Thursday February 11th 2010
7:00AM Clear, 10 above
We start the first morning off with a good hot breakfast of steel-cut oats loaded with peanut butter and brown sugar, and washed down with scalding coffee. This kind of food sticks with you. Ken says it really helps you to stay warm and keep up your energy.
We head west across the river to set out our first line. We start by setting three vertical can sets in an area of Spruce trees along the river. The vertical can set consists of a baited coffee can sized container that is attached head high to a tree with the open end of the can down, and guarded with a Belise 120. We then followed a creek that headed toward some of the sites Ken had pre-baited. He had reported seeing wolverine sign there when he set out the bait. While crossing the creek, Ken points out a break in an old beaver dam that has fresh otter sign, he asks if I want to set it up. I said “heck yeah” and grab a 220 and a tie off snare all the while I listen to his advice on where he’d tie off and how he’d place it. I notice he has his camera out and is taping me. I'm pretty sure he's hoping I snap the 220 on my wrist and scream like a girl. Luckily, I waited until he shut off the camera so there is no actual evidence of this happening. If I was making this set in my neck if the woods I’d lay odds on it connecting, up here though I notice that the otter use the snow and ice to slide around like snakes. Pinning them to a specific trail looks like it could be challenging.
The next set as we continue down the line is a white17 special. A medium to large sized leaning pole, baited at the end with a hanging wing, next comes a #1 jump for marten, and finally a snare for wolverine. The idea is that if a marten gets to the set it will walk under the wolverine snare without knocking it down and then go on to get caught in the foothold. This leaves the snare ready and waiting to surprise the would-be marten robbing wolverine.
Across the creek we make another white17 special wolverine set. This one utilizes double MB 750(W)’s bedded under hanging bait. I own several MB 650’s, and know they are a high quality trap. Up until now those 650’s had been the limit of my experience with the Minnesota Brand line of traps. I quickly realize that the 750(W) can be added to the “high quality” list. What a heavy duty, quality piece of equipment!
We continue on to a place that has several sets of wolverine tracks and numerous marten trails crossing a creek and headed over to a high bank. Ken has another working bait station here and the local wildlife has definitely found the buffet. We decide to make two wolverine sets here. We use body grips in notched buckets that have been baited with tainted moose scraps. The buckets are placed about 15 feet apart and positioned at the top of the high bank. I’m a little leery of handling the Belise 330’s. They are not a trap I have much experience with. Ken pops the first one in the bucket notches, showing me how the trap locks in, supporting themselves securely in place. I put the second one in and can clearly see, like the MB 750W’s, these are quality pieces of equipment. We top off the sets with a few globs of Backbreaker
and Ken’s marten mustard. We walk to a nearby spruce and stick in another vertical can set. The idea behind this triple set is to try and knock out the resident marten while keeping a working wolverine set in place. We wrap this up and then it’s off through more spruce, still headed in a west, southwest direction away from the camp.
We cross several open tundra areas and come to another bait station located in a point of spruce that extends out into the tundra. Here we set another vertical can and a wolverine bucket. After I finish making the bucket set Ken spices it up with another dab of Backbreaker
. Here again, the marten sign is thick in the area and the animals have obviously been working over the hanging beaver.
I start the day by riding on the sled runners as Ken motors along on the Elan. The small amount of snow on the ground makes the trail rough and I frequently hop off the sled to run behind or push while Ken gets over the worst parts. He thinks it’s real funny to wait until I’m about to jump on, then he pulls away. He says that when he does that to the Ol’ Blister she isn’t amused. I see the Ol'Blister and I have the same sense of humor. When not pushing or running to catch up I’m busy thinking of ways to get him back.
We stop midday for a snack of king salmon strips and hot tea. If you haven’t had ‘strips’ before, you don’t know what you’re missing. I have been fortunate enough to have a couple of friends in Alaska send me real smoked salmon. I thought that both of these guys had given me what must be the best salmon in the world…until I tore off a hunk of these strips. These things are the perfect cold weather trap-line food. As a bonus they work like the “red bull” of the bush. They taste great and you can literally feel the energy boost you get from the rich oil.
After the snack and break we head to the North to set up a new line. The conditions and sets we made were similar to those of the morning. This line did have more wide open tundra and dwarf black spruce type areas. We set a total of three vertical cans with 120’s and two leaning poles with footholds for marten. About midway through we came to slough off a creek that Ken had pre-baited. Wolverine and marten tracks were everywhere. I knew enough to know I was witnessing something special, but seeing Ken get excited by this much fresh sign let me know we really were on to something great. In this area we set two baited buckets guarded by 330’s and Ken instructed me on setting my first two snares for wolverine. I have high hopes that these snares connect. Any wolverine is going to be a dream, but one in my first snare would be the icing on the cake. While riding across the tundra we see a set of canine tracks in and around the old snowmobile trail. The tracks look to me to be about the same size as a super x-large coyote, but not as big as the wolf tracks I had seen while flying in with Curly. The tracks follow our path for what seems to be a mile or more before making a ninety degree turn when they approach another of the pre baited areas. Along the trail we have noticed several pee-posts as well as a set of fox tracks that were leading to some small holes dug in the snow.
We wonder over the large canine tracks. Ken says he has never caught any coyote here, but has heard of one being caught in the surrounding area. (Note- "surrounding area" up here means roughly 4000 miles) He seems to believe the tracks may belong to a juvenile wolf, but wonders why it’s alone at this time of year. He said some more stuff that I’m sure was profound, but after the word “wolf” was out of his mouth I started daydreaming of traps filled with wolves and I missed hearing the rest.
After seeing all the sign, including that of wolverine, marten, fox, and wolf, we decided we hadn’t brought enough traps to properly cover the area. We left there thinking we should come back with more hardware and really set the area up well. As we were leaving Ken pointed to a large spruce leaning over near a beaver pond, he said he had always thought of setting the area in the past but had never done so. I grabbed a can, a 120, the ax, and some bait before he had even asked if I wanted to set it up.
After a long day of setting we enjoyed a hot meal of Chef Ken’s famous French dish… prosciutto de’ maccaronie fromage. I’m just a stupid redneck, so I didn’t bother to mention that at my house we just called that macaroni and cheese with bacon bits. It was good and we both ate way too much, trying to recoup those calories burned off was the excuse I used.
We watch the “camp” marten again tonight, he is like a ferret, squirrel, and bear, rolled into one. He’ll climb and jump and is blazing fast, then he’ll stop and stand on his back legs and look around sniffing. We’ve moved the sack of spruce chickens and have them suspended from a meat pole near the cabin window. Ken says we can catch the marten if I want, I say lets’ just leave him, if only for entertainment around the camp.
Two things really surprise me today:
1) I’m not cold. It’s been no colder than 10 above so far, and it’s been as high as 24 above. Still I’m only wearing light long underwear, blues jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and a windbreaker jacket. When the sun is out it is really warm on your skin.
2) We’re making sets in some of the exact locations that Ken’s caught animals in for the last thirty years. As we set up the line he points out these old locations, some nearly as old as me, and remarks, in detail, on his more notable previous catches. His recall of specific locations, conditions, and catches is phenomenal, and the evidence is undeniable. Old leaning poles, rusty set-off snares, and cable tie-off marks on trees, are proof that his mind isn’t gone just yet.