An Interview With Legendary Trapper Don Shumaker of Virginia
By Trap & Trail Staff
The Early Years:
1. Tell us how Don, how did your trapping career start?
My trapping career started when I was 6 years old. I started out catching rabbits, squirrels, possums, skunks and groundhogs.
2. What state were you born in and is that where your trapping career started?
I was born in Virginia and my trapping career started there.
3. In those early days, tell us, what kind of equipment, books, and lures were being used?
Back in those days (the mid 1950’s) we only had longspring and jump traps of various sizes. There were a few coilspring traps (Gibbs) and one killer trap (Bigelow) on the market back then but I didn’t have any. We used some snares but they were made from string or wire. We made our own box traps from scrap lumber and hollow logs. We even made and used deadfalls. I was 10 or 12 years old before I was able to purchase a packbasket from S. Stanley Hawbaker. We often used a burlap sack or a surplus Army pack to haul our gear and catch in. Backwoods people such as we were did not know about books on trapping or commercially made lure and bait. When I found a copy of Fur-Fish-Game magazine on a newsstand at our local drugstore, I went into orbit! I ordered a supply catalog from everyone who offered one even though I couldn’t buy much of anything. I shipped the first furs I ever sold to George I. Fox Corp. (N.Y.) a firm that advertised in Fur-Fish-Game. I also sold to F.C. Taylor in St. Louis. Sears and Roebuck also had trapping supplies in their big catalog and they also bought fur. The main luremakers back then were Hawbaker, Daily, Arnold, Butcher, Lenon, Mast, Rickard and a few others. I bought every book on trapping available whenever I could come up with a little money.
4. What was the first animal you trapped?
The first animal I ever caught in a steel trap was a groundhog. I had caught a few rabbits in snares and box traps before that.
5. Were there a lot of trappers in the area where you grew up?
There were no active trappers in my area except for my father and uncle who were primarily mink trappers. There was one old fox trapper who trapped for bounty money who finally got me started on fox. There was a $5.00 bounty on fox back then.
6. Did you have any dreams or goals as a youngster to one day be a mountain man or to make your living being a trapper and outdoorsman?
Since I can remember my goal was to be a professional trapper, guide and mountain man. I never lost sight of that dream and goal. Oh, I got sidetracked at times, but I eventually lived out my dream.
The Middle Years:
1. What portion of your trapping career was spent with a partner vs. trapping solo?
I have trapped with quite a few well-known trappers in my lifetime for fun, but I never had but two trapping partners for short periods of time. I have always loved being alone in the woods, so I’ve been a solo trapper for most of my career.
2. Your home state is Virginia, what is your favorite state to trap in and why?
It would be hard for me to say what state is my favorite to trap in because many states have afforded me a good living at times and good memories that will last until I die. I love the wide-open spaces of the west but I also love the density and variety of furbearers found in the east.
3. I know you have written for several outdoor publications, can you tell us about your writing career?
I have had over 2,000 articles published in 20+ magazines since I began writing about 45 years ago. I have served as the editor for 3 monthly national magazines and have been a staff writer for 6 or 8 others.
4. You have several books out Don, can you tell us about each of the books…year they were written, and your motivation behind each of the books.
In the late 70’s I wrote my first book, Profitable Outdoor Ventures, a small book geared to teaching folks how they could earn a living outdoors. In about a year’s time, between 2016 and 2017 I wrote my last 3 books. Of course, I had been thinking on what I wanted in them for several years. Follow The Dream is a novel of a young man who goes west to become a hunter, trapper and mountain man in 1860. Woodsbum was written because of many requests I’ve had over the years from people who wanted me to write a book about my life’s story, adventures and philosophies on life. Journals Of A Coyotero was written to share with all people the truths about coyotes as I and other old coyote men have learned them. It was also written to help people understand that much of what they have heard about coyotes is not true.
5. What is your favorite animal to trap and why?
I don’t have a favorite animal that I like to trap. I have always like trapping them all!
6. You’ve been a longliner Don, can you describe a typical day of what it takes to walk in the shoes of a longline trapper?
My days as a longliner have been ones of many long and hard hours put in to make at best, a meager living. My old body has taken a beating from this style of living and now I’m paying for it. But I’d do it all over again. You can’t last as a longliner, year after year just for money that you may or may not make. You have to be consumed with trapping. Longlining ain’t for sissies!
7. At what age did you see your catch numbers really go crazy?
I began to see my catch numbers go crazy at an early age because I began trapping early and had great teachers. I also had a burning desire to be on a trapline as many hours as I could be and always had an unquenchable thirst for learning.
8. Tell us about your family. Wife, kids, marriage, grandkids etc.
I am married to a great outdoors oriented, hardworking lady (Beth) who has always supported me and my lifestyle. I never had kids of my own but helped raise a stepdaughter.
9. Have you ever worked a 9-5 job or have you made your living from the land your whole life?
I have worked a few “real jobs” in my lifetime for short periods of time (many years ago) but I never really fit in with any of them. Most of my life has been spent in the woods (thank God).
10. A question that everyone wants an answer to is what it was like to trap during the late 70’ and early 80’s? (The last great fur boom)
There was some good and some bad to trapping in the great fur boom. While many of us die-hard trappers were able to make a little more money, it also produced hordes of “wanna bes” who did not belong out there setting traps. Greed and money will ruin most anything on earth if given a chance. Real trappers will trap regardless of fur prices.
11. Do you have a catch or a day on the trapline that stands out in your mind above all the rest?
I have so many memories of outstanding days on the trapline, from one side of America to the other that I could never say that this or that one was better! There have been days when I made big catches that were not overall as enjoyable as those when less was caught. I have been blessed so much in so many ways in my life as a trapper and a woodsbum that it’s sort of hard to say that I favor one day, catch or event over another.
12. Tell us about your animal control business. How long has it been in operation, how did it get started, and does it keep you busy?
First of all, I would much rather be a fur trapper than be a ADC trapper. I don’t like having to deal with people in general. I have been in the ADC business for many years in some form or another. Years ago, I did a lot of beaver work, even live trapping and relocating them. I’ve done coyote control work in different parts of the country. I have trapped (on contract) for federal and state wildlife agencies. I have trapped thousands of coons, skunks, possums, squirrels and groundhogs on ADC jobs over the years but I never cared much for city or urban trapping. I have trapped bear for a part of my livelihood and hunted lions doing control work. For the past few years I’ve done mostly coyote work in the east where they prey on livestock. Busy? My phone rings constantly and I’m getting too old and worn out to keep up. A good trapper with a good reputation will always be in demand somewhere.
13. What is it like to run a Southern trapline vs. a northern line? What kinds of challenges does a Southern trapper face?
I have never run a southern trapline. I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and moved back here from New Mexico. The temp can drop to minus ten degrees below zero here. I have run traplines east of here, closer to the coast and it is milder but it’s not like Georgia or Alabama. Our beaver and otter (where I trap in Virginia) are not graded as southern furs. When they are prime, this area produces some very nice coyote pelts. I was once offered a full time beaver control job in the deep south but turned it down as I don’t care to trap alongside snakes and alligators. As I grew older and the extreme cold began to really bother me, I left the Rocky Mountains, although I love part of the world.
14. The book you wrote entitled Follow The Dream is a great read! Was the book written with you and the main character being the same person? So, in other words, does the book portray what kind of adventures you may have experienced as a fur trapper a 100 years earlier?
Yes, I guess you could say it portrays what myself or any other young trapper would have experienced in those times. The setting where the story takes place is real, I have rambled all over that area.
15. Have you ever done any guiding?
I have guided for many years in the past in the East, the Midwest and the West. I guided hunters for mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, lion, bear, bobcats and turkey. I also used to guide fisherman on float trips.
The Later Years:
1. What was your first piece of writing?
I wrote a few short stories and some poetry during my school years. In the mid 70’s I sold two trapping articles to Fur-Fish-Game and have written for them since, some 40+ years later.
2. When did you find that you had a passion for writing?
Being an avid reader since I learned how to read, I began thinking of being a writer before I was a teenager.
3. What was your biggest catch as far as numbers go?
I have caught many thousands of animals in my lifetime – I should have as I’ve trapped for over 60 years in some of the most fur-rich areas in North America. Many of those years have been spent trapping on a year-round basis as an ADC and a fur trapper. I have never cared much for show offs or braggarts, so I rarely talk much about numbers. I realized many years ago that the best way to get burned out on trapping was to let your ego rule you and run yourself into the ground going for numbers. Regardless of fur prices, I always managed to catch enough to pay my bills. I’ve always concentrated on becoming a better, more knowledgeable trapper, not becoming the greatest hotshot numbers guy around. I never felt like I had to prove anything to anybody, I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve done.
4. Tell us about some of your trapping partners over the years and what has made them a good partner.
While I’ve been with some great trappers, I never had the desire to have a full time trapping partner. I cherish my time alone. Many years ago, I trapped for short periods of time with some great guys who were hard working trappers and fun to be with.
5. When the name Don Shumaker comes up, what do you want people to remember you for?
That I was a fair, kind and honest man who was a good trapper and steward of all things wild.
6. Coyotero is your new book! How long did it take you to write it? Tell us all about it!
It took me about 4 or 5 months, off and on, to write the coyote book. But of course, I had been putting down ideas and gathering info for the book for quite some time. I never write full time because I’m doing other things such as trapping and gardening. The book was written to educate all people about coyotes. So far, the reviews I’ve been getting have been fantastic.
7. Do you have any regrets in life Don?
The biggest regret in my life is that I didn’t trap all of the places I would have liked to.
8. Over the years has there been one person that has influenced you more than anyone else? Who is it, and what kind of an influence have they had on your career, and success as a trapper?
My father and my uncles influenced me greatly in so far as my burning desire to be a trapper. I had 2 other uncles that were great hunters and they were always there for me. Beyond these people, there have been dozens of trappers who helped make me what I am and I will be eternally grateful to these men. And I thank God for allowing me to be a trapper and woodsbum.