Trapping Stories 1 : Trapper Mac
Article Posted: November 15, 2012
Morning, opening day of the trapping season, my dad was excited, I was excited as we lay along the rock pile leading to our first set in the creek below us. We checked our watches, Dad looked at his watch intently, a dozen leg hold traps slung over his shoulder, his first trap in his hand, set, ready to place and bait in the natural nook it was going in where the bridge piling abutted the creek. A few dead minnows placed tight in the corner in a small dug out, a tiny bit of scent on a twig above it, and the trap going in front of it in the water, hidden in it's deadly spot, the only way into the minnow cache. This was a good mink set.
9 o'clock !! Dad stepped off the rock, into the creek edge in his hip waders leaning forward to lay the set in the shallow water, then whooosh..... he was gone !!!
"Dad"! I screamed from above him as I scrambled down the rocks to the waters edge. He was completely gone, slipping off the rocks and into the deep middle of the creek, nothing was left of him in an instant. It happened so fast, yet it all moved in slow motion.
From the middle of the creek out of the water flew a bundle of traps, water spraying behind them as they emerged from the water. They arced over the bridge guard rail and onto the road above us. Then in the water I could see a gloved hand break the surface as if it was searching for something. Desperately the hand searched, grabbing at air, at anything, I reached out for the hand and grabbed it. I yanked the hand with all the might a thirteen year old boy could muster. It didn't budge.
I knew well what was happening, we talked about it often. It was why we never wore chest waders. Chest waders would be a death sentence if you went in wearing them. The incident at the creek I remember like it was yesterday and yet, it happend 32 years ago.
As I write this I'm brought back to the memories of Trapper Mac, my dad. We ran trap lines every year, and for us, it was how we lived. Without the income it provided the family, Christmas for myself and my five brothers and sisters would be pretty dismal. It was hard work and it started in late summer and went right through the winter.
A typical day trapping was thus: Up before dawn, my older two brothers took the pick-up and john boat out to the slough south of town to run the "rat line". We had a hundred muskrat sets in a densely populated muskrat community. Every morning at dawn and every afternoon after school they were responsible for checking those sets. They were very productive as well. On a typical day each set would yield two rats. A 1x10 conibear with a rotten apple slice on the trigger and a few lying on the ground below the trigger always worked, just find the 'run' and they'll get in line to get into it. Most sets were inexpensive #1's, set to drown the rat. If you didn't set it to drown it, the muskrat had no problem chewing through it's leg to get out if it had the time.
While they were working the 'rat' line, my father, my youngest brother and I would set out on the Mink and Raccoon lines. We would typically have 150 traps set out in a big circle around the house, we never got more than twenty miles from home on the line. Dad had to go to work after we checked traps and we had to go to school.
It was on these mornings before school that some of the greatest memories I'll ever have occurred. Memories forged here, I forever carry with me, so I can pass on the knowledge I have, to another. The comedy of it all makes me laugh today. Still when we get together as a family, we always seem to talk about the time the Red Fox jumped on Dad's chest trying to tear his throat out. Or watching Grandpa Jim and my mom chase a Mink that had come back to life in the back of the truck and made a run for it when the door opened. They moved with lightning reflexes when a seventy-five dollar mink was looking to make a break for the hills. My dad was always talking about something, at the time I didn't seem to pay much attention to him, but I was always learning not only how to trap but to track animals, see sign in the woods, know where they were walking and moving. I also learned how to live my life and what I should believe in.
I pulled again, gaining a sturdy foot hold on a rock on the edge of the water, I strained with all my might, putting my full force behind it. Out he came, covered in the little green dots from the swamp and stagnant creek. He immediately smelled like rotting compost as the muddy bottom came with him out of the creek. Shivering and soaking wet, green dots covering his glasses and hair, his chest heaving as he struggled to take in the sweet air so important to life. He crawled out of the water on all fours, gained his feet on the rock pile and headed up the bank.
"Hurry up", he said as he struggled up the bank. "Get those traps, we can't lose them".
What the???? I was pretty sure I just saved his life and all he could muster was a hurry up and save the traps. So, we hurried home, he changed and we went back to business. We got all the sets in and the last one we did was the creek as we headed for home.
After showering and getting comfortable and finding a good spot on the couch my dad looked at me and said, "Boy, I'm sure glad you fished me out of the creek. I'da hated to miss the Vikings game today".
That sort of thanks was all I needed. I knew what he meant, it was time to get some rest, tomorrow would bring an early start on the trap lines, school, and skinning the days catch long into the evening hours. The work never seemed to end back then, but looking back on it, I long for simple days like that once again. Today's days just seem so busy.
Contributing Author: Mike McAlpin