Dealing With Deep Snow

could barely believe what I was hearing. Weather forecasters were calling for a major storm.
When I lived in Tennessee, any snow accumulation was called a storm. But in eastern Canada, a snowstorm dumps snow in a major way. We do not count snowfall in inches, but instead, in feet. So when a major storm is predicted, trappers hope it is less than two or three feet. Anything less is not as worrisome.
Earlier this winter, snow fell for several days, dumping slightly less than a foot and a half — a good storm, but not a record-breaker.
Still, I awoke to a realization most southern trappers never face: I had to shovel my trapline.
A foot and a half of snow will have a major impact on your trapping operations.
As I sat watching the news, I knew my season was coming to an end, this year almost two months earlier than the previous year. Worse yet, my trapline was too long to cover in one day, and another storm dumped about as much a few days later. The situation turned from bad to horrible.


Good White, Bad White

Southern trappers find that a few inches of snow is a lot, while northern trappers find it is not enough. Some wait for snow before they start trapping, while other trappers stop when it falls.


No matter where you live, snow will impact your trapping.


Luckily, it has some positives. Up north, snow makes easier traveling with the aid of snowmobiles. For others, snow highlights tracks and trails, which might help you assess the potential of new territory.


However, snow will also reveal your tracks, increasing the chances of trap theft. But the worst threat of heavy snowstorms is losing equipment or catches under the snow.


Storms Bring Catches

Trapping in snow country is tough, but dealing with the threat of major snowstorms is an art. Years of experience running longlines for fishers, raccoons, and otters, as well as snare lines for foxes and coyotes has forced me to develop tricks to avoid getting buried.


Avoid major storms when you can. I offer this advice, yet seldom follow it, for one reason: You only know a storm is major after the fact, and pulling too soon costs you fur — a lot of fur.


In fact, pre-storm and post-storm catches often make up 25 percent to 50 percent of my catch for species such as fishers, so pulling sets ahead of a storm is not advisable.


For muskrats in roadside ditches, the situation is different. If you leave the traps out, you can expect to dig as deep as the ditch for every trap. In agricultural country, even 6 inches of snow will blow into ditches and fill them up. Tall stakes might help for really hot locations, as could keeping traps under bridges or culverts. However, stay away from the roadside, because snow plows will push another foot of wet/salty freezing snow on top of your sets.


Clothespins and Duct Tape

Mark your sets well. Of course, if you are running a well-established trapline, you might remember the set is next to the big rock that is never covered completely, or at the base of a tree, etc.


I mark each set in my log book, which helps me on fresh lines. Then, in case of doubt, I throw in a few of my subtle markers. My favorite is a simple clothespin. Snap it on a wire, branch or willow to save a lot of digging when retrieval time arrives. Duct tape also works, as does the more obvious and thief-prone flagging tape.


On properties safe from theft, I mark all snares in the preseason with flagging tape. I also mark location along creeks to help me find underwater sets such as bottom-edge sets and channel sets.


A foot of snow tends to not only change the creek, but also to bend all of the small saplings over it, completely disguising the landscape. A small marker might just save the day and help you find and check a promising set.


What you do once you find the set is up to you. I avoid footprints straight from the road to the set if I can, but when the snow is bad for me, foot traffic in fields and forests usually drops considerably.


Set For Deep Snow

Snow-proofing is the next step. For fishers and raccoons, I elevate coniboxes to knee height or higher. The goal is to keep sets working during and after heavy snowfall. I also set in evergreen thickets to avoid traps being completely buried.


For snares, it is not as simple. Good areas are not always snow-proof, so I set and mark. One trick northern trappers have come to appreciate is to use long cables or tie wires to tie high. Tying a snare two or three feet above ground might help pinpoint the set when all the bushes are covered and only the wire ring shows.


Deep snow might render locations useless, and I know these sets will be out of order when I check them. However, the catch usually is good prior to and during the storm, which makes all of the searching and digging worthwhile.


Gamble on Timing

Timing is important. You never know about the weather. You can gamble that an early snowfall will melt, or assume it is going to snow more and make everything worse.


I waited for a warmup in 2007, and ended up with twice the work when it didn’t arrive. Regardless of your decision, snow will force you to pull sets. On my line, snowfall knocks out all of my trail sets using bodygrip traps for raccoons, most dryland mink sets, and some snare sets in windy fencerows or bushes. But I rebait, relure and reset my fisher sets, because the best time is just starting.


For northern trappers, warmer weather in late December and January is bound to get the raccoons up and running again. I trap most of my raccoons during the first few weeks of snow-free conditions. However, finding a jumbo boar in a #160 in the middle of winter is a special feeling. The fur is prime. Raccoons might come in only one at a time, but the prime fur and the hard work of maintaining a trapline in the snow makes the catch so much better.


Snow also makes for great photos. It enables you, if you are inclined, to combine the passions of snowmobiles and trapping.


For longliners, snows bring the operation to a screeching halt. Longliners can run 200 to 300 traps and snares per day, maybe more, on dry land. But most trappers cannot run that many sets in snow. Traplines that could be tended in a day become a two- or three-day job. Under snowy conditions, lethal sets are the only options for hard-core longliners.


Bring a Shovel

Snow has benefits. I’d rather not face huge storms and the additional work they create.


But in the northern United States and throughout Canada, trappers must endure and adjust for snow ­? in some places, a lot of it. So here’s my advice if you want to move north to trap: Buy a bunch of clothespins and a good shovel – you will need them. Invest in a snowmobile, snowshoes and heavy winter pants. And once that snowstorm arrives, get ready to dig.


Serge Lariviere of Quebec is a field editor for T&PC.

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