Do You Need It?

Traplines vary, and so do individual trapper preferences.

What’s indispensable for Joe might be extra baggage for Pete.

We’ve all heard the old saying: Necessity is the mother of invention. And ever since the first time a caveman picked up a rock and bashed a hunk of meat with it, people have been inventing things to make our jobs, our hobbies and our lives easier and more productive. Lots of the things man has invented over the centuries were failures, but amongst the dreck there have been many jewels.

Useful or Useless?
Trapping has certainly had its share of good inventions. The grass snares and log-and-rock deadfalls used by primitive people were state-of-the-art stuff in their day — and they still work. A good trapper could go out this coming season and catch some critters using these ancient devices, and no doubt a few folks will do just that, just to prove they can. But of course we have a lot better capture devices nowadays, and it would be silly and counter-productive not to take advantage of the modern traps and trapline equipment currently available.

But there’s so much stuff out there, it can be hard for trappers to distinguish between useful tools and gadgets. There’s no shortage of either in this industry.

The problem is, the line between the two is usually pretty blurry. An indispensable trapline tool for me might be a totally worthless piece of junk to you, and vice versa. A good supply of slider drowning rigs, for example, is almost a necessity for beaver trappers using footholds in the Arkansas delta, but a ’cat and coyote guy in the Montana Rockies probably has little need for ‘em.

Personal preference plays heavily in this, as well. Continuing the example of the Arkansas beaver trappers; Trapper A might like 9-gauge wire for making slide wires on the spot, while Trapper B prefers pre-rigged cable drowners and Trapper C likes solid-rod drowners made of 3/8-inch rebar. Trapper D, meanwhile, doesn’t like fooling with drowners of any kind, so he sticks to snares and body-grip traps and doesn’t use foothold traps at all.

Stretching this personal preference thing a notch farther, go back two paragraphs to that Montana bobcat and coyote trapper. Notice I said he “probably” doesn’t need any sliders. But what if he wants to make a set where his trapped animal will be in full view of passers-by? No right-thinking trapper wants that. A drag or grapple is one way to address the problem, but what if the country is too open for drags or grapples to be good choices? Using a one-way slider to get the catch out of sight in the brush or down below a road embankment might be a viable alternative. It’s not something you’d want to do at every set, probably — there’s that word again — but having one or two slider rigs in the truck might not be a bad idea.

See how it goes?

Different trapline conditions go into the mix that determines whether something is useful or not, but so do different trappers’ personalities. So does the amount of space you have available for hauling stuff around. So does the matter of personal finances.

So does … well, enough. If you don’t get it by now, either I’m not a good explainer or you’re not a good understander.

Keep It Simple

Thoreau had it right: Simplify, simplify.

I’ve always been a big fan of the K.I.S.S. rule on the trapline: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Things just work out better if you keep things simple. Less clutter, less confusion, less bother, less stress. But that’s not to say I think all trappers ought to be minimalists. If you have a need for it and can fit it in, buy it and carry it with you. That’s my motto.

Just make sure you need it before you stock up on it. Or at least only buy a little of it until you can give it a try and see if it’s worth the money. This is a tall order too because trapper supply catalogs are so crammed full of stuff I want but don’t need that it makes my head spin. I can only speak for myself here, but I have to stay more or less constantly on guard so I don’t get all revved up and buy a bunch of stuff I have no use for.

Come to think of it, I guess I can speak for my trapping partner on this too. Last summer, we got caught up in the atmosphere of the NTA convention and bought a bunch of fancy adjustable wooden stretchers — a dozen for bobcats and a dozen for gray foxes. Not only were they expensive, but we didn’t need them. We already had about a million standard wooden stretchers, and we don’t catch all that many ’cats and foxes in the first place.

On the other hand, fancy adjustable stretchers for bobcats and foxes might be just the ticket for you and your personal preferences. If that’s the case, I wish you’d bought that two dozen stretchers instead of Bill and I.

Beefer kits for increasing the speed and holding power of coilspring traps are a popular item these days, and — again, probably — a good investment if you’re trapping lighting-quick, extra-powerful or super-valuable critters such as coyotes, otters, wolverines, mink or bobcats. I’ve long been a proponent of this idea.

But if you’re trapping muskrats, why bother?

For trapping those other furbearers a beefer kit can be a useful device — for ’rats, it’s just a gadget.

Lures and Baits

Let’s think about lures and baits for a minute. No way these could be considered unnecessary, right?
Well…sometimes.

But again, this falls into the realm of personal preference. On my own traplines, I’d much rather make a blind set for mink (and usually muskrats) than use lure or bait. I’m more comfortable with blind sets, partly because that’s the way I taught myself how to trap for these species, partly because blind sets are faster and simpler and partly because using lure or bait vastly increases the attraction of a set to non-target animals like raccoons and opossums.

But if I’m trapping for raccoons on purpose, lure and bait (or rather, fish oil and bait) are very useful.

I wouldn’t even think about trying to run a ’coon line without either one. Ditto bobcats and canines, although I rely mostly on lure and urine for these animals and use bait only rarely.

So once again, it depends. Lure and bait are pretty much in the gadget category on my mink and ’rat line, but solidly in my list of essential tools when I’m after ’cats, ’coons and canines.

One other thing that ought to be mentioned before we leave the subject of lures and baits is that it’s entirely possible to use too many of them.

Every trapper ought to experiment to find out what lures and baits work best for them, but when trappers find two or three that work, the time for experimentation is pretty much over with. Show me a trapper who regularly uses a half-dozen lures for one species, and I’ll show you a trapper who’s susceptible to gadgets.

Some Gadgets You Could Lose

Digging tools. Just about every trapper needs one at some time or other, and some trappers use them at every set. But how many do you need? I know one pretty good trapper who routinely carries a tile spade, a heavy-duty garden trowel, a special-purpose dirthole punching tool made from a piece of 2-inch pipe, a big old silver-plate serving spoon he bought at a flea market and, as if those weren’t enough, a 15-inch piece of smooth rebar for punching mouse-sized dirtholes. Like I said, he’s a pretty good trapper. But he’s not a very good planner.

Here’s a gadget that seems to have withstood the test of time: rubber crawdads that attach to the pan of a trap for trapping mink and ’coons. The thing is, though, I can’t ever remember seeing anybody actually use them on the trapline. Almost everybody has bought some at one time or other, and I’m no different. I bought a dozen maybe 20 years ago, and made 12 rubber-crawdad-on-the-pan sets. And they worked, too. On the first check, those 12 sets yielded two mink and two ’coons. I’m also fairly certain two of the traps were sprung by great blue herons.

The lesson here is that some of the things that do work ought to be used very cautiously, which, as far as I’m concerned, puts them squarely in the gadget category. Even if using rubber crawdads was a desirable thing, buying them for $7.50 a dozen from a trapping supply catalog is silly when you can get them at the nearest fishing tackle store for a third of that.

Ever heard of a trap pan tension device?

It’s a little doohickey that tells you how many ounces or pounds of pan pressure it takes to spring a steel trap. You can buy one from a dozen different trapper supply houses, if you’ve got $15 to trade for it. But how bad do you need something like that?

How bad, also, do you need a little rubber fake track maker, for putting imitation footprint impressions in the dirt around your sets? It strikes me that this is an example of over-thinking the issues. Frankly, coyotes, bobcats and foxes just aren’t that smart. If making tracks at your sets seems a good idea, though, you can buy a tool for making fake fox, bobcat or coyote tracks. Or buy all three and make it look like there was a critter convention at your set. Or don’t buy the track-makers at all, and throw the money in the fireplace. You’ll catch the same amount of fur either way, and save shipping costs.
Battery-operated noise-maker squeakers, gadget or handy tool? Beats me. Maybe there are some situations where the sound of a mouse or bird might get a bobcat to come on in to the set and tromp around enough to get caught. But it seems to me that if you’re that unsure of whether you’re setting on the travelway or not, you ought to rethink the set location, not put your faith in a noise-maker. But hey, that’s just me.

Packbaskets are romantic as all get-out, and E.J. Dailey and O.L. Butcher used them all the time. But unless you’re walking a heck of a long way to tend your sets, a 5-gallon bucket would probably serve you a lot better. It’s a lot cheaper, too.

Tools You Could Use

Speaking of 5-gallon buckets, for the past three or four years I’ve been using a Bucket Boss canvas liner in my trapping bucket, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how I ever got along without it. I figured I was buying yet another gadget when I bought the thing, but it’s the best system I’ve ever found for keeping order in my bucket and speeding up my set-making.

Another gadget that turned out not to be gadgety was the trap-setting device I bought not too long ago for setting big bodygrip traps. When I was younger, I used to set these traps bare-handed, without tools, and although it never was what you’d call easy, I always managed to get it done.

But I’m not so young any more. I can still wrestle a #220 or #280 or #330 open if I have to, but I don’t have to, because I now own a Robbie’s Trap Set tool. That’s the fairly awkward name of the modified caulking-gun invention of a Canadian trapper. It hit the market a few years back. At nearly $50, it’s expensive, but it’s vastly easier and surer to use than the old tong-style setters, and you can do it one-handed to boot. That’s a pretty big plus at any time, but it could really be important if your other hand was occupied. Like, for instance, if it was caught in one of those big traps.

That last paragraph wasn’t intended as an infomercial, but the Trap Set is a good example of something that at first appears to be a gadget, but turns out to be a useful trapline tool. Bill and I now own two of them, and I bought a spare just in case.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

As much as I have to discipline myself against buying gadgets I don’t need, I’m even more susceptible to buying too much of something that I really do need. Like those fox and bobcat stretchers, for instance.

As another illustration, I once bought 38 dozen new #110 bodygrip traps. That was back in the days when I was running a 250-mile mink longline, and granted, it takes a lot of hardware to set a line like that. But I already had several hundred #110s, and buying 456 more was overkill.

Speaking of overkill, that explains why you might have seen Bill and me at the NTA convention this summer, loading a 55-gallon drum of fish oil into the bed of my wife’s pickup truck.

I wonder if that drum of oil is going to last as long as those #110s did?

Jim Spencer is executive editor of Trapper & Predator Caller. His book, “Guide to Trapping,” is a useful trapline tool, and it will last longer than a drum of fish oil. For an autographed copy, send $19.95 plus $4 s&h to Treble Hook Unlimited, P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519.



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