Keeping the ‘old ways’ alive
[Reprinted from original]
he commitment and friendship that drive one local trapper’s lifestyle
Trapping is, in Beau Vivant of Onamia’s own words, dirty work. However, Vivant has been trapping since childhood, and he owes his recent commitment to hobby to a dear friend, his recently deceased cousin, Jim Kent. For a number of animals, such as raccoon, red and gray fox and opposum, the trapping season opened Oct. 24 in the Mille Lacs area, according to the DNR website. For beavers, minks, and otter, the season opened Oct. 31. With the season now at hand, Vivant spoke on his life-long commitment to trapping and how a dear friendship helped rekindle his passion.
An early interest, reignited
Trapping has been a life-long preoccupation for Vivant, as he got his start before he could even drive. He first set up a trap under a leaning fence post around the age of eight, and he caught a weasel the next day. He and his brother had also caught and skinned a muskrat around that same time. “[The weasel and the muskrat] started it all off,” he said. Throughout his adolescence, Vivant would hang out with Kent, and the two of them would go trapping together. “He showed me the ropes,” Vivant said, “all of his catches, and it definitely sparked my interest.”
As Vivant grew older, moved, started a family and had children, there was a period where he set trapping aside and stopped pursuing the activity. In 2018, Vivant began working with Kent, who had suffered an accident that broke his neck and left him in a wheelchair. Reconnecting with Kent drew Vivant back to trapping.
Vivant started trapping again, and that first spring, between 70-some traps, he caught 127 beavers. Seeing success with beaver, he began to also target racoons, muskrats, and mink in the following fall. “It was pretty much anything that had fur,” he said. Numerating their catches it included approximately 130 muskrats, 40 raccoons, 30 skunks, five bobcats, four otters, and several opossums and foxes.
Vivant credited his relationship with Kent for driving his interest. “It’s funny,” he said, “having a partner really motivates you. It helps you. You get more done, and there’s another person pushing you to go a bit harder,” he said. While Vivant noted that his cousin was only participating in a small capacity, he approached their collaboration as an effort to “fulfill what [my cousin had left of a life.” Through their relationship together, Vivant said he and his cousin began living their lives by trapping seasons. Vivant worked to give a vicarious experience of the hobby he’d previously been committed to.
“It’s tough,” Vivant said, becoming somewhat reserved. He noted that Kent had passed away earlier this year. Kent had been a great teacher, he added. “I’d come back here, skin 30 beaver in a night, stand up until 2 in the morning … because that’s what he wanted to do. And it was all about him.”
The work of a trapper, Vivant said, began way before setting the traps. “You’ve got to prepare your traps,” he elaborated, “dye them, make sure they’re all in working order, and replace stuff if they’re broken.” The traps also had to be certified legal with up-to-date tags. The upkeep and set-up was also performed to make sure the trap would dispatch the animal without causing it additional suffering. “There’s lots of prep in it,” he said, “definitely.”
Vivant highlighted three different types of traps: a foot trap, designed to catch animals by the feet; conibear trap, designed to catch animals by the body; and snares (also called cable-restraints), which hold the animal in place until the trapper comes to dispatch it. Vivant said he primarily uses foot and conibear traps, noting that snares could be somewhat controversial.
While some people might envision snares as pulling animals up into the air, Vivant said this is inaccurate. As the National Ag Safety Database website describes, snares are commonly steel loops designed to catch an animal around the neck. Vivant described snares as more effective than foot or conibear traps, if used properly. However, he added that some people dislike them, and he noted new regulations required the traps to have breakaways to protect wolves and other non-target animals from getting caught.
Vivant does his trapping largely on public land, noting that ditch right-of-ways are a common spot. He also traps on private lands, where he makes extended efforts to avoid trespassing. “I always try to get permission and be really nice about it,” he said. Vivant estimated that people didn’t give him permission seven times out of 10. “It depends,” he continued. “I always go back and I ask again; be nice about, and maybe I can get permission in the future. You never know.”
Vivant has received permission from several neighbors and family members. In terms of the area he covers, his beaver trapping line follows waterways a distance of 200 miles, going through Mille Lacs, Morrison, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties. He tracks a route through public land, following the Mississippi and its tributaries and branches north. “I like my water,” he added. “If there’s more water, the better. More water means more animals.”
Where the animals he targets are concerned, Vivant targets most furred animals. He noted that coyotes are harder to catch, as the local population is lower.
In spring of 2019, Vivant continued trapping beaver, running a much longer line than 2018, He caught close to 300. “That’s pretty good for only having 70 traps,” he added. Last year, he combined the previous two years’ lines, and he only caught 157 beavers. He noted there was a potential for over-trapping an area, and in future years, he’ll be alternating what portion of the line he focuses on from year to year.
Vivant skins all of his own animals. He described the process, beginning with fleshing. Through this process, the removed skin is placed on a fleshing beam, and Vivant will use a knife to remove meat and fat from the underside. The skins are then stretched on a board to give them the correct shape that buyers will want to see.
“It’s quite a job,” he said, adding that beavers in particular required extensive work. When he first started trapping, a single beaver would take Vivant 45 minutes to skin, and around an hour to flesh. Now, with the experience he’s gained, he spends around 10 minutes each for both skinning and fleshing a beaver. The boarding process takes about 20 minutes. With smaller animals, like raccoons and muskrats, he said the process barely takes any time at all.
The time frame a skin was left boarded varied based on the weather. Vivant placed the ideal temperature around 55 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Vivant has a dedicated shed where he keeps his boarded furs, and he runs fans to keep the air circulating and prevent mold. A beaver will take about a week to dry. Raccoons tend to take about five or six days, while a mink or a muskrat might take only a couple days. Vivant advised against doing it while it was too warm, as the process could draw flies and other insects. As his shed is not climate-controlled, Vivant keeps the process going from late fall through early spring.
Last year, Vivant had a fur buyer come and buy his beavers, selling the whole carcass without any preparation. However, Vivant prefers doing the work of stretching and drying the fur himself, and he doesn’t believe he will sell whole animals in the future.
Generally, he said, he sells his furs through the North American Fur Auction, based in Canada. Once the furs are dropped off with a transport, they get brought up to the auction, where they are graded based on color and size. The auction offers an international market, drawing buyers from other countries. The auction pays Vivant a commission for his furs, and he prefers to sell them this way. “It’s money in the bank,” he said. “They might not sell right away, but I’m probably going to get the fairest price.”
Vivant briefly touched on the process of dispatching still-living animals caught in traps. “Usually, I shoot them with a .22. It’s quick and clean,” he said. However, he emphasized that he tries to make sure that animals will have been dispatched before he arrives. The process of having to dispatch an animal took away from his ability to get to more traps. “But when it comes to land trapping, you just can’t help it sometimes,” he added, somberly.
“I’m an animal lover,” he said. “... But I also believe that if I’m not out there trapping, these animals are going to get hit on the road or they’re going to take someone’s animal.” He cited a recent incident where a local family had lost their dog to coyotes. He also saw trapping as a means to reduce the spread of distemper and rabies. He compared trapping with other forms of hunting, stating that it was a mechanism for population control. “I’m a firm believer that it does need to be done,” he said.
As of the Minnesota Trappers Association’s meeting in spring of 2019, Vivant has been a member coordinator with the organization, alongside his wife. Statewide, this organization has around 2,095 members in eight districts across the state with their own representatives. In his role as coordinator, he can help interested individuals register in the Association’s official database as well as process their membership fee. While Vivant is new to the organization, and the ongoing pandemic has impacted the meeting schedule, he said he is regularly attending it’s meetings and providing input. He recommended those interested in trapping visit the association’s official website, at mntrappers.org.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Vivant said he has seen more people out trapping. He felt that the pandemic had drawn in people interested in finding alternate sources of food, and he noted that trapping could be a source of food. His own family ate some of the beaver meat he harvested. He also suspected trapping is giving people a means to fill their time during quarantine.
However, he wished he was seeing more young people participating. “Trapping is a dying sport,” he lamented. “It really is.” He felt that younger individuals could spend more time outdoors, rather than in front of the TV or on social media. While hunting and fishing continue to have a presence, Vivant mused, where trapping was concerned, “The old ways are dying.”
As for his own kids, Vivant said he had three daughters who participate as well as two of his sons. “The youngest boy is the most interested in it,” he said, adding that his son has accompanied him to trapping conventions and other events. “I really wish more kids would get into it,” he reiterated. “They’re our future.”
Highlighting the appeal that trapping holds, Vivant said, “I like the fact that I can go out, think like an animal, and be able to catch them. I mean, who else gets to hold a bobcat or fox?” Vivant enjoys the close proximity that the hobby brings him to wildlife, and he feels that, in a way, he becomes a bit like a wildlife biologist, learning many things about the animals he traps. “You always learn something,” he added, “every year, about how things work, how animals think and what they’re eating … It all really varies. You can trap your whole life and you are never going to figure it all out.”
Looking to the 2020 season, Vivant said that he’s recently been busy, and he doesn’t expect to do quite as much trapping this year. “I’m still going to trap,” he said, “but I expect I’ll mostly do it on my way in to work.” He hasn’t done much prep work, but many of his traps from the previous season were still set up and in good condition. Overall, Vivant is dedicated to his craft. “I’ll trap until I can’t even walk anymore – and maybe past that too.”