I was removing a ’possum from an otter set when my cell phone chirped, and when I saw it was from Tommy, I wiped the mud off my hands and answered. And learned my old friend, Gene Lovell, had died.
Gene was one of those battered old goats you see at trapper get-togethers — gray-headed, stocky, solid, maybe a little shabby-looking. He had strong, blunt-fingered, calloused hands that could tie on a crappie hook, pet a puppy, set a #330 or jerk the hide off an otter with equal ease. He chain-smoked unfiltered Camels and chain-drank Diet Cokes. His jowls always wore a grizzled stubble that made him look like he’d shaved through a screen door. He always had a sparkle in his eye and a smile playing around the corners of his mouth, waiting for a chance to erupt. He loved a good joke, even if it was on himself.
Gene would give a fellow trapper the shirt off his back, but he’d also go to any amount of trouble and expense to set things right if he felt someone had crossed him. He was a ferocious friend and an even more ferocious enemy.
In short, Gene was the kind of person the trapping community has always been full of, but that are now beginning to fall from the ranks, one by one, as they grow old and die.
I’m not trying to start anything here, so you younger trappers don’t read me wrong, but old goats like Gene have always been the backbone of the trapping subculture, and they’re dying off without being replaced. And when they are gone, something vital will be gone with them: a spirit of innate toughness, mule-headed stubbornness, self-reliance and dirt-under-the-fingernails confidence and competence that has stretched unbroken from the days of the mountain men.
The reason for this is simple: Trapping knowledge is too easily obtained nowadays. Nobody has to be tough, stubborn, self-reliant or self-confident to climb the learning curve and become a competent trapper. Today’s trapper, quite frankly, is a bit spoiled.
Again, don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing, not a bad one, that we have such an abundance of information sources available in today’s trapping community. Easy access to abundant information helps young trappers get started on the right foot, and it helps the high rollers increase their catch numbers and efficiency.
The thing is, these old-time, old-fashioned trappers of which my friend Gene was an example — and yes, I include myself in that group — didn’t have access to this abundance of information when we were learning the ropes.
There were a handful of skimpy and mostly poorly written books by trappers whose ideas were old and outdated even then. Instructional videos hadn’t been dreamed of yet. Furthermore, the equipment we had available was a poor shadow of what we have today — even if we could have afforded to buy much of it.
Trapper meetings and conventions were skimpy and infrequent at best, and trappers were a tight-lipped bunch who guarded their methods like crown jewels. Empowering the competition was an unthinkable concept in a day when a buck mink would buy a month’s groceries and a hundred of them would buy a new car.
It was during this era of secrecy and substandard equipment that my friend Gene and the other old-timers in our industry made their bones. Learning all those tricks of the trade the hard way might not have made them better trappers, but it dang sure made them tougher trappers. Their school-of-hard-knocks education gave them a tenaciousness and determination that I don’t see so much in the younger generations of trappers.
No offense to you younger guys and gals (and by younger, I mean anyone under Social Security age), but it’s true: The toughest among us, mentally and physically, are also usually the oldest. There are exceptions, of course, as there have always been and always will be. But the real iron men of the trapping industry are the old folks, and they’re rusting away, one by one. It’s a sad thing to see.
So long, Gene Lovell. So long, all you other Genes who are going on to run that last long line. We’re gonna miss all of you.
Read more from Editor Jim Spencer with a subscription to Trapper & Predator Caller magazine.