The Making of a Trapping Family
As I walked through the hay field watching my young Drahthaar pup work the cross breeze in search of any game his nose could detect, I couldn't help but wonder if he would locate any of the pheasant roosters that I had released several weeks earlier. Or perhaps he would find one of the many cottontail rabbits that I see running around in my back yard as I pull in my driveway late at night. Regardless of the game he might find, our purpose today is training. Not only for him but also for his owner as well. He is my first pointing dog, and I had been reading as much as I could get a hold of on this fine breed of dog. I felt confident that the pup my family chose out of a litter of 8 had what it took to be a first class bird dog and tracker. Even at his young age, he worked the open field with real class. I found myself lost in watching his every move as he cornered back and forth head moving up and down in search of just one molecule of odor that would alert him to game. As he neared a well-worn game trail that cut across the field, he stopped dead in his tracks. My heart picked up its rhythm a few notches as I prepared for what might happen next. I began to slowly walk toward him; not wanting him to break point in an attempt to catch his prey as he had done so many times before. As I closed the distance from 50 to 30 feet, I could see that the once intense rigid point began to relax. For some reason, the young pointer began to look around with puzzled body language. After taking several more steps toward the dog, he broke point and walked ahead and started sniffing around the ground. I hurried on over to see what he has found. I saw the colorful plumage of a male ring-necked pheasant. The feathers were scattered in an area that covered more than 3 feet around. I knelt down beside the pile and commended Bear for a job well done. While Bear continued to fill his olfactory with the bird scent, I began looking around as if I was a coroner attempting to find a clue for the cause of death. Could it have been one of the many feral cats I see prowling the fields or perhaps a bird of prey, a fox, or a coyote? Everything that I could think of goes through my mind. Whatever it was, it had beaten us to this bird and we would have to move on. I encouraged Bear to move on with the Hunt-em birds' command as I followed the trail leading back toward the recently cut field. As I walked along, it was difficult to think of anything except the pile of feathers.
Several weeks after finding the dead pheasant, one overcast Sunday afternoon, I was watching the game feeder that we have hanging from a tree branch along our back field a 100 yards or so from the house. As I watched, a male pheasant appeared picking the ground for bits and pieces of corn that the deer may have left behind. All of a sudden, the bird made a quick dash along the field and toward the house. Within seconds, the bird was standing 80 yards closer and in our back yard. While watching the pheasant strut around the yard at close range, out of the corner of my eye I saw a red fox bound over the fence that separates the thicket from the hay field. The fox instantly smelled all around the feeder certainly looking for the pheasant that was there just moments before. As my attention is alerted with the surprise appearance of the graceful predator, I grabbed my binoculars to get a better look. As suddenly as the first fox appeared, a second one jumped over the fence. For what seemed like only seconds, I watched as the pair worked the area over and then moved away from the house along the edge of the field and out of sight. As I thought about the pair of fox that I had just witnessed hunting, I felt that I now knew what had produced the pile of pheasant feathers.
As beautifully and graceful as the predators are, I knew that if I ever wanted to have birds living wild in the nearby cover that I must manage the predator as well as the prey. To manage the predators meant that I would have to remove a certain number to keep them healthy and not over stress the prey species. As I do when I get a wild idea, I soon jumped into action. I headed for the garage to find an old steel trap that I had been storing for years just waiting for the chance to use it. I acquired the trap from a neighbor that his dog had brought home one day attached to his foot. The trap had a v cut in the pan, which I assumed was to attach the bait to. So I proceeded to tie a piece of meat to the trap pan and wired the trap to a tree along a trail that I thought the fox would use. I then placed the trap in the trail and covered it with leaves and debris from the area. My theory was that a fox would smell the meat and in an attempt to uncover the food it would get its foot caught.
After finding the trap snapped and the meat gone several times, I decided that maybe my set could use a minor adjustment. Finding a few spare minutes at work one day, I decided to type the words "fox trapping" on the Internet search engine. Little did I know that what I would find in the next few minutes would be the beginning of an addiction, a habit, even an obsession.
I immediately went to the sites that had tips, sets, and how-to pages. Wow, so that's how you make a set! There's the dirt hole, flat set, cubby set, trail set, minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, days turned into weeks - reading, day dreaming. Whoa, got to get a grip here. Obviously, I am going to need to buy another trap or 2 if I really want to get into this trapping. Time to hit the product pages. This is just too much to handle. There's coil springs, long springs, body grip, snares there's no.1s, 1.5, 1.65, 1.75, no. 2's, there's Victor, Bridger, and Sleepy Creek. Get a grip here all you really need is maybe 6 no. 2 Bridger coil spring traps, 6 stakes, dye, trap wax and a small bottle of fast fox lure. I can improvise the rest. Finally after days of waiting, my package arrives. I can't wait to get the traps dyed, waxed and set.
So as nature would have it we get an early winter. The temperature drops in the signal digits along with over a foot of snow. A real trapper would never let the weather slow him down so, I pack up my stuff and head for the field's edge where I have already made hundreds of sets in my mind. I sweep away the snow to dig the hole for my very first dirt hole. Now I'm no fool; so I have with me a pick - not some little sissy pick either. I got the big pick to bust through this frozen ground. As I lift the pick high over my head and let it swing with an average drop I soon realize that I better put a little more muscle behind it. After 3 to 4 good whacks, I realize that maybe there is an alternate solution. That's it; I've got it - just use snow and set my traps near whatever is available. So I start looking around for likely spots to set my traps. I set traps at the edge of roots, near a hole that some little critter made before the freeze and snow, and I even set traps in small openings in the fence. Yep, things are going to be different now. We are going to catch a fox. Yep, Yep, Yep. Well things did not go quite as planned, but that first winter I did manage to remove a skunk and two opossums from the property. What really happened that first year was to get 3 kids hooked on trapping. Even if one of them is 42 years old.
So it's back to the web sites. Oh, wow they have trapping forums. This is great! You can ask any question and get many replies. So lets try it - What is the best set for fox? Reply 1, read a book. Reply 2, get a video. What? - they make videos on trapping? Days later, my wife tells me that I got a package today. Great! That must be my trapping video. "How much did you pay for that?" she asked. "This one was only $29.95." "YOU PAID HOW MUCH?? And what do you mean this one? How many did you buy? You mean altogether? Never mind, I don't think I want to know." If you ever watched a trapping video, you will know what I mean when I tell you what happens next.
Six traps will never be enough and maybe I should have 1.5 or maybe 1.75. There are coyotes around so I really should have more number 2's and no trapper would be caught dead with out a trowel, sifter, 10 types of lure, and digging hammer. But wait a minute, what if I bust the handle on my trowel in the heat of the trapping season? Yep, you guessed it - got to have a spare.
What's this, a Pennsylvania trapper's convention, oh man, we got to go to this. There's even one in Maryland. Where does the fun end? After spending hundreds of dollars and accumulating hundreds of traps and all the necessary equipment (I did not actually count what was spent; I like it better not knowing), we are ready for the 2001-trapping season to begin. "It will never get here", I whined daily. My lovely wife was tired of the whining not to mention the packages that were still coming in on a regular basis.
Finally, season opens and I race home from work to start setting traps. We waste no time changing and loading up the 4-wheeler to head back across the field to the first site that we selected for our sets. It was one of those beautiful fall evenings; everything was calm and peaceful. It's no wondering that God chose to visit with Adam in the cool of the evening. As the whole family hangs onto the 4-wheeler with trapping supplies secured to the front rack, we stop at the nearest location. While Wanda videos the special moment, the boys watch in anticipation of their turn to make a set. I start by laying down the piece of canvas I cut just for this purpose. I make the very first dirt hole of the 2001 PA trapping season. It was like the first day of trout season when I was very young. I couldn't believe that it was actually here. It felt so good to be actually setting a real trap that I had 100% confidence in. We had done our homework and now it was the moment of truth. Between the 3 of us kids we made 7 sets behind our house that evening. Life was good as we headed back to the house. At the supper table my son Aaron asks, "What do you think we will catch? How many will we catch? Which traps will we catch them in?" On and on we talk of trapping, until Wanda finally asks if we could find anything else to talk about.
The next morning, the excitement level was at its peek. Aaron and I headed out. Andrew, not one to get too excited, says to come back and get him if we catch something. So off we went across the field. As we go over the crest of the hill, we can clearly see that there is nothing. We pull up to the set and see that 1 of the 2 traps has been set off. With great hope of still catching something, we agree to reset the trap on the way back. We proceed to the second spot and both sets are untouched. As our hope begins to fade just a little, we head to behind the cornfield where we have 3 more sets. We make the turn at the edge of the corn, and there as big as life itself is what we have been waiting for. As we drove closer, the red fox jumped up to make its escape but the 1.5 Sleepy Creek did its job well and held it securely. As Aaron and I gave high fives and congratulated each other, I knew that this would be one of those memories that will last forever.