Since becoming a full-time professional trapper many years ago, I’ve often had people tell me that I had it made, or how lucky I was to be able to trap for a living. I chuckle to myself thinking that while I enjoy my current profession much more than any I’ve had in the past, it’s not what many would dream it to be.
During my twenty-four years in the U. S. Airforce, I’d often dream of being a professional trapper. At each of my duty stations, I would look for situations that would enable me to pursue such a profession. Not until my last duty station in North Carolina did I find a situation where I could see my dream come true. There are not all that many places where a person can make a living trapping and the only way I know is by doing Animal Damage Control work.
Shortly after my arrival in North Carolina, I started lining up permissions for the upcoming trapping season. Since beavers seemed to be plentiful, I decided to focus on gaining permission to trap them. I couldn’t ride down a road without seeing backed up water, peeled sticks and plugged culverts. Not long after I started trapping them that first season, the word spread that I could take away the headache of pesky beavers, and people started calling me to ask that I trap beavers for them. This resulted in me having more to trap that first season than I had time to trap. Although I was willing to trap beavers for free, some landowners insisted on paying me a fee.
A local city heard about my success at catching beavers and they contacted me about setting up a contract to take care of their beaver problems. They wanted me to remove the beavers from the infested sites, check those sites monthly once they were cleaned out and remove any new colonies that moved back into the site. A flat fee per month was agreed upon and the contract was signed.
With this contract I felt I was on top of the world and was seeing my dream come true, even if it was just a part-time job. I enjoyed the trapping, because it was on a professional level. That was many years ago and I still contract with that city today.
When I had less than a year to go till my scheduled retirement from the AF, a local timber cutter made a suggestion that led to my full-time beaver trapping career. I had removed beavers from some of his tracts of land during the season and he was pleased. He told me to contact the large timber companies, because they have had an enormous beaver problem for quite a few years. He suppled me the names and phone numbers of the people he’d been in contact with and told me I could use him as a reference.
I then began preparing a plan to present to the timber company representatives. The method I had been using for the city contract had been working well and I adapted it to the larger prospective timber company job. Satisfied with the plan, I set up an appointment with the timber company representatives.
This meeting showed me how little I knew about the business side of this dream of mine. My presentation of the beaver management plan went very well and they were excited about finally seeing a way to get a handle on their beaver problem. They even thought the fee I proposed was very fair and didn’t haggle. I thought for sure there would be a discussion about the fee, because I’d set it at a level I thought was a bit high to leave room to negotiate, but they accepted it without blinking an eye.
Next they asked me about things for which I wasn’t prepared. I was asked about general liability insurance, worker’s compensation, what coverage did I have on my vehicle and they wanted to see a safety plan for my operation. I was only able to answer one question, and that was what insurance coverage I had on my truck. I knew then that I hadn’t prepared for this as well as I needed to in order to look as professional as I could have.
I explained to them that this was my first attempt at being fully self-employed and that I was virtually
ignorant about their requirements. They were understanding and explained the requirements they expected from all their contractors. I was told that I needed to obtain general liability insurance for my business. This policy had to be a minimum of one million dollars in coverage, I also had to increase my truck insurance to a million in coverage. The safety plan had to cover every hazardous aspect of my operation to include fire, snake bites, clothing, and special safety gear like hard hat, goggles, etc. Fortunately, they waived the worker’s compensation requirement because I had no employees. However, this worker’s compensation requirement still pops up with various companies, but so far I’ve ben able to dodge it. One company required me to have an accidental death insurance policy in the minimum amount of fifty thousand dollars.
My biggest fear in this endeavor wasn’t whether I could catch the beavers. I had plenty of experience in various climates and conditions over the years at different locations while in the AF and I had the best teacher I’ve ever known – Dad. The fear was that I’d get burned out doing what I love doing day after day, month after month and year after year. I was afraid the magic of trapping would disappear and leave in its place a humdrum job of catching beavers. To prevent this from happening, I decided that I would trap five days a week. I would fire my traps on Fridays and reset them on Mondays. This gave me time to be with my family and a respite from the work and joy of beaver trapping. It has proven to work well for me. After all these years of constantly trapping beavers, I still have a hard time falling asleep some nights because I’m thinking about sets I made that day or a beaver that I’m trying to outsmart.
I felt that my biggest risk was finding someone to help. Because I enjoyed success at removing problem beavers, other timber companies found out about me. They contacted me and were requesting the beaver management service. I worked them in and started working too much overtime. I decided it was time to have someone help me. A local man, Ricky Dupree, was a good beaver trapper who had taken trapping instructions from Dad the year before I arrived in North Carolina, and he wanted to work for me.
Because there was a risk that a person hired to do beaver work for me could branch off on his own once he had my contacts, I had to choose carefully. Over the past years, Ricky has proven to be loyal, extremely good at beaver trapping and the perfect man for the job. I was fortunate to find him.
Looking back on my beaver trapping career, I’d have to say that the things that led to my success were developing a good reputation, being able to remove all beavers in a colony consistently and having a fire-in-the-belly for the work. Of course, I can’t discount the thorough training I received from Dad over the years.
A part of this full-time trapping business that escaped the dream phase of this occupation was the large amount of paperwork that needs to be done. I’m required to submit a monthly report to the timber companies showing the tracts I worked, what I caught, sites inspected and recommended action on unplugging culverts and opening dams. In order for this to be accurate, I have to keep daily records. Then there’s the income tax paper work, and that’s another story.
Another aspect that wasn’t realized while dreaming about this work was the daily encounters with the evil-tempered cottonmouth moccasins, mosquitoes, deer flies, ticks and hacking though dense undergrowth of cat-claw briars, wild rose and greenbriers in the humid ninety plus days of June, July and August.
When I told Dad that I was going to embark on this full-time beaver trapping as a career, I vividly remember that knowing sparkle in Dad’s eye’s when he said to me, “So you want to be a full-time beaver trapper”, which was followed by a chuckle. I can honestly say that my dream has come true and I love every minute of it. There is some drudgery to it at times, but honestly, there’s no better way to make a living if you can do it.