tail end of our season was plagued with that dizzying stretch of cold-warm-cold-warm weather that kept the Midwest in a fizz for most of January. The result was our least profitable season in the nine years Bill and I have been partners.

But there’s more than one way to measure profit. The money was a little skimpy this year, but there were good days sprinkled among the bad, and as any trapper worth his or her salt already knows, it’s not about the money anyway. Money’s nice, but even in a good year, flipping burgers pays more than trapping.

Tough seasons like this one help build character. Yeah, that’s it. Character. The way I see it, I ought to have a whole heap of that stuff after living through this one.

This is not a complaint, by the way. I’m glad to see a tough season come along every once in a while, if for no other reason than to thin out the wimps. Like my old buddy says, if it was easy, women and children would be out there doing it.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send e-mails to modernmountainman@gmail.com. Visit his website at www.treblehookunlimited.com.

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This column appeared in the March 2014 Trapper & Predator Caller issue.

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