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.