Sunday, December 25, 2011


Willow gets a good whiff of coyote butt!
My daughter, Abby, is up for Christmas week and she brought her Pomeranian, Willow.  Willow comes to visit us on a regular basis and I do my best to keep the dog from becoming completely citified.

  After all, dogs are direct descendants of wolves, although I find it hard to understand how something like Willow could have sprung from the loins of ancient Canis lupis.

Regardless, it must be humiliating for a dog, even a citified, yapper, metrosexual dog to go to doggy spas and get “pet”-e-cures complete with hot pink nail polish.  So when Willow comes, we do manly, doggy, bonding things as much as possible.

And to prove her ancestry, nothing is more thrilling to this urban pet than to do a little butt-sniffing at the end of a day on my trap line.

Willow was a bit tentative the first time she was introduced to a pile of yet-to-be pelted critters, but now–it’s the highlight of one of her visits!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Because of the unique smells associated with trapping, my family has dubbed the pick-up truck I use on my trap line the Skunk Truck  It's barely old enough to drink, but reliable as a 10 year old Labrador.

I've had a few things go wrong with it over the years. More than a few, actually, but I've always made it home.

Once, halfway through a day of trapping it would only go forward - no reverse.  "Odd," I thought. But how often do you need reverse compared to forward gears anyway - and how many of those back-ups could be avoided with a bit of advanced planning?

I solved that problem by finding a Ranger of similar vintage at a salvage yard and swapping out my no-reverse tranny with the shifter from the junker.  I salvaged the tail gate from the junkyard pick-up as well. Two upgrades for the price of one.

I thought I was in big trouble yesterday when out on my trapline. First, I tried to drive up a sandy hill and the truck wouldn't go. Engine revved, no wheels turning. Could the clutch be slipping? I backed down the slope and drove around it. A bit later, I turned into a muddy spot and was stuck. The Skunk Truck wouldn't go forward or back out and there was no mud flying from the churning wheels. They weren't turning. Had to be the clutch. So I set there pondering what next to do.

Then I remembered, I'd disengaged the front wheel hubs so when I put the truck in 4-wheel-drive, it was still in 2-wheel-drive and since these old trucks didn't have limited-slip differentials, it was really one wheel drive.

I hopped out, engaged the locks on the front hubs and backed on out of the quagmire.  Onward!

I normally just leave the front hubs in the locked position but doing so cuts mileage and puts additional wear and tear on the front wheel drive train. I'd driven the truck to town for a meeting earlier in the day so I'd unlocked the hubs. After the meeting I headed straight for the trap line - without a thought of locking the front hubs.

So the Skunk Truck keeps on running great. It's my short term memory that's questionable.

Saturday, December 17, 2011



 Raccoons have proven to be one of the most adaptable of North America's fur bearing animals. Many species of animals have experienced serious declines as the continent transitioned from wilderness to mostly civilized. Some species have held their own. Raccoons, as much or more than any other species, not only learned to live along side the settled continent, they embrace it.
Many of my best spots to trap raccoons aren't along still-wild streams or natural marshes. I find plenty of raccoons close-to-town, in-town or in and around farmyard barns and buildings.


Trapping these spots safely, isn't easy. In many of these areas using the normal foot-gripping or body-gripping traps is inviting trouble. They'll catch 'coons just as handily in a barnyard as in the wilds, but they will also catch dogs and cats if those are present.

It's not my purpose (here) to pass judgement on the practice of allowing dogs and cats free range. But snapping a trap on Fido's toe or having one of your body-grippers bring an end to Mrs. Farmer's favorite Calico is a sure way to end your welcome.
Cage traps are one answer. What you catch can be released. But cages are bulky and expensive.

Recently, a new kind of trap has been invented and are so good at restraining raccoons some trappers have sold all their old, traditional style traps and only use these.

Each brand goes by it's own name such as Lil'Griz, Coon Daggers, Coon Cuffs and others. Trappers generically call them DPs (for Dog Proof), some state DNRs call them enclosed trigger traps.

The reason they work so well is because they play to the dexterous, almost hands-like front paws on raccoons. The trigger is enclosed inside a pipe, bait is placed inside the pipe, the raccoon smells the bait, sticks its front paw into the pipe to pull out the goody inside and grabs the trigger. The trap fires, pinning the animal's foot inside. Job well done.

Most dogs have paws too large to fit inside the pipe. Even a little yapper dog would have to work extraordinarily hard to get caught. I've heard reports of cats being caught, but it's rare. I've personally never caught a cat in a DP and if a cat did manage to get caught, it could be easily be released, wisened to a repeat performance.

Opossums are the most likely "non-target" animal, but in most civilized places, ridding the area of  'possums is as important as removing the raccoons.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Listening to animal rights extremists, one would imagine anyone wearing a fur or fur-trimmed coat has contributed to the extinction of many species and continuing to do so will deprive the Earth of even more. In fact, the fur trade is one of the oldest global businesses and one of the few which concentrates on renewable natural resources.

The Hudson Bay Company is the oldest commercial corporation in North America and John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company was founded in the earliest days of US history.

The same species of fur bearers are being harvested (in much larger numbers) today than when employees of these businesses were pushing ever westward across the continent. First Europe, then the United States became hubs of the fur industry. Now, that’s shifted farther east. China and Korea are the large consumers of fur from around the world and Russia is a major player, as well.

In many parts of the world, fur garments are worn as much for their utilitarian value as for fashion. A fur coat is as warm or warmer than winter wear made from Thinsulate, polyester and other products made from the non-renewable resources worn my Americans. Fur coats are often more durable, as well, providing an additional measure of value.


Most of the pelts I’ve harvested so far this season went into the fur trade over the weekend. About half were loaded onto a truck from North American Fur Auctions (an offspring of the Hudson Bay Company).

NAFA holds several auctions each year in Toronto attended by buyers from around the globe. My furs will be matched with other pelts of similar size and quality and be sold in lots to the highest bidder. NAFA collects a 9% commission and sends me a check.

The remaining furs were sold to Groenwald Fur and Wool Company, the largest fur-buyer in the United States. GFWC has signed contracts from purveyors of furs from around the world and offers fur harvesters a price based on these contracts. Offer them one pelt or a truck-load and they’ll cut you a check instantly.

And the fur trade continues as it has for centuries.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011


When I was in my early teens, there were no deer around here. Whitetails lived in upper Michigan and Wisconsin. Mule deer could be found in the Rocky Mountains. The first live deer I ever saw was about a mile away on the battlefield near Gettysburg, PA where Pickett’s Charge occurred.

A friend’s older brother and father went to Colorado and shot a couple of mule deer. His mom cooked a roast from the deer and offered me a piece. It was tough, coarse, a bit gamey and it seemed the longer I chewed it the bigger it got in my mouth. Of course, being the most exotic piece of meat I’d ever bitten into, I savored it ever bit as much as a filet mignon from Ruth’s Criss.

Now, I’m not so enamored of roast venison. In fact, I once wrote a column claiming there’s no such thing as a good venison roast. I’ve eaten plenty of them. Some were tougher than others. Others were coarser than some. I’ve had gamey-tasting ones, bland ones and none I would ever ask for the recipe from the cook.

Don’t get me wrong, I love venison steaks. I enjoy venison hamburgers. Venison jerky is terrific. I’ll choose venison sausage over pork sausage. Just don’t roast it. So I decided to give it one last try.

I cut a 4 pound rump roast from a 1 ½ year old doe. I browned the roast on all sides in a bit of vegetable oil then transferred it to a slow cooker. The technique is called braising - slow roasting while covered with liquid. I made the braising liquid from one can of Beefy Mushroom soup, then using the soup can as a measure, I added a can full each of Burgundy wine and vegetable stock. I also mixed in a quarter cup of Dijon/horseradish mustard and a coarsely chopped onion. Low and slow was my goal. I adjusted the cooker until the liquid just barely boiled and cooked the roast for 8 hours.

The result was the best venison roast I’ve ever eaten. Certainly not the best roast meat I’ve ever eaten; certainly not the best venison I’ve ever eaten.

But it was tasty, not gamey. It was chewy to a degree but didn’t swell in your mouth. Though braised, the meat in the middle of the roast was a bit dry. But what did I expect, beef bourguignon?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The skunk held off as I turned over the cage with a 6-foot stick.
It’s an awful day outside today, but trappers can’t take a day off. The traps are out there, the trapper is morally and legally required to tend the traps. So I planned to write an essay explaining how I coped with the horizontal rain, the 30 mile per hour north wind the chill and all that goes with being outside on a day not even a duck can love. But along the trail, a more interesting topic presented itself.

I love trapping around old farm buildings. Even the most rickety of these buildings offer better shelter to raccoons and opossums than the most weather tight hollow log or brush pile they normally use as dens. Oh, did I mention skunks?

When I catch a skunk out in the wild, I handle it, best I can, stand upwind and hope the skunk doesn’t discharge. That’s the same technique I use in a less than wild location, as well, but if the skunk sprays in a civilized locale, my invitation to trap could be in jeopardy.

In the wild, the option of standing well upwind is usually a part of the plan. In this location, standing upwind was not an option - crosswind was the best I could do. I was using cage traps because the homestead is overrun with cats. The outside cat feeder keeps the ‘coons, ‘possums and skunks nice and fat.

So I held my breath, crossed my fingers and hooked the trap from its location just inside the drive-through of an abandoned corn crib. Slowly, I pulled the cage into the open as I entertained Mr. Stripes with a soft rendition of Rock a Bye Baby. (I’ve always heard they find soft music soothing.)

Door Open - No Smell

Then I used the hook-stick to slowly tip the trap onto its side. The trap’s door latch is gravity activated so once it’s on its side, the door will stay open when lifted. The skunk took this quite well, however, it seemed a bit less friendly and frequently showed me with its "wrong" end as I worked the door latches. Finally, the door opened and soon the little stinker waddled off to its next adventure. Mine was over with no residual odor.

Monday, November 28, 2011


This 'possum was caught in pet-proof trap.

The opossum is the most significant predator of ground nesting birds in the Midwest. It will gladly gobble the eggs of anything from a kildeer to a turkey. Don’t forget quail, pheasant and other ground nesters. Their sense of smell is unparalleled.

But most trappers don’t like opossums. Well, I’m not a "most" trapper. I like ‘em.

What’s not to like? They are everywhere. You can catch them on top the highest hill in the county. You can catch them at the edge of the deepest ditch. You can find them in the woods, in corn fields, in old barns and most other habitats. I bet there are ‘possums in most Walmart parking lots!

I’ve caught them in foot traps, body grip traps, cage traps, cable restraints and pet-proof traps. I tried to catch one by hand half-way across the Iroquois River bridge on Meridian Road when I was a teenager, but it escaped by jumping into the river.

Possum Pelts Ready to Sell

Most trappers say they don’t like them because they aren’t worth much money. Neither is a bushel of oats. But if you have a big wagon load of oats, you’ve got something. Besides, what trapper has ever gotten wealthy from being a trapper? It’s a recreation, a lifestyle, a challenge, a sport, a tradition, a pastime - but a poor way to earn money. So when I walk up to one of my traps with a "lowly" possum in it worth a dollar or two in the fur trade, it means as much to me as the highest dollar animal I’ve ever caught. I’m happy they are plentiful and easy to catch.

Friday, November 25, 2011


In a "perfect" natural world there would be the exact number of predators hunting and feeding on birds, rabbits, deer or whatever prey is available to keep the meat-eaters well fed and the prey species from over-populating. The "real" natural world, however, produces cycles.

Sometimes prey numbers are high due to a light predator load; at other times the cycle is reversed.

As predator populations increase, the amount of available prey declines until too few remain to support the number of predators. When that happens, the predators die off in mass numbers due to outright starvation or diseases brought on by malnutrition and from parasites such as mange. None are easy deaths to endure.

Once the predator numbers crash, prey numbers can grow unchecked. You know the theory, each momma rabbit has 8 babies each month of the spring and summer, and baby rabbits can become momma rabbits in 6 weeks. Do the math and by the end of the breeding season the world is butt-deep in rabbits. Of course come winter, there’s insufficient habitat for all the rabbits and the population control becomes starvation, exposure, road-kills and disease.

Should we let nature run its course or should we manage wild populations, both predator and prey, to ensure the perfect balance? Trappers harvesting predator animals such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, mink, coyotes and opossums allow prey animals to flourish. Hunters harvesting surplus rabbits, squirrel, deer, quail and pheasants ensures the remaining animals go into the winter in numbers consummate with the available food and habit  and with ample numbers surviving to become next year’s breeding stock.

Personally, I believe managing wild populations makes more sense and affords the opportunity for humans to participate in the natural world - not just observe it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


One of my favorite comic book characters when I was a kid was Scrooge McDuck. As I recall he was the rich uncle of Donald Duck. I don’t remember if he was a good guy or bad, or any of the adventures they had. I do remember in each episode, Scrooge would spend time in his Treasure Room, loaded with gold coins, currency and jewels. Though a room full of these things is little different than a room full of rocks until they are cashed in or traded for useful items, McDuck just enjoyed being with his treasure.

I have a treasure room as well. Hard won, the result of hard work and it only comes at this time of year. It’s my fur room that gradually fills with the pelts of the coyotes, raccoons, ‘possums and muskrats I catch on my trap line.

One or two pelts hanging there don’t mean much, but by now, a month into the trapping season, the treasure mounts and I get a thrill from just being in the room.

As treasures go, it’s not worth much. Several hundred dollars? Maybe a thousand? I won’t know until the pelts are sold. But that’s a bittersweet sale. I’m trading my room full of treasure for a simple check with a dollar figure on it. I’ll put the money to use, but what I buy won’t be as fulfilling as the feeling I get when I walk into my fur room and see my treasure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


 I never thought my rural Indiana upbringing was setting a trend which would become a lifestyle to which America's usual trendsetters on the East and West Coasts would aspire!

It's called shopping "local" and eating organicly grown foods. I grew up with a family garden and have maintained a garden every year since. Home-grown tomatoes, fresh green beans.....

              Jars of venison ready to can and 1 1/2 Pound piles of Bambi-burger ready to package.

As a hunter of wild game, the meat brought home has always been a staple in     our family, as well. "Rabbit again?" my kids would say.  "Why can't we eat normal food like everyone else?" Now when they come home they look forward to some of my local harvest - duck, pheasant, rabbit or venison.

I spent the day butchering deer harvested opening weekend of Indiana's deer season. I cut plenty of "chops" - the venison version of filet mignon, other steaks and I made plenty of hamburger. We use it in any number of recipes calling for ground beef.

I "canned" 20 pints of venison in Mason jars. I've not tried this before, but anticipate using the "deer-in-a-jar" to make chili, tacos, stroganoff and other recipes. It's all local, it's all organic and best of all, it's good eats! 

Friday, November 11, 2011


Are you a wooly worm believer?  Some people claim the catapilar of the Tiger Moth (Phyrrarctia isabella) is one of nature's weather predictors. If the woolies are more brown than black, it portends an easy winter. If the fur on the catapillars are predominently black, stock up on firewood!
If the wooly worms don't know, who does?

Dr. C.H. Curran, curator of insects at the New York Museum of Natural History tested the theory about 50 years ago and declared the wooly worms were accurate 80 percent of the time. Countless other researchers have been unable to duplicate his research, but if wooly worm researchers are anything like Climate Change researchers, results tend to be more in line with the ideology of the research sponsors than true science. Perhaps there's just no money involved in the allowing wooly worms to predict the weather.  

The wooly worms were out on one of our recent Indian Summer days and I noticed they were about as consistent as two politicians debating Global Warming. Notice the worm on the left is predicting an average winter while the one on the right is in the Global Warming camp. 

Worms or not, there's frost on the dead tomato vines in the garden and the snow was flying yesterday afternoon. I'm predicting there will be another winter this year

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


One of the nice things about being outdoors in mid-autumn and onward into winter is the lack of insects one has to endure. No ‘skeeters, ticks, no-see-ums, deer flies or other biters. Except, of course, during the last decade or so, outdoorsmen would be swamped by "imported lady bugs" during Indian Summer.

You can recognize these Asian lady bugs by the M-shaped mark on their neck -- and the bite marks on yours!

These aren’t mild-mannered, cute and cuddly native lady bugs. These are swarms of Harmonia axyridis or Asian lady beetles that look very similar to our domestic version of lady bug.

Soybeans were imported to the US long ago from Asia and have become one of the most important agricultural crops. Asian lady beetles were imported to the US by home gardeners who would release them as a biological control for aphids in their roses. I don’t know if that worked, but about 15 years ago the soybean aphid showed up in America and the result has been plagues of lady beetles approaching biblical proportions.

There are millions of acres of Asian soybeans, harboring gazillions of Asian aphids, being feasted on by bajillions of Asian lady bugs. It's a transplanted Asian ecosystem here in North America.

And once the soybeans are harvested, the bajillions of lady beetles, deprived of their main source of food, look to other sources, such as coyote trappers bent over setting a trap in the corner of a soybean field.

Yep, those suckers bite. The back of my neck is their favorite spot. And when you swat them, the reward is a foul stench worse than the smells coming from the back of my trapping truck! I’m happy to report the supply of ALBs this year was piddling compared to most. I’m enjoying the respite but I understand how nature cycles populations. Wait for next year.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Tom takes stock photos while leaning on the Equinox
Tom and I had an interesting day on the trapline yesterday and it was productive for both of us. We were both able to add to our photo library, Tom got plenty of information for articles in the publications for which he writes and there was no sign of the outdoor writer's curse.  

On the second property I had traps set, the farmer had just finished harvesting his corn a couple days ago - allowing access to a ditch crossing  a half mile off SR 55. This was the 2nd morning I'd checked the traps set there. Bingo!  Coyote #1 was waiting.
With good sun, we made full use of this location for a photo shoot.

The next farm showed no sign of activity but at the next location another coyote had found my trap. Tom took more photos as I reset my trap.  

On Friday afternoon, since I knew Tom was coming, I set a couple places a few miles to the west which were new territory for this season. As we approached the last spot on the last farm, I told Tom it looked like we were through because if there was a coyote there, we'd probably see it by now. Just as I finished those words, up it jumped where it had been sleeping.  The Equinox is so quiet we were only about 25 yards away before it woke up. 

Success!  More stories on the loaner Chevy, soon. 

No Writers Curse for us this time!

Saturday, November 5, 2011


There's a well known syndrome among men and women who write about fishing and other outdoor topics called the "writer's curse."  It's very similar to the vacation curse, especially a fishing vacation, when the first words out of your guide's mouth is, "You should have been here last week."
Quite often when a writer shows up to get a story about fishing, hunting, trapping or any other topic, Lady Luck takes a vacation. We'll see if that happens today.

Good friend and fellow outdoor writer, Tom Berg will be coming along with me on my coyote trapline later today. There's no "planned" story, such as we might be doing if going to a lake to catch bass on surface lures or hunt ducks over decoys. We'll just see what develops. He will be helping me with photos for 2 upcoming stories for Trapper and Predator Caller magazine, the first about trapping out of a cross-over SUV (aka the Chevy Equinox in the blog below).  The other a story about being stuck, keeping from getting stuck and what to do when you are stuck. Hopefully, there won't be any "unposed" photos involved - especially with the Equinox.

So will the writer's curse be in the backseat with us today or Lady Luck?  Check back for the outcome!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Is Hell getting frosty?  Are pigs beginning to fly?  Have I gone nuts and bought a new vehicle? 
No, but I am using a 2012 Chevrolet Equinox as my trapping truck for a week! 
It all started a few years ago when Chevrolet signed on as a corporate member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. At our annual conference one of the Chevrolet reps told me, "If you ever need a vehicle for a magazine assignment, just let me know." 

I told him, "The places I drive, you wouldn't want me in one of your new trucks." 

He responded, "That's why we hire people to detail them after every loan out."

So I got a Chevrolet Colorado and wrote a story for Trapper and Predator Caller magazine about trapping out of "yuppy-trucks" -- you know, those spiffed up, downsized trucks suburbanites buy and use.  The following year I got a Dodge Outdoorsman edition to write a story about the ultimate trapline vehicle if price is no object. It was a diesel powered, 3/4-ton 4-wheel-drive model that should be required to come standard with a ladder to climb into it and out of it. 

The editor of T&PC and I decided the only thing left was to find an economy vehicle that could be used as a trapping truck.  Thus the Equinox.  Rated at 32 MPG and with all-wheel-drive, rear seats that fold down, we'll see in the next week how it fares in the fields and dirt roads around Newton County.  Too bad for the guy who has to detail it back in Detroit.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weather Wars

It's that time of year again when Summer and Winter start warring. One day it's warm and sunny, the next day is cold and wet--somedays that occurs just a few hours apart as the opposing seasons duke it out around us. Being a trapper means you never get the day off. Each set trap has to be tended, rain, shine, wind or whatever side of the battle you are on. In the last week I've been in a tee shirt and slickered up in a Gore-Tex shell against the wind driven rain.
These photos were taken of two coyotes caught in the same spot on back to back days. Note the shirt sleeves, then the hoody.

One could say it's part of the fun, but that's more apt to come on a sunny, warm day. One could also say it's part of the challenge, but that would likely come on a wet, miserable day. The reality is it's the way of the world and being out in it gives one more appreciation for it - as well as more appreciation for the warmth of home. 

I've been seeing more deer lately. Perhaps it's the harvest, mowing down the tall corn. Perhaps it's the onset of the breeding season, making the deer feel more frisky during the daylight hours. Another sign of the changing seasons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


When people think of "wild" mushrooms in the Midwest, most think of the Morels that pop up in secluded locations in early spring. There's nothing wrong with Morels but the hunt for them is as fun as the picking and eating.
There's another kind, however, unknown to most, easy to identify and oh-my-golly how much better and versatile than Morels. It goes by many names - hen-of-the-woods, hen and chicks, rams-head, sheepshead, cauliflower and others. Japanese 'shroomers call them Maitaki.

                    Shown here, a typical, volley-ball-sized Hen-of-the Woods.

I once heard Alton Brown describe them as second only to truffles as far as being flavorful.
This was a bumper year. I've had to alter the places and routes I travel on my coyote trap line this year because of the late harvest, but those detours have taken me to new woodlands and I've turned my travels into mushroom hunting expeditions. Success! I've located several new oak trees that shelter these treasures. And, because they are perennials, they'll likely be another one there, next fall.
A big one may weigh 10 pounds or so, a small one is a pound and most are about the size of a volley ball and weigh 4 or 5 pounds.  Another of Alton Brown's quotes is very appropriate - "Good Eats."


It's been a busy week. I started my coyote trap line on opening day, October 15 and after a week, I'm at my minimum goal which is to catch one or two coyotes each day. There was one day and night of 50 mile per hour winds and one day of constant rain. Neither condition is conducive to a successful line. Still, with one day of zero and another with 2 catches, I'm progressing. Farm harvest is significantly behind and is presenting plenty of problems. Most notable are the "great" places to set traps which have unharvested corn or soybeans. The other thing are formerly "great" spots which have gone dead, presumably because of their proximity to standing crops.
The above photo is the coyote I caught today in a trap I set just yesterday.  I'll be extending my line to new areas in the next few days to see what they may bring.

Monday, October 17, 2011


"By day he’s a mind mannered citizen, by night a super crime fighter!" Some think that describes me. Not the super crime fighter or even making a daily switch to an alter-ego.
"By summer, Mike’s a hard-charging charter boat captain, focused on all things boating and fishing on Lake Michigan. By winter he’s a dedicated trapper, controlling and harvesting the local populations of coyotes, raccoons, skunks and possums for fur, food and fun."
So it might seem. And I’ll be the first to admit I’ve seldom been one to "dabble" in the activities I do. More often I take a sniff, then dive in headfirst.
So I’ve scaled back my Brother Nature blog for the "non-fishing" season and started this one. I’ll try to give you a peek or two into what I call my outdoor world. I have no set direction, agenda or idea of where this will go, so jump on board and let’s see where we go!