The Full Time Trapper
I had just finished reading an article in the 1959 January issue of “Outdoor Life” magazine, written by Mr. Jack O’Conner. I leaned back onto my bed and closed my eyes. I was tired, but feeling happy, as if I had just finished hunting for Mountain Sheep, deep in the wilderness of Alaska. Jack O’Conner’s ways of writing and wording things together always captured my imagination and made me feel as if I was there. His stories always made me feel as though I was the one going through the hunting experience.
As I turned off the bedroom light and closed my eyes, I began to dream, and wished that someday I would be able to make a living by hunting, like Jack O’Conner seemed to be doing. The fact that he was making his living as a writer, was somehow overlooked, as I was only wishing for the fun and thrill of the hunting experiences, not the work. I certainly was not interested in the writing, since English was one of my worst subjects in school.
The thought that someday it might be possible to make a living by hunting, fishing, or trapping all seemed like an impossible wish, but it was fun to dream about anyway. It would fall into the same category as wishing I might win the lottery tomorrow. Fun to fantasize about, but with a feeling deep inside, that it could or would not ever happen.
As I write this, today, it still seems like a dream, while I reflect on the fact that for the last 26 years, I have made a living as a trapper. A dream that somehow came true for a while. I feel almost as if I will soon awaken and find out that it will have all been some sort of dream.
I have seen the same dream in other people’s eyes, and the wish of someday, when they ask me how did I get started in this line of work, or how could they get into the same line of work. It is difficult at such times not to stand back and study the individual making the statements and asking the questions. It is even more difficult not to judge the person’s personality at that time, and rate his chances of ever succeeding, should he work up enough courage to someday attempt to become a full time trapper.
I prefer the term full time trapper, rather that professional trapper. In order to become successful and make a living by trapping only, it must be a full time effort. I am going to take my standard approach here to explain how to become a full time trapper. I am going to try to explain, just as I would if we were standing toe to toe and looking each other directly in the eye as we would speak.
Be prepared, that first off, making the change from a recreational trapper to doing it for the money will take something out of the fun of it all. Making the change from trapping for some extra income to doing it full time, as your primary source of income, will change trapping into the form of a job. It will never be just trapping again, as it will be a damn difficult job. To illustrate my point, let me point out a couple of things that most people never seen to consider.
Working for yourself always means that you will be free to work 24 hours a day if you are capable or willing. It does not mean that you can work when you want to, or that you can always set your own hours. It also means that the buck will always depend on your efforts and will certainly stop on your shoulders. There will be no excuses, or no one who really cares. You will be responsible for every decision.
Trapping for yourself, for a full time income, will mean that you must depend on other people. You will need to learn how to deal with other people, and how to read them. You will find that your people skills may be more important than your understanding of the animals you intend to trap. Although only a very small part of what I am trying to explain, but something that most trappers do understand, to some degree or other, is relationships with landowners. Every landowner is an individual and will think differently. If you are going to receive their permission to trap on their property and keep it, you must learn how to read each individual and adjust your own actions accordingly. From there, you will soon find yourself dealing with other trappers, all kind of hunters, game wardens, and biologists. You may even find yourself sometimes forced to deal with someone that could be classified as an animal rights believer. You will also find that County, State and Federal Bureaucratic agencies must be dealt with, and that they can make your life miserable or they can help you, all depending on how you deal with each individual heading up the different departments. You will find that you never have enough education and will always find yourself wishing you had studied this or that better, while you were in school and had the chance. The paperwork caused from being in business for yourself will seem to pile up on a daily basis. You will find yourself forced to drive many miles to attend meetings that you do not want to have to attend.
Then there is the actual work itself. Getting up before daylight and running hard, all day, to check traps, or even to set traps, is always fun in a new area, for a while, even after a lifetime of experience. The key words in the last sentence are “FOR A WHILE,” as you will drain yourself physically and mentally if you attempt to keep up the pace and the hours. From what you know about trapping now, could anyone hire you to work as hard as you do trapping, for the same wages, without any services or benefits? Trapping may be enjoyable labor, but when done every day for many months, it becomes a very difficult job, with very little reward in return. I personally know some exceptionally good trappers, but none of them have any money that they earned strictly on the traplines. Most are lucky to meet monthly bills, if they work very smart, long and hard.
Then there is the second avenue to make a living by trapping full time. Working for some Government agency or hiring out to some large ranch or corporation. These jobs are sought after by many people and the waiting lists are long and usually never given more than a passing glance. It is a sad truth that in order to land one of these positions, it will depend on who you know, where, and when, and not what you know. You will have to spend full time efforts, for long periods of time, to get to know the right people, and convince them you are capable, unless of course you are related to someone in the right position. Maybe it should not have to be that way, but it is a sad truth that in reality it does work like that.
Then if you happen to land one of those jobs, you will find you are only “second class” citizen labor. About the first hard lesson you will learn is that you are not to do your own thinking about how to do the job. You may be ordered how many traps to set, on whose place, when and even where. If you upset the right person at the wrong time, you will find yourself back on the unemployment line.
I decided to become a full time trapper when fur prices were coming up, during the 70’s. I suppose it could be said that I was in the right place at the right time. It is an old sad tune to say, “Oh, to be able to go back again, and know what I know now.”
Would I do it again? Probably, because I have done it for so long, that I find I now do not know what else I would or could do. Still, I will admit that I would do many things differently, even though I realize that I probably would not have lasted this long if I had done them differently the first time around. I am not sure I would want to make all the personal sacrifices again.
As some additional food for thought, let me point out that divorce rate for full time trappers is very high. Myself included. Although I have no way to prove it, I would be willing to bet the bank accounts are high one day and bottomed out the next. Keeping a vehicle running, and enough money and credit to replace it as it breaks down and wears out will drain most earned funds. Because you will always be working long hard hours, time alone will no allow you to subsidize your income with a second job. If you are real lucky, maybe you will find yourself married to a partner that will help with the whole endeavor. Someone to share your life with, without a lot of money.
So how do you become a full time trapper? It is really quite simple, just clinch up your belt, and be prepared to become hungry enough. Be prepared to make the sacrifices and willing to pay the prices, then go become a full time trapper.
“Trappers World” magazine first published this article. Thank you Slim for letting us reprint it. D.S.