Mostly Trapping

Opinion: Roadside Trappers Opinion Piece

(Reprinted from above link)

Trapping season is open throughout Alaska. The Interior game management units opened up on the first of November, while more southern regions opened around the 10th of the month. Outdoorsmen and women who bemoan the end of hunting season once again have the opportunity to pit their wits against the smarter denizens of the forests.

I am a trapper myself, so consider that if you’re inclined to take offense at my last statement.

As a young man, I ventured alone into the woods to make my living on the trapline as my forefathers had done. I had read stories of real woodsmen who had carved their way deep into the unknown Alaska wilderness. They were years ahead of the prospectors in both the ground they explored and the expertise they carried with them.

These were men who did not freeze at minus-50. They shrugged into their gear, strapped on snowshoes they made themselves and walked the longline.

I did the same, following in their footsteps. I wore snowshoes (which I bought). I carried an ax, traps and bait. A dog followed pulling a pulk in which to haul my catch back to the cabin.

I had good success on my lines. I learned as I went. Snowmobiles were around, but they were relatively unreliable and I was far enough off the beaten path to avoid the company and recreational users they carried. Mistakes were made, though obviously none were fatal and only a few ended in damage.

Success only came with perseverance. I learned there were some wolves and a few foxes that were smarter than me. Occasionally I came across a coyote with a masters degree. I left those guys alone. I was trying to support myself, not prove a point.

Twenty-five years on the trap line, alone, taught me several very important lessons.

A four-month stretch without seeing another soul taught me how to get along with myself. I learned to appreciate a harsh land and its inhabitants.

More importantly I learned respect. Years passed and others came to trap along the edges of what I considered "my line." They stepped on my toes and I stomped back. Over time, I came to realize the "newcomers" had just as much right to the area as I did.

Today, I just smile when I see a new trapper on the trail. There goes me, many years ago.

There are few full-time trappers in the woods today. Those that remain are mostly far off on rivers few have heard of -- and fewer know of.

However, there is still a full pack of roadside guys. These are dudes who, for the most part, are marginal on experience. A few will stick with it and become good. Others will give it one or two years and then return focus on their day job. Unfortunately it is usually these weekend wonders who give trappers a bad reputation.

Living along the road system as I now do, I have had first-hand experience with this group of nimrods. People from town call me to report that their dog has been caught in a snare, or has a frozen foot from being in a trap. One of our dogs was caught in a snare set 20 feet from our driveway. While out and about on my dog team, I pass trappers' sets that get checked once a week, sometimes once a month.

Several seasons ago, I pulled a snare set a few feet from the parking area of a well-used trailhead. Ten years ago, some guy put in a dozen Newhouse footholds along a much-traveled recreational dog trail near Paxson and did not check them for six weeks. I finally set them off (accidentally of course), but they were not picked up until several months after the season had ended.

Irresponsible.

There is nothing wrong with trapping. Trapping is a legitimate way for outdoors-minded men and women to supplement their income. However, it needs to be done in an ethical manner.

Trappers: make your sets far from where you may interfere with recreational users. Your trade can be deadly; theirs is not. That is respect for others.

Pay attention to seasons and abide by them. Learn the difference between dog and coyote tracks. It is a rare dog that travels more than a mile from his home. Check your sets every third day, and check footholds more often. That is respect for those that may be smarter than you.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives near Paxson with his family. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.