An Interview With Legendary Trapper Paul Grimshaw of New York
By Trap & Trail Magazine
The Early Years:
1. Paul how old were you when you started trapping and what was your first animal you trapped?
I was 15 when I decided to try trapping. I figured I would try my hand at grey squirrel before moving on to other animals. I didn’t have any other lure, so I used corn kernels on the pan and caught my first squirrel. My first real catch was a great big raccoon the October of my first trapping year. I used a trowel to widen a little spring hole I found in a nearby cow pasture. I used a Blake and Lamb 1 ½ long spring with a tin fish on the pan. We didn’t have money to order the tin fish sold in the F. C. Taylor catalog, so we made some out of flattened soup cans using the Taylor catalog picture as a pattern. I skinned it, scraped it with a garden hoe, and tacked it out square to the garage wall. Because they are so fatty. I scraped it every day with the garden hoe until it cured. The next spring, I set the same trap in a stream for muskrat. I caught one muskrat and a couple of muskrat feet. My brother used a Conibear and caught three muskrats. We pinned those out square to dry as well. Our older brother brought us to sell our fur to a local man. I came home with $3.50 in my pocket. I was the richest kid in Champlain. I was hooked.
2. Is your home state of New York where you started your trapping career?
Yes, I began in the farmland area I grew up in then extended my operation to include the Adirondack Mountains. I have never trapped outside of New York State but I have had trapping partners from other states and have always invited people from all over to join me on the line.
3. When you first started did you pursue water animals or land trapping?
I started with a little of both. I had ordered a copy of The Trapper’s Companion, put out by Fur-Fish-Game. I read that book cover to cover more than once, and tried out all kinds of sets. I played around with trapping animals that lived near home, especially if I didn’t have to buy much for supplies to do so. One of the first pictures I ever took of my catch as a teenager is of a fox I caught hanging on the side of the shed near my pack basket. For several years I continued to set for fox and coyote until I started to specialize in water animals. In later years the only land animal I really set for was fisher, although I did start a mid-winter squirrel line catching pelts for a taxidermist.
4. Did you grow up in the country or were you a city kid and did it have an influence on your trapping?
I grew up in a dairy farm area in the country. My parents had a vegetable farm and raised chickens. My father drove around the area selling vegetables and eggs off his truck. We had a cow for milk and I raised rabbits and sold them for meat, I spent time playing in the woodlot behind our house and built myself a little shack back there. I already had knowledge of the fields and woods, as well as some knowledge of animals. When I decided to try trapping, I had already noticed some of the habits of wild animals.
5. Were you lucky enough to have an old guy take you under his wing and show you how to trap or were you self-taught?
We didn’t know anyone that trapped. There was a store in town that sold Fur-Fish-Game Magazine. When we went into town, I would look at it. My brother Joe had found a couple of Blake and Lamb 1 ½ long springs at the dump, and we decided to try them out. By we, I mean me, and my brothers Emerson and Joey. Emerson had borrowed some conibears from someone, and we tried various kinds of sets. We went out trapping in our free time and talked about trapping a lot. I tried to talk about trapping with the kids at school but they weren’t interested. Everything I learned back then was trial and error or what I read or heard. After a while, Joey lost interest, but Emerson continued to be my trapping partner until several years after I was married. By then I was going to trapper’s conventions and learning from the old guys there.
6. What kind of trapping publications did you read if any growing up?
Fur-Fish-Game was the popular thing when I was growing up. There weren’t a lot of publications out then, like there is now. People didn’t just publish their knowledge. If you wanted to learn from someone, you had to prove you were good for it, willing to do the work and into the lifestyle.
The Middle Years:
1. What year did you marry your wife?
I married my wife in December of 1962.I used to see her when she came into town with her boyfriend- she was very pretty. I told him (Gary) that I was gonna steal his girl, and he just laughed. Not long after, they had a fight and I asked her out. I had to work to take her out though. I had to help the family milk cows by hand each night I went up to see her. We got married in 1962, had our first kid in 1963, our second in 1964, and our last in 1965. Her father died in 1963, so we continued to drive 15 miles up to the barn and help her mother milk. I think that’s why they let me marry her.
2. Have you ever trapped in the Adirondack Mountains? If so, tell us everything!
My trapline covered a fair portion of the Adirondack Park. People always want to know about trapping the Adirondacks. I guess it’s because it is a wilderness area. One spot that Neil Olsen and I trapped for beaver, the hill is so steep you have to hold onto the trees on the way down to keep from slipping. With snow on the ground, we sometimes slide down on our butts like a couple of little kids. On the way back up with a beaver, you have to throw the beaver uphill, climb to it and repeat the process until you are at the top. One year I took 34 otters out of the Gabriels area, and 57 otters the next year. The Adirondack area is full or otter, and some sections are full of fisher. Some places all there is through the woods is a little footpath, not much bigger than a deer trail. Sometimes we skinned the beavers right at the sets to make it easier to carry them out.
People come to the Adirondacks because it is beautiful. One day I am coming up a hill with a beaver on my shoulders and this guy asks if he can take a picture of me because he thought it was picturesque. Loggers had trouble with bears or bobcats at times. At one spot, there was a bobcat eating at the beavers we caught, so we set a trap for the bobcat and caught it. The weather could turn nasty in those woods. Sometimes the temperature was below zero all day while I snowshoed to my traps in the deep snow. One place had drifted and filled a hole. Neil stepped into it and sunk up to his chest.
3. Tell us about your family, your wife, children, and grandchildren?
My wife, Bernie, grew up on a farm. I had to milk 15 cows by hand before I could take her out- each time. After we were married, she worked at home, but that included selling minnows and worms before I got my trapping business started. She gardens, cans, picks wild berries all summer, and cooks great meals. Anyone who has been to our house knows how good her pies and other baked goods are. Our oldest daughter, Tammy, is a schoolteacher. She had two girls, Samantha and Serena, who spent most weekends with us. She also has two stepchildren, Tanis and Jerrica. Paula is a nurse who has dedicated her life to working with the elderly. Our son, Tim, manages a seal coat crew. All the kids, including Sam and Serena, worked in the store and waited on customers. They all travelled to trapping conventions with me and worked the tables. Serena has a little boy named Camren, Jerrica has a little girl named Arielle, and Serena has two stepchildren named Isabella and John, all of which we get to see now and then. I am no longer able to take them out trapping, but we have fun with them. Paula has raised two stepdaughters, Sasha, and Kieri. We don’t see them often, but they are good kids.
4. Who taught you how to formulate lures?
I didn’t have anyone to teach me how to make lures. Back then, lure making was a secret. People didn’t share their techniques or ingredients with you. When I first went into business, I sold E J Dailey’s lures under my name. I picked up information about lure ingredients and such from different people in conversations at conventions. I started working on small batches of lure to try out at home. I would give them to people I knew and ask them to use them and let me know how they worked. From that feedback, I constantly refined my technique.
5. What year did you put out your first lure? What was it?
The first lure I put out for sale was Fox #16 because it is the most popular lure for sale. The lure I use most is Muskrat #103. It has an apple smell that muskrats really love.
6. What year did you publish your first catalog?
I put my first catalog out for the 1966-67 trapping season. The first mail order I received was for more than I made for a week’s work at the hardware store. My wife, Bernie, was a nervous wreck when I quit my job to go into business full time until she saw that order. I typed up the introduction and lure descriptions on my manual typewriter. For the traps and gear, I cut pictures and descriptions out of other trapping catalogs and pasted them onto plain paper for the printer to use. It cost just as much to have the books collated, stapled and folded as it did to print them, so I just had the printer send me the pages and we did the rest.
7. What year did you start Grimshaw’s Trapping Supplies?
I started buying fur and selling supplies right from the house on a part time basis shortly after I got married. In 1965, I was able to rent a small storefront up the road from our house. I got a local guy to paint a sign for me to stand out front, close to the road where it would catch the eye of motorists. The store was up on a busy road that people travelled to and from Vermont and Canada. I sold fishing tackle and live bait as well, so that I would have business year-round. Being located on the borders of Vermont and Canada, we got walk-in business from both areas, as well as the locals. In the early 1970’s the house we were renting caught fire, so we had to move. We bought a house a short way up the road from the store. In the summer of 1972, we built our own store next to the house, everyone pitched in on the building, including Bernie’s great aunt who came up from Florida every summer.
8. What was your most memorable catch?
My most memorable season was the year I caught 1704 muskrats in one month. It is hard to say what my most memorable catch was over so many years of trapping. I mentioned the day I got 5 coons in one spot. I have also caught two beavers together in the same trap.
9. Do you have any publications or writing that you’ve done? If so, tell us about it!
The only writing I’ve done was for my first catalog. It was basically a sales pitch, talking about the success people had with my lures and inviting trappers to get ready for the trapping season. I’m not really a writer, I’m a talker. I leave the writing to my daughter Tammy.
10. Were you a longline trapper Paul? If so, what was your biggest season as far as numbers go?
In my hay day, I was covering a lot of miles. I would leave my home in Champlain, NY and head out across the Adirondack Park. Headed west I went as far as Star Lake, which is 130 miles from home. Headed south I went as far as North Hudson, about 80 miles from home. We burned a tank of gas in the truck each day.
11. As a businessman and a trapper what was it like to live during the last great fur boom of the late 70’s?
It was a wonderful time to be alive. We worked like hell, but it was great. I would trap during the day while Bernie ran the store and shipped mail orders. When I got home, people were already at the store waiting to sell fur. I barely had time to eat supper and unload my catch. We had one local boy working full time skinning and scraping my catch and the raw furs I bought from trappers, and we had another boy doing the same part time. Most nights we didn’t leave the store until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and we had to get up early the next day to start all over again. I bought so much fur that I think we kept the big fur buyer in business.
During that time, we spent the summers travelling to several trapper’s conventions as dealers. We had a truck with a cap on it, and we packed it to the rafters. It was an effective way to meet other dealers and trappers. I was able to pick up some tips and get my name out. I was also asked to present trapping demonstrations. I have presented demos on trapping mink, fisher, otter, beaver and muskrat. I have also presented many demos on lure making. For many years, we had conventions week after week. We would no sooner get home and unpack and we had to replenish the stock, pack and head out again.
12. How many different states have you trapped in?
I have had offers to trap many places, including an offer to teach trapping in Russia, but the business always kept me close to home. I have only trapped in New York State, but I have had trapping partners from other states. My first partner was Art Morrison from down in Warrensburg, NY. My longest partner was Neil Olson from Bethel, Maine, and Ron Pfleger would join me on the line each year for a while. He came up from Pennsylvania. I always invited people to join me on the line for the day. A friend of ours, Frank Gable from Fairfield, Vermont, came over often to spend time with me on the trapline. Local boys would come out with me the line. The most recent young boys to join me on the trapline were Matt Baker and J. P. Wilson, both younger than my own grandchildren.
I have also invited anyone to join me on the trapline whenever they wanted to. Several people have joined me for a day or two: Carroll Black from Ohio, Wayne Kingsley from Vermont, Ben Long from North Dakota, and Bob Kukelich from Wisconsin are a few.
The Later Years:
1. To date Paul how many years have you been in the business?
It has been 52 years since I started selling out of a store, but I was doing some business out of my house before then. I had a big sign hanging from the front porch of the house. It announced that I dealt in trapping supplies and bought fur. When I got home from work, Bernie would have supper ready. We would eat and then load the kids in the car the travel all over Vermont buying fur. I also bought fur that people shipped to me and I sold to local dealers until I increased my business. Then I started dealing directly with the big dealers.
2. In all those years what is your greatest accomplishment?
Marrying Bernie. When we went to our first convention together, everyone was looking at us, here was this skinny little guy walking around with this beautiful woman. When I first started my business out of the house, she picked worms, checked the minnow traps, and sold the live bait during the day while I was at work. She skinned and scraped green fur that I bought while I was at work. She’s a great cook and she always fed Neil Olsen and anyone else who came out on the line with me. She worked right beside me all these years, skinning and scraping and running the store. She’s something else.
3. How many different lures did you make over your career?
I now formulate around fifty different lures and baits. At first, I had a guy named Dick Ayres making my baits, then I started doing it myself. We made fish oil with any fish that people weren’t going to eat. All the local boys would bring their fish over and we’d throw them in the 5 gallon pails I had way back next to the neighbor’s hedge. The neighbor wasn’t too happy about that. Once my lures were popular, I started making big batches to sell to dealers. There are a couple of dealers that I sold bottled lures to and they just put their own labels on them. One time the motor burned out on a new blender I was using to grind glands, and I wanted Bernie to bring it back to the store. She had to keep a straight face as she chalked the smell up to the burned motor, and the kids were trying hard not to laugh.
4. Did you have a favorite lure?
I use my muskrat lure #103 most- it is made with apple extract and the rats really love it. I have a couple other lures that work really well for land trapping, but I stick mostly with water trapping.
5. Did you have a specialty animal that you really enjoy trapping and have excelled at doing so?
I would have to say that my bread and butter are beaver and muskrat, but I also trap mink, otter, and fisher. The last three are not as plentiful and require more skill. I got a lot of tips on mink trapping from the guy who taught me how to buy fur. There are a lot of beaver in the area I trapped. I was constantly being asked to trap beavers for farmers and other folks who didn’t like the way they flooded the area. I had permits to trap on state land and my truck was even insured by the state because I had to park on the Interstate to trap for them. One day I was out on the line and came upon a bunch of state workers. I stopped to ask what was going on, and they told me they were having a problem with beavers. There were so many, that the guys had to go down almost every day and tear out the dam to keep the road from flooding. They asked me to trap for them, so I got a permit and trapped the beavers. Those guys were so happy.
6. It has been rumored that you’ve retired, is there any plans to keep your business and lure line going?
We had planned on retiring someday and selling the inventory off along with the Grimshaw name like other well-known names have done, such as O L Butcher. We had a couple people interested, dealers that bought from us, but we weren’t ready to commit. Unfortunately, I came down with Parkinson’s Disease before I was ready to quit. When I first started with it, I had to stop setting up at the conventions, because it was making me weak and lightheaded. By then the business was slower, and I wasn’t trapping as much as when the fur price was high. I had to scale back further and further as time went by. We had to shut the doors about a month ago, before we had a chance to sell the business, but it would be nice for the Grimshaw name to pass on even if it is just my lures.
7. I’ve read a lot about you over the years Paul and everyone that’s been to your shop said it’s a destination location and they love it. What is your most memorable day in the shop?
That’s hard to say. There have been so many good memories made in the shop. It was always a lot of fun when the store was full of people in the evenings because there was a lot of talking going on. For many years there was a bunch of guys from Kentucky who came up to visit every year. They hunted raccoon in Vermont and sold their fur to us. We always had a lot of fun visiting with them. They were a crazy bunch- in a good way. One year they brought up some moonshine in a mason jar and gave some to Bernie. When people came from far away to visit we always spent some time with them, and Bernie always served them coffee and some of her homemade snacks.
8. Being in the business as long as you have been Paul surely there are lasting friendships that have been made. Can you tell us about some of your closest friends in the trapping business?
Two of the old timers, O L Butcher, and E J Dailey were mentors to me. I had read articles about them in Fur-Fish-Game. I went to the New York convention where I met them and later travelled to their businesses. We went to E J’s often and my kids played with his grandkids. E J gave me a line of credit at his store to supply my shop when I first started out. He and Johnny Thorpe were both Adirondack Trappers like me. Johnny and I became friends over the years. For years I sold fur to Ernie Hudson from Plainfield, Vermont and became close to him. I got to know the Woodstream representative, Pete Askins pretty good. When the Pennsylvania convention was held not far from Hershey, Pete took me and the family on a tour of the Woodstream plant. The kids weren’t too happy; they wanted to go to Hershey Park instead. I have known everyone in the profession in at least the Northeast and some from farther away. Truthfully, there are too many people to list.