Morris Fenner of Nevada Interview
By Trap & Trail Magazine
The Early Years:
1. Morris how old were you when you started trapping, what was your first animal you trapped and what state were you trapping in back then?
I was 12 years old when I set my first trap for muskrats. I was living in Pennsylvania where I grew up in the small town of Wind Gap. My neighborhood friend and I pooled our money to buy a dozen traps after hearing some older boys talking about selling muskrats. We decided to be partners and make some money. After 3 days he failed to show up at 5:30 am to check traps, return home and catch the school bus. I checked the traps myself and caught 2 muskrats. From that day on I continued with the trapline check alone.
2. Did you have siblings or other family members that were trappers?
None of my family or siblings were trappers.
3. What was your most memorable catch in your early years?
My senior year I got to span out over the mountain and into a nice stream that ran thru my uncle’s horse farm, the McMichael stream. I ran into some mink sets the local fur buyer had set out after an inch snow storm. I followed his boot prints to some of his sets and started my education in blind setting for mink. Off of the stream in one spot a nice spring area flowed into the stream and up into it a ways I set 3 # 1 ½ Victor Longsprings at blind sets. Next day I had a nice female mink. Later the fur buyer told me he caught the male.
4. Growing up were there any books that you used to learn how to trap?
My only source of trapping information growing up was FFG until I was a high school senior and bought both of Bill Nelson’s books; Water Trapping and Coyote, Wolf, Cat & Fox. These two books put me on the right track for many years to come in my trapping career.
5. How much time did you spend trapping as a youngster and at what age did it become a passion for you?
I trapped every season for muskrats, skunks, mink and foxes until I enlisted in the Army after graduating high school in 1960. The first two muskrats I caught when I was 12 years old were responsible for casting my lot in life forever.
6. Was there any one person that you really looked up to as a trapping icon in those early years?
I guess in my eye you could call this man an icon at the time. His name was Floyd Moyer. He was my fur buyer at the time and a top fox and muskrat trapper. He showed me how to skin and put up my muskrats. Typical at that time, Floyd didn’t like competition!
The Middle Years:
1. What year did you marry Martha?
I married the love of my life on May 6th, 1967!
2. Over the years, you have trapped over thousands of miles of territory. Do you have a favorite state or place that you’ve trapped?
This is one tough question with a lot of possible answers, but I’ll pick out one. The deep dark hemlock forests of the “Adirondacks,” a light snow on the ground and a double on fisher. One big male on a running pole set and the other 50 feet away in a cubby box. There you have it. Tough decision!
3. I know you’re a staff writer for Trapper’s World Magazine. What year did you start that position?
In 2002 Kyle Kaatz asked me to come on Trapper’s World as a staff writer and after 15 years, I’m still there and now with Tera Roach.
4. Did you prefer to trap alone or with a partner? Who are some of your past trapping partners, and what has qualities have made them a viable partner?
Another question I’ve thought about carefully before answering. I’ve trapped with Mike Marsyada, Vince Gower, Don Luke and Jesse Barnes. Each man had individual qualities and contributions to all of our traplines. But always being a loner I liked “Lone Wolfin’ my own traplines. As a few have been quoted as saying “Mo is an animal on the trapline.” Am I guilty, I guess so and not everybody liked my constant fast pace and extreme commitment to catch a lot of fur. When I trapped alone I didn’t look behind or ahead of me as I kept my own pace. To put it point blank, when my boots hit the ground I “beat feet.”
5. What is the most challenging animal that you’ve trapped?
Challenging is a good word to use for this question. Again, I’ve trapped for 60 years as of now and in many states and for just about every kind of furbearer. I have to say that with the exception of beaver control for timber companies, I’ve never done ADC work. So I would have to say it would be between a female coyote who thinks she’s smarter than me and a 45 pound blanket beaver with toes and pieces of it’s tail missing and is knocking down and going around 330 connibears!
6. Do you have an animal that you enjoy trapping over all others and why?
Again Bill, sorry but I can’t limit this to one because of all the respect I have for my favorites. I state-hopped for 22 years and 10 states and each favorite animal has a lot of history. I had a deep passion to trap mink, cats, otter and fisher. I studied mink habits and travel patterns for years and loved to blind set them which is an art in itself. Simply, you have to know your mink. Same scenario for cats with blind sets. Have to add this, that in my opinion, most trappers haven’t got the cats figured out. Fisher are easy to trap and just one heck of a beautiful animal. Otter are the torpedo of the waterways and are a sucker for a 220 on a nice crossover. Years ago I coined the phrase when trapping them, “patience and persistence.”
7. What was your best season as far as numbers go?
As I explained on the phone, I’m not into numbers but for this interview I will answer your question. In 1999 I ran 2 separate fisher lines in the “Dacks.” I had back surgery a few years before and both knees were bone on bone. I caught 44 fisher, 16 coon, 8 mink and 2 marten in 3 weeks. In February 2000 in Virginia, again “lone wolfin” I caught 143 beaver, 26 otter, 52 rats and 7 mink 21 check days, with the same physical problems as above. My best day on fisher was 7, best day on beaver was 16 and best day to date on cats is 5.
8. We know you are a highly respected writer Morris, have you written for any other trapping publications?
Besides Trappers World I have written for these magazines in the last 30 years. The old TPC, FFG, Trappers Post, NAFA magazine under Bob McQuay and American Trapper under editors Tom Krause and Buddy Marsyada. I enjoy writing about all my traplines, state hoppin’ trips and some how to articles.
9. Was trapping your sole income or did you have a full-time job? If so, what was it?
I was a master carpenter for years, working for contractors. In 1978 I started my own general contracting business, specializing in stairways, remodeling and renovations. I trapped some seasons for sole income and some to supplement my income and I still do! When I started to state-hop my wife always had a full time job and held down the fort. There were years I took on a big job to cover bills and expenses while I was out of state trapping, sometimes up to 3 months. That’s the way it was and no glamour involved.
10. What year or how old were you when things really started to click for you as a trapper?
The first summer out of the Army I was 22 years old and worked as a carpenter’s helper to save enough money to bounty trap fox and later run mink lines. I was single and still lived with my parents. I quit my job the end of September and after written instructions from Bill Nelson, I made a respectable fox catch, for a $4 bounty and $2.50 a piece for the hides. I wasn’t Bill Nelson, but I sure wanted to be!
11. What was your most memorable catch?
Boy, there have been a lot of them but this one really stands out and has special memories. 2010-11 cat season here in Nevada was a tough one for sure. NDOW shortened our season by 6 weeks and the opener was December 1st. Almost every mountain range already had 3 feet of snow and hardly any access. I had pre-set our favorite mountain range but couldn’t get to it, so I headed to my back-up line on opening day. There was snow on the top of the mountains but only a dusting on the valley floor. I worked all day to get in 22 sets on 7 locations and I was pumped up going home. During the time I trapped, on that line I took 23 cats, 10 of these were 42” – 47” toms and some selects and A-1’s. I took 7 cats out of one canyon and 2 doubles. At 2 other locations took 5 cats each. I ended the season with 30 cats and averaged $668. My wife fell and fractured her wrist while we were checking traps. Then I was really going 24/7. I was checking traps, helping her dress before I left in the morning, cooked, washed dishes, did the laundry, grocery shopped and took her for doctor appointments! With her instructions I even baked a chocolate cake from scratch! There you have it, one to remember.
12. How old were you when you wrote A Few More Otter? Give us some background on the book and why did you choose to write an Otter book?
I was 46 years old when I wrote the book. Bill Nelson wrote an article years ago for FFG titled “A Few More Mink” and that’s where I got the idea as Bill was one of my idols. In the late 80’s I was doing a lot of otter trapping out of state and into the 90’s. I learned a lot about them from catching a lot and decided to write the book. I put in useful knowledge to help other otter trappers out and kept the price at an affordable $7. In 1997 I sold out the book and rights to Keith Winkler and in 2012 he reprinted the book. After almost 30 years it is still selling. I could add a lot of new stuff to the book but couldn’t finance it. Anytime I find an otter pull-out where the otter plants his back feet to push up the bank to the trail, I’ll back foot set him with a #44 B&L longspring in a foot of water on a slide wire and he’s mine. Make sure the slide wire is tight to the drowning weight on otter. Trust me on this one!
13. Tell us everything about your book 55 Years of Trapline Adventures.
What’s to tell about 55 years of trapping adventures. It’s been a heck of a ride and it’s now 60 years. The book is about the good times, tough times and some highlights. I’ve known some great people across the country and had some great adventures in all the states that I’ve trapped. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses an believe me I’ve paid my dues and sacrificed a lot! Some friends had encouraged me to write the book. At the 2010 NTA convention in Wisconsin I talked to Kyle Kaatz about the book and he said write it and I’ll publish and market it. By 2012 it was on the market. I didn’t mean for it to be a lot of how to content but everyone says a lot of it is. I wanted to share what my career has been about. I take pride in one chapter about the trapper’s I’ve known. To sum it up, buy the book and enjoy it. It’s a good read and only $14.95 at dealers.
14. As a longliner Morris, tell us about your state hopping experiences. What does it take to be a successful longliner?
This is a two-fold question as in my mind it’s two different trapping scenarios. A long liner is a man that can run hundreds of traps over a huge area and keep up the pace for a month or more. Commitment! A state hopper is a man that can go to another state to trap a targeted animal or animals in strange country and make a good catch. Priorities for state hoppin’ are number one. “Don’t be light in the wallet!” Number 2, I can’t stress this enough, is a top pick-up in good shape, 4-wheel drive and good tires. Next, a good place to stay and to put up fur and good equipment. Also, knowing something about the area ahead of time. How many times have I heard, “I know you can catch 300 beaver here” from a local trapper who never topped 40!
If you have never had a state-hop trip flop, you never did much of it. I coined this phrase years ago, “pull the pin,” meaning it’s time to pull up stakes and go home. The number one qualification for a longliner is “work ethic,” PERIOD! Sixteen hour days are the norm and not much sleep, dedication to stay at it and set goals for the target animal. Try to stay with two basic sets and eat and snack while driving. Don’t worry about competition, trap through it! Dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Johnny Thorpe once told me years ago, when things go bad out of state, “don’t beat a dead horse with a stick.”
The Later Years:
1. What is your greatest accomplishment to date?
My biggest accomplishment would have to be overcoming a lot of health and physical problems over the years and still continue to trap. Looking forward to trapping again was my goal, always on my mind, and a big part of my therapy and healing. I focused on past state hopping trips and was planning future state hopping trips. An example; in July 2007 I nearly died, had 3 hours of emergency surgery, removing 3 feet of my small intestine, along with a tumor and my appendix. It took me two months to recover and every day I was picturing my sets and the trapline I would be running, as I struggled to regain my physical strength. That season I went out and caught $15,504.00 worth of cats and $700.00 worth of coyotes. Not a bad accomplishment, considering! I also believe having the skill and experience to adapt to all the different states, with different terrains, locations and weather that I’ve trapped over the last 60 years could also be seen as an accomplishment.
2. What trapping organizations are you involved with if any?
I’m a member of the Nevada Trappers Association and a Lifetime Member of the NTA and FTA, but not particularly involved.
3. Looking back what were your biggest obstacles as a trapper?
I would have to say all of my health issues, physical setbacks and operations. I have overcome some and put up with others in order to continue trapping.
My obstacles began in April, 1991, in Pennsylvania when I ruptured discs in my lower back, causing a foot drop and extreme pain. I needed surgery, my recovery took 5 months of walking with the end result of walking 5 miles a day. That Fall I caught 44 mink, 72 rats and 16 coons in a few weeks. Had a large salivary duct stone removed from my neck in the fall of 1999 and went back to the “Dacks” and caught 44 fisher, 16 coons, 8 mink and 2 marten in 3 weeks. I was in the “zone” that fall for fisher! In 1999 I had orthoscopic surgery on my left knee as a temporary fix for osteoarthritis. I was told sometime in the future I would need total knee replacements. In 2001 we made our move from Pennsylvania to Nevada. In 2003 I had both knees evaluated and learned both were bone on bone. I was a good prospect to have both replacements the same day! After 5 months of painful therapy and walking until trapping season, I went out and trapped cats, yotes and fox for more than $4,000. Then in 2007 I had the previous mentioned emergency surgery and fur catch. In 2013 had right shoulder replacement with 3 months of therapy and sold over 10K worth of cats and yotes to a buyer who came to my garage to grade and buy my fur. The above were just the worst ones. I still have back problems and had medial branch blocks and radiofrequency ablation for arthritis in lower back in 2016.
4. Do you still put up all your own fur?
Yes, I always have and still do put up all my own fur. I’ve always taken great pride in my put-up. In my fur shed I have 15 Top Lot awards from shipping to NAFA. After living here a year I worked at perfecting my cats using the “Nevada stretch.” In my opinion, putting up all your own fur is what makes a real trapper. That’s just in my mind!
5. Today, many people think that big numbers are what make a trapper. In your opinion what defines a trapper?
You asked for it and I’m known for telling it like it is and it’s not the way you think. Sure, some of it is about numbers, who doesn’t like them, but it doesn’t make a trapper. One definite asset is to be able to observe, study and solve most problems on the trapline. A lot of trappers simply cannot do this. If it’s not in a book or on a DVD they are lost. Just my opinion! If you trap long enough, sooner or later every kind of furbearer will give you a problem. Good catch years, and bad ones all have to do with weather, populations, length of seasons and competition! Don’t judge another man’s catch unless you are in his shoes and vice versa. This is a controversial subject but I’ve given my opinion!
6. What is like to trap in the state of Nevada and what animals are most prevalent?
We’ve been in Nevada 16 years and have learned a lot and seen a lot as far as trapping. The number one target animal here is bobcats, especially when the price is up. The first fur sale we attended in Fallon was 2002. I didn’t get started until the middle of January, as I had to wait 6 months as a resident to purchase my license. That season we averaged $162.00 on cats and $22.00 on coyotes. At that point I knew how to catch cats but was still learning location and how far it was to a trapline. My wife was working in a bank so I spent a lot of time scouting out new country, locating toilets and set locations. By 2005 good cats were averaging $400.00 state wide and the best and worse was surfacing in Nevada. Ranch hands claimed the cats in their area were theirs to catch, other trappers were crowding you at times and sometimes thievery! We had a high cat population with a good rabbit population and a cat set on every rock pile. With a 96 hour check law, if you worked hard, you could bring home the bacon! I learned the exposed trap set for cats, made trapping cats simple and I put it to good use. How did I work against road trappers and competition, “I beat feet” and cut the cats off up in the rimrocks, bluffs, etc. by a lot of walking which paid off with a lot of big toms! In good years I put on 15,000 miles on my pick-up, 12 to 14 hour days and 3 hours in the fur shed. I lost 10 pounds in a season and wore down to a frazzle! Later, from 2012 to 2015 we were in a severe drought with very low prey base which resulted in catching mostly big toms. Trapping cats out here will beat you and your truck up. That’s trapping in Nevada high desert.
7. Having lived 55 years of trapline adventures, surely there is one experience that stands out above all the rest. Can you tell us what it was?
One experience stands out, is a 7 fisher day in the “Dacks.” I was staying with Ross Sartwell, a friend, meat cutter and part-time trapper. I was getting my breakfast at a diner right of Interstate 81 to jump start my day. That night the time change went into effect and I forgot. When I arrived at the diner the next morning, I couldn’t imagine why they were closed. Ticked off, I headed south to check my first fisher line on a 2 day check. I arrived at my first location along the Bouquet River and it was just getting light. There was a small brook coming down out of some hemloks from a rocky bluff. I had a double box up against a giant hemlock with a #220 at each end stabilized in the notches cut in the side of the box. I had to look twice, but I had a double on fishers and I was pumped. I reset everything and put the fishers in the truck and headed on to my next sets. As the day progressed more fishers showed up and a couple giant coons. After a long run I ended up the day with 7 fisher, 2 coons, 1 marten and a weasel. I sure felt good that night and smoked a good cigar while skinning in Ross’s fur shed.
8. In your opinion what does the future hold for the sport of trapping?
I suppose I’m in the minority about this subject. First, I’ve never considered trapping a sport for me. It’s in my DNA, part of my career and a profession. When I no longer worked, I trapped for a living and other times I trapped to supplement my income. Second, I’m not very optimistic! We are doomed eventually to be over regulated just like the country with the government. Third, it takes a lot of money to outfit a young 12 year old to trap today. As I told my ole friend, Mike Marsyada, “we’ve seen the best of it!” Don’t miss a season as you’ll never get it back.
Morris Fenner – Nevada
Morris was born in Pennsylvania. He set his first trap when he was 12 and he and a neighborhood friend decided to pool their money to buy some traps and trap for muskrats. Catching his first muskrats was responsible for casting his lot in life forever. He trapped every season for muskrats, skunks, mink and foxes until he enlisted in the Army after graduating high school in 1960. While in the Army he took written trapline instructions for mink and fox from Bill Nelson. There is only one man he took on the line instructions from, Johnny Thorpe.
After the Army he worked as a carpenter helper during the summer and trapped bounty fox in the fall, then mink and rats until beaver season opened. In 1967 he married the love of his life, Martha. She has stood by him for 51 years and all his state hopping, trapping full time and hard times. Some of his best catches were made before the last fur boom when there was plenty of fur and few trappers.
In the late 70’s the fur boom started and he began to trap out of state. In addition to Pennsylvania he trapped New York, Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and now Nevada. He traveled thousands of miles, some good catches were made and a few bad ones.
In 2001 he was able to realize his dream of moving West and concentrated on bobcats. In 2004 he was an instructor when Trapper’s World Magazine offered clinics in Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. After 60 years on the trapline his favorite animals to trap are mink, fisher, otter and bobcats. He also has a love for hanging wire for the yodel dogs!
He was a District 10 director and member of Pennsylvania Trappers Association. He is a member of Nevada Trappers Association and life time member of the NTA and FTA. He has done demos for the NTA and various states associations. Morris believes big numbers doesn’t necessarily make a trapper as much as astute knowledge of animal habits and top notch location knowledge.
He has written two books, “A Few More Otter” and “55 Years of Trapline Adventures.” Morris has been a staff writer for Trappers World for 17 years and has as written for many other magazines.