The Continental Divide! How can this Louisiana country boy be here up at 8,000 feet? My mind drifts back 53 years to a 13 year old boy thumbing through grandmother's Progress Farmer farm magazine. There it was, "Catch furs with ease!" So I sent off for my Hawbaker's catalog.
Never had I seen so much stuff Mr. Stanley had a way to excite a would-be trapper! All the pictures of the animals made me think I could catch any of them if I just bought that lure and methods. After a little begging, I convinced my Dad to let me have a little cash and I sent off the next day for my magic stuff and a copy of Mr. Hawbaker's book Trapping North American Furbearers. A few weeks later my mailman drove up with a package he was holding out the window. My magic was now in my hands.
Here it was, early November and I was ready to make my fortune. I had traded my buddy Neil an old bicycle with leather patches on the tires and haywire holding it together for about a dozen rusty #1.5 long springs that wouldn't half set.
My trapping ground was a big 40-acre farm with a pine thicket and a little spring branch in the back. My first sets were gray fox sets that caught possums, lots of possums! But finally one day as I approached my possum set, I had something else, a gray fox. I could not believe I had outfoxed a fox! This mighty trapper proudly brought the fox home to show his family, but grandma let the wind out of my sails when she said, "Trappers don't never amount to anything and nothing any good will ever come of my trapping."
Nothing could kill my dream and many nights I would lay awake at night and dream of all those animals that I would have the next morning. Some nights I would go to sleep thinking of all those mountain men trappers that blazed the roads through the Continental Divide, but I knew that dream of me trapping in those very same mountains could never come true!
Fifty years later and the impossible dream is coming true! Here I am, laying out a real mountain man trapline on the Continental Divide in the southern Rocky Mountains. The only difference was the Toyota truck, 150 new traps that worked and a box full of baits, lures urines, and the telephone that you usually couldn't call out on.
And, oh yes, the Christmas balls! Many years ago I found that all cats like bright things, so i "borrowed" my wife's Christmas balls. I put them about two feet of red twine on the balls.
My sets were mostly two types. Where I had a chance of humans coming by I used a cow T-bone as an attractor, but other than that all sets were the made the same.I prefer square jaw #3 coilspring traps, such as Bridger or Duke, with eight feet of chain on a drag. I laminate the jaws. Steel screen wire makes my pan cover; I use this cover because the animal that steps inside of those wide jaws will fire the trap. Light-footed mountain gray fox bring good money. I use coverhulls on all of my cat sets. A word of caution: if you use coverhulls you may be banned from your trapping partner's truck. They seem to hide in the seats and carpet and float up for years to come!
Now to the set making. I found that the wind always blows in the mountains and it comes from the west or southwest, so I locate my traps on the west side of a trail or wash under a bush close to trail, no more than five feet away from trails. This protects my traps from the most rain or snow and the sets are usually working on those foul nights when it seems all animals are moving about. I want at least thirty inches height clearence under the bush. I tie my Christmas ball on a limb about eye-ball level to the cat. With the west wind blowing all the time, ball is always moving and cats will come from quite a distance to check this out.
I start almost under the ball with a three-prong scatcher and pull the leaf duff and dirt out for about thirty inches and about seven inches wide, throwing some of the duff out in the trail. Make it messy. If needed, I place sticks or limbs to help Mr. bobcat to place his foot in my trap. Stepping sticks are a must on my sets. I use the stepping sticks on front and back of my trap jaw, with two inches apart on upper end of trap as bobcats sometimes step over the trap with just two stepping sticks.
I place my trap as much as twenty inches back from the ball. I bed the trap where it will not rock if an animal steps on the jaws. Then, I cover with coverhulls until the trap is almost level with the ground. With a sifter, I put a light coat of matching dirt on the trap. I use a good lure, urine and a good bait that I make that contains beaver castor and some skunk musk. I find that bobcats come to many different scents after you pull them in with a visual aid.
First day running brought my first bobcat caught with the aid of a red Christmas ball and the location proved to be one of my best. It is an old abandoned gas well site on a sand hill next to the rocks, overlooking the state highway. The rest of the day went slow with two gray fox, one badger and a coyote.
The line continues to produce about like the first day. However after several days I note a weird pattern. A large portion of my coyotes are being caught with the aid of Christmas balls and almost all of my gray fox fell for the balls! Around the tenth day as I approached the gas well site, I was thinking to myself that this set had great, having caught that one cat and three gray fox. However, the best was to come. I had two traps gone, having set a trail about twenty feet from my ball set in a narrow sand trail. Up ahead about ten yards up in the rocks I spied not one, but two bobcats, both beauties, both big males.
On the next run I got a ruined set, a skunk stunk my trap. My first thought was to pull the trap, but I decided to leave it one more run. Two days later I found this trap gone drag and chain marks...looked like a gray fox was caught. As I started following the drag marks , it started to snow. The drag marks went up to dry sand wash, but stopped there, and after doubling back a few times, I decided to go across the wash. As I stepped upon the other bank, up jumped my fox, but no it was a cougar, the first one I ever saw, and he was in my trap! He's not hung up and I think the cougar and my trap are history, but he soon turned into the rocks and hung up. I had only a .22 pistol and after a nervous few minutes, I have my cougar. Loading her was a chore.
During Thanksgiving week with my wife and part of my family came out to have Thanksgiving with me. My daughter Pennie has always gone with me to run my traps ever since she was a little girl, so she was able to run the line with me for a few days.
Thanksgiving night brought in a good snow, about six inches, and I knew that the following day would be a very good day as everthing moves on snowy nights. We decided to take up the Christmas balls, bones and traps and go home after this run.
What a day! Four bobcat, five gray fox and three coyotes! The hard part was yet to come: skinning all thes animals at 30 degrees and wind blowing at 30 miles an hour! After nearly freezing, I got through and left for home the next morning with a boyhood dream fulfilled!
Published in the Fur Taker Magazine December 2007.
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