Setting Goals Keeps Me From Taking it Easy

"Aim at nothing, and you’re sure to hit it.”

That was one of the favorite sayings of an obnoxious Type-A character who was my boss once upon a long time ago. This guy was a ring-tailed, 24-carat, case-hardened, centerfire jerk, and I absolutely hated him then and hate him still. But, in that one area at least, I have to give him credit. He was spot on.

The message is as simple as it is powerful: set goals for yourself. That’s a pretty good philosophy for life in general, and it’s my opinion that it’s the sort of thing that will make you or break you as a trapper.

Oh, sure, we all know all the trapping platitudes, and we use them often. Stuff like, “I’m not out there for the money.”

OK, that one’s probably true enough. Most of us are not out there for the money. If we were, none of us would have bothered to take our traps out of the shed this season.
And then there’s the one that goes something like, “My main goal is to just get out there and enjoy nature.”

OK, point conceded again. Every trapper who has ever drawn breath is to some degree a nature lover, even though many of the hard-bitten, crusty old goats I know would bite their tongues off before they’d admit it. My trapping partner, for example, feeds squirrels, dickeybirds and deer in his back yard, and goes through hundreds of pounds of corn and sunflower seed every year doing it. Bill is a ferocious and efficient predator on the trapline, as dedicated a trapper as I’ve ever known, yet he’ll stop making a set, walk to a clear place and get a crick in his neck watching a flock of geese fly overhead. And I know from personal experience he’ll drive his truck into the ditch to keep from hitting a ’possum.
Or how about this one? “For me, it’s not a numbers game. I just want to have a good time.”

Once again, point conceded. Yes, it’s undeniably true that we enjoy being outside — I can’t imagine anybody putting on this hair shirt that is the trapper’s lifestyle who didn’t enjoy the out-of-doors — but that’s only part of the reason we’re trappers. We all consider the outdoor lifestyle a part of the “pay,” but the objective of trapping is to catch some critters, not to get fresh air and a windburn. Unless you’re one of that small number of longliners and professional trappers who depend on trapline proceeds for your livelihood, trapping probably is not particularly a numbers game for you, except in the sense that if you don’t catch anything at all, it starts getting pretty old pretty fast.
So, again: aim at nothing, and you’re sure to hit it.

That’s why I think setting goals is important for trappers, from the hardest-core longliner to the 10-year-old newbie who checks four sets on the nearby creek before school each morning. Goals give you an aiming point. If you don’t have at least a general idea of what you intend to accomplish on the trapline, then how are you going to know if you’re performing at an acceptable level? Goals make you work harder, or, if not exactly harder, at least more reliably and consistently.

And don’t try to tell me that any old level of performance is acceptable. That’s the sort of thinking by which New Age school boards issue directives to their teachers to give no failing grades, because getting an F in arithmetic might scar the dumb little darlings for life. Every trapper doesn’t have to aspire to become the next Johnny Thorpe, but we all need to keep trying to get better — if for no other reason than to minimize the discomfort we cause the critters we’re catching.

Setting goals helps us get farther along that road toward getting better. They don’t have to be lofty or unrealistic goals, but neither should they be too easy to reach. I had a guy tell me just the other day that he reached his trapline goal for the year on the very first check of the season. “Now I can take it easy and enjoy myself,” he said.

That guy set the bar too low. It ought not to be that easy.

Goals needn’t be made public. It probably doesn’t hurt anything to do so, and maybe some trappers work a little harder toward reaching their goals because they’ve told others what their goals are. But to me, goals are a personal and private thing, something between you and yourself. I set goals for myself every single season, but that’s the thing: they’re for myself. No one but me ever knows what they are. Sometimes I reach them, sometimes I don’t.

But I’m always trying to reach those goals, and if I do, I immediately set higher goals and try to reach them as well before the season runs out. That way, there’s always something to aim at, and there’s always that little bit of pressure to be the best trapper I know how to be. I don’t want to ever find myself thinking that now I can “take it easy and enjoy myself.”
I’m already enjoying myself, or else I wouldn’t be out there digging in the dirt.
But why in the world would I ever want to “take it easy?”

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

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