An Interview With Russ Carman of Pennsylvania
By: Trap and Trail Staff
The Early Years:
T&T: Russ what year did you start trapping?
RC: I was born in 1942 and started trapping nine years later. I was nine years old when I started, and I caught one muskrat the first year. I had a tremendously quick learning cycle, and the second year, I doubled my catch and caught two muskrats!
T&T: Who were your trapping mentors growing up?
RC: For quite some time, I didn’t realize there was anyone but me trapping. My dad had trapped back in the Depression, but he wasn’t much of a trapper. He was a hunter. There were a lot of old guys back then, but they wouldn’t tell you anything. They were very tight lipped. One thing I did notice, was that they had a lot of respect. I was babysitting a kid when I was nine or ten years old and the father of the kid had an old O.L. Butcher trapping catalog laying around, and it was then, that I found out other people were involved in trapping. I bought my first ingredients to make lure when I was fourteen years old.
T&T: Did someone teach you how to trap, or were you self-taught?
RC: I had a couple of muskrats to sell and a fur salesman came to our house to look at them, and asked if I had ever trapped fox. I said that I was trying. He took me out back and showed me how to make a dirthole set. Being a kid I didn’t really understand it, and I ended up putting the lure and bait in the hole and covering it back up with dirt! It was more of a buried bait set than a dirthole, but I did catch my first fox that way.
T&T: Did you come from hunting and trapping family?
RC: My dad trapped muskrats during the Depression for a few extra bucks, but he was no trapper. Like I said previously, he was a hunter. My father didn’t want me to be a trapper, he was vehemently against it. He wanted me to be his hunting partner. In the end, he lost his hunting partner. I love to hunt, but I love to trap more. I gave up hunting years ago, because I wanted to trap. You can’t do both. If you’re going to be good at something you have to concentrate on that one thing.
T&T: Growing up was there any written literature (books specifically) that you used to help you become a trapper?
RC: Back in those days, there wasn’t much. There was E.J. Dailey’s Trappers Partner, and a book by O.L. Butcher and I can’t recall the name of it, but they didn’t tell you much anyway.
T&T: What lures did you use in those early years or did you make mostly blind sets?
RC: The only lures I ever used were O.L. Butcher’s Lures. His #2 fox lure is what I used to trap bounty fox back then. I bought from O.L. Butcher, a mink lure from Pete Rickard and a muskrat lure from Herb Lenon.
The Middle Years:
T&T: Tell us about your family. How long have you been married? How many children do you have?
RC: I’ve been married 52 years to the same woman. She’s put up with me. I’m so glad she kept me. I have two kids. My daughter is 50 and my son is 35. I’m very proud of my kids. They have done well for themselves.
T&T: Were you a trapper by trade or did you have a trade or profession and trapped on the side?
RC: I worked in a furniture factory for a few months after we got married, and then at a gas station. After that I excavated blue stone a stone quarry. I worked usually until mid-October or until the market for stone ran out for the year due to temperatures. Then, I would go trapping. I did that for a long time. We had a three-year drought and at time mink, muskrats, and coon were the money makers. I was depending on my catch for money. Well, my catch wasn’t very good, and I went to get a job at a factory. I did that for seven years, and that’s the only time I worked for anyone else. At the end of seven years, I had started the business and had gotten it to the point where I could make a living at it. I quit the factory, and two months later, my whole business burnt to the ground.
T&T: What year did you start making your own lures?
RC: I was thirteen years old when I ordered my first ingredients and I started making lures. By the time I was in my early twenties, I actually had several good recipes that were working pretty well. I became obsessed with it.
T&T: What prompted you to make your own lures?
RC: My father told me about a guy named Bob Slater that made his own lures. I asked my dad what he used in his lures and he said meat, fish, and essential oils. I don’t know how he knew that but nonetheless, I knew where Bob dumped his carcasses, so the next day being that is was cold out, I went to where the carcasses were, and put some meat in a jar along with some fish from our freezer. I then put it in a jar and stored out back in our old chicken coop until the following fall. By then it was a gray mass and I thought, I have to sweeten this up a bit. I had some dry fly oil or anise oil and I mixed some in. I went and used it, and fox came to it. I could see the tracks circling around the lure I had put out. I worked out of ignorance back then, but when I saw those foxes come down and circle, I was hooked. I became addicted to it. I was actually able to make the fox do a little of what I wanted them to do.
T&T: Did you own your own animals for scat, gland secretions, and urine? If so, how many animals did you own?
RC: I owned six or seven red fox and two grey fox. I had them for a number years and they are the noisiest creatures you’ve ever owned. We lived in a trailer back then, and one night, they got to carrying on, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I went out, opened all the doors on the pens, and they were gone! By this time, I was selling enough lure that I could no longer meet the demand anyway.
T&T: How long did you make your own lures for the general public before you had to have someone else make them due to volumes and demand?
RC: Since day one I have always made them myself. I always have and always will. I make all my lures in five gallon batches. In the boom years, I had two boys that would help me bottle. I had a one ounce bottle and a four-ounce bottle. We would bottle eight hours a day and five days a week all summer long. People have no idea. I made 300 gallons of Pro Choice Lure a year and would run out by the end of November!
T&T: While all your lures are excellent, which one is your favorite and why?
RC: I can’t tell you that, if I did, that’s the only one people would buy! I can tell you this. Pro Choice is the biggest pain in the backside to make. It’s very labor intensive. There’s a lot involved with it, and preparing the glands is very important.
T&T:During the boom years how could you possibly keep up with demand?
RC: The problem I had in the boom years was that I was literally making tons of fox bait and I couldn’t rot it down fast enough, so I bought an old ice cream truck body that was insulated and I put a little milk house heater in it to keep it at a constant 90 degrees. I could make fish oil in in thirty days, and I leave my bait in there for thirty days to taint, so I could control things easily.
T&T: How many different lures did you make?
RC: I’d have to count them, but I suppose I had fifteen different ones at any given time.
T&T: Russ, did you consider yourself a full-fledged longliner?
RC: You bet I did. When I ran a mink line, I had between 200-250 traps. For fox, I would run maybe a hundred traps or so. That was two traps per set, so fifty locations total. I would cover 150 miles a day. One thing you have to remember when trapping canines is that you have to cover a lot of territory.
T&T: At what point in your career or how old were you when you finally could say, “I’m at the peak of my career. I’m as good as I’m ever going to get”?
RC: I never said it. First of all, that was never my motivation. There are guys that have trapped their whole life and can tell you exactly how many animals they’ve caught. I can’t even remember what my catch was two years ago. Back when I first got married, it was about making ends meet, so when I had a good catch, I would sell them, and go buy groceries. Many times, I didn’t keep the catch long enough to take pictures because we needed the money.
T&T: Russ, tell us in great detail what was it like to trap during the “golden age” of fur? (Late 70’s early 80’s). Describe a typical day.
RC: It was frustrating…Humph…and the reason, was the competition. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the greatest time to be a fur trapper. If you’re talking prices, sure, but if you trapped for the love of trapping, it soured a lot. Farms you had permission on the year before many times were lost because someone else came in and got permission first. Trapping is like a lot of marriages today, when things get tough you leave it.
The Later Years:
T&T: How many books have you written and which was your favorite one to write?
RC: I don’t have a favorite, but I do have the one I hated the most and that was Happy Trails and Bumpy Roads. I was actually embarrassed by it. After reading it years later, I realized what I had done in the book was thank everyone that had helped me along the way.
T&T: Russ, my favorite book you’ve ever written is Winter Fox Trapping Methods In Snow. Can you tell me a little bit about the book? How old were you when you wrote it? How long did it take for you to compile the information for that book?
RC: It took me years to write that book. I tried trapping in the winter when I was nine or ten years old and that was when I started compiling the information for that book although I didn’t know it at the time. The best book as far as profits, and sales go was Foxes By The 100’s. It sold thousands and thousands of copies.
T&T: What was your best season trapping as far as animal numbers go?
RC: I had some really good years right after the fur boom. Everyone had quit, and I had it all to myself. There were a lot of fox. I was selling lures at the time, and during that period, I had nine people working for me. I made and bottled every drop of lure. I was working day and night for seven or eight years straight. Let me tell you, by the time trapping season was over I was just plain tired out.
T&T: As you gained popularity with your books, and lures Russ did you notice increased competition on the trapline? Did people follow you trying to find where you were trapping or watch how you made sets?
RC: To some degree yes, but I don’t think it was any worse than it would have been normally because I had a pretty good reputation as a trapper to begin with. I haven’t trapped very heavy for the last two or three years. I’m 74 years old. I have a bad spine you see. I’m a worn out old man I guess.
T&T: Russ, you are considered a pioneer in the trapping world. Tell me, what does it feel like to have a title like that?
RC: I don’t know, I don’t think I am. You have to understand something. When I’m home, no one treats me like the king of the mountain. When I go to neighboring towns, no one knows me. My daughter went with me to a trapper’s convention one year, and couldn’t believe the way people acted around me. I’ll be honest, I don’t think a title like that is deserved, but I’m flattered by it. Who wouldn’t be? The only reason I have a reputation like that is because I had good advertising!
T&T: What do you think the biggest challenge we as trappers face today?
RC: Our changing world. I don’t think it’s the fur markets, or the animal rights folks. I talked with Johnny Thorpe recently, and he said, “We’re dinosaurs.” Kids today just aren’t interested in trapping, so we as trappers, parents, and mentors have to involve kids in the sport of trapping if we want it to live on for future generations.