Spencer: The Trap Line is About to Get Competitive

by Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

Whenever trappers get together after a long, hard season, whether it’s at an association fur sale, a convention or just a few buddies getting together to chew the fat and swap lies, one of the most asked questions is “How many did you catch?”

Not “How much did you sell them for?” Rather, it’s “How many?”

Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

Jim Spencer, T&PC executive editor

There’s a reason we ask the one question and not the other: most humans are competitive by nature, and when we’re in a group of our peers, we want to know how we measure up. Trappers are more competitive than most folks; it’s one of the necessary personality traits for becoming a competent trapper. Every time you put a trap in place, you’re in competition with the target animal, pitting your powers of observation, your knowledge of animal behavior and your technical abilities to make an effective set against the furbearer’s sharp senses and built-in paranoia.

If we catch the animal, we win. If we don’t catch it, we lose.

Of course, trapping is often a low-percentage game, requiring numerous sets and numerous trap-nights to get the job done. A marsh full of muskrats can give you a pretty high ratio of catches per trap-night, but if you’re after bobcats, otters, coyotes, fishers and many other species, you’re probably going to look at an awful lot of empty traps on the average check of your line. However, those empty traps aren’t losses; they’re more analogous to strikes in a baseball game. Make too many strikes and yep, you’ll lose, but a manageable number of them are O.K. Other things being equal, the more experience a trapper has, the better he or she will become at it, and the higher his or her catch ratio is going to be. This assumes, of course, that the trapper is paying attention, isn’t too much of a blockhead and learns from mistakes as well as from successes.

I’ve heard trappers say they’re not out there to make a big catch, but rather to enjoy nature. These folks are big on saying things like, “I just want to be out there in the fresh air and the solitude.”

I don’t buy it. I like fresh air and solitude, too, but if that’s all you’re looking for, there are easier ways of finding them than running a trapline day after day. When I hear somebody say that, I’m thinking, “If you don’t care whether you catch anything or not, how come you lug those heavy traps out there and set them?”

Naw, we’re competitive, all right. The hard-charging longliner and the guy who checks a dozen sets before work in the morning have the same goal: to catch as many furbearers as possible in the length of time they have available for the trapline. The longliner has more time to spend on the line, therefore many more sets, and naturally they will catch more stuff. But in many cases, the short-liner will have a better ratio of catches per trap-night than the longliner. So who’s the better trapper? Who’s to say? Certainly not me.

So the next time you find yourself in the middle of one of those post-season get-togethers, maybe instead of “How many did you catch?” a better question might be “How many traps did you use to catch them?”

Jim Spencer is the executive editor of Trapper & Predator Caller. His award-winning book, “Guide to Trapping,” covers everything you need to know to successfully harvest, prepare and sell North America’s common furbearers. For an autographed copy, send $19.95 plus $4 S&H to Treble Hook Unlimited, P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519, or visit www.treblehookunlimited.com.

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2 thoughts on “Spencer: The Trap Line is About to Get Competitive

  1. Jim,I could not agree more with you,most trappers are out there to roll up the numbers and toot their own horns at the fur sales and conventions.As I move on past the sixty year old mark,I have slowed down and started to “smell the roses”,I am starting to see trapping in a different light.I am now starting to get actively involved in the state trapping organization,and I am seeing all the work that goes on behind the scenes in education and the many events to promote trapping.As we age,our priorities shift to others things,friendships,sharing knowledge,an out-of-state trip just for the experience and scenery,and lending a hand ,when it is necessary.I am afraid trapping isn’t just about numbers anymore,I am now in it for the things money and fame cannot buy.

  2. At last someone who tells is like it is. I love being outside in the cold air and solitude, but I love it even more when my catch to sets ratio is at an acceptable level for the area and species being trapped. Good article, truth with a little humor thrown in for good measure.

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