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A Stinky Trapping Story    


                                                                       Mel Liston

    December makes me think about fisher trapping.  Here in New Hampshire fisher may only be taken during the month of December with a limit of 10 per licensed trapper.  Whatever fisher the trapper takes will need to be sealed by a conservation officer within 10 days of the close of the season.

    There are a lot of different ways to catch a fisher.  Quite a few are taken on the ground with foothold traps but the bulk of the catch is taken on a leaning pole with a body grip trap.  The fisher is on the Atkins diet for a large portion of the year, especially winter.  During the rest of the year the fisher will utilize carbohydrates as they become available and does in fact have a sweet tooth.  The fisher when finding them available will utilize most wild berries and fruit along with some acorns and beechnuts.

    During the month of November trappers often catch fisher when targeting other furbearers and will let them go.  As of the time I am writing this article November 21st I have released seven fisher so far this year.  All of these fisher were caught on the ground with foothold traps intended to catch fox or coyote.  Although all of these fisher responded to gland lure or bait, I have caught them in previous seasons on sweet baits, even marshmallows, when targeting raccoon.  During the December legal season on fisher, the weather is much colder, the fruit crop has passed, and the Terror of the Forest is subsisting primarily on a meat diet.  During warmer spells the scent of the meat will carry a reasonable distance to attract a predator wondering nearby.

    As the thermometer drops below freezing the meat alone does not produce scent sufficient to call a fisher in from much distance.  The trapper has historically dealt with this problem by using skunk scent near the leaning pole/trap location.  Skunk scent so utilized, would be referred to as a long distance call lure. This scent in its unadulterated form as extracted directly from the skunk gland is referred to as quill.  Pure quill is dangerous stuff. It is handled like nitroglycerin.  Pure skunk goes for $20 per ounce and is packaged in glass bottles sealed with wax and delivered double bagged in plastic ziplocs.  When you get home it’s best to put the whole thing in a small screw cap glass jar, which you then put in a larger screw cap jar.  In spite of all these precautions, most humans with average nasal sensibilities will know that it is present even though you buried it out behind your garage.

    One way the trapper might prepare quill for use on the fisher trap line is to mix 1 ounce of it in a large container of Vaseline. (Once while attempting to mix this concoction I left an open bottle of quill on the floor of my barn when the phone rang.  Sometime after the completed conversation I knocked the bottle over.  The whole barn and everything in it smelled like skunk for about a year.) The trapper will apply this stinky concoction above the leaning pole/ trap utilizing a putty knife or perhaps a stick.  The skunk essence is a lot like peeling onions; it will burn your eyes but also it desensitizes your nose.  It gets to where the trapper can’t smell skunk very well, yet everyone else can.  It's a time of year when the otherwise friendly and gregarious trapper just waves to his friends and neighbors when he drives by.  It's easier on them if you don't stop and subject them to a whiff of your truck.

    Throughout the month-long fisher season there will be days when the skunk essence needs to be refreshed at each set.  I call these days, “skunk days”.  The trapper should plan for a skunk day. Make sure the truck is gassed up the evening before, carry plenty of food and drink so you won't have to stop anywhere, leave your slippers and bathrobe in the garage so you can strip naked and throw your close in the washing machine on your way to the shower.  But even the best planners sometimes screw up.  So it was with me a few seasons back when I set out for an 8 to 10 hour skunk day and forgot my lunch.  About four hours into the day I realized that I had no lunch or anything to drink.  I thought I could tough it out, but in that seventh or eighth hour I just had to have some sugar and a drink.  I pulled into one of those combination country convenience store/ gas stations, parking my truck as far away as possible.  I figured that I could get in an out “mucho pronto” before anybody noticed any off smell.  Besides, I couldn't smell anything.  I grabbed a diet soda and with 2000 calories worth of sugary carbohydrate, I was good to go.  Regrettably there were five other folks in front of me, two of who were paying for gas and one guy wanted his megabuck tickets.  I knew I was in trouble when everybody in line started fidgeting and looking around.  Then the lady at the cash register piped up and said,

“What the hell is that God awful smell?”

   I of course volunteered the information that perhaps that smell was coming from me.  I quickly explained that I had been out fisher trapping and that perhaps I had gotten a touch of skunk essence on my cloths.

   The lady at the register pointed to the door with her arm fully extended all the way to the end of her fake purple fingernail and said,

   “You get the hell out of my store right now!”

   “I will just as soon as I pay for this stuff.”  I said.

   “No!” she said, “You get going right now.”

   The rest of the customers got out of my way.  I paid for my stuff and left with the good lady ranting and raving behind the counter.

   Time passes and soon that trapping season was behind me, just a memory as I anticipate the next.  In a more domestic life, Cathi and I had need for a house cleaner. Cathi searched around and came up with a lady who had good references; she would be showing up in the morning to clean our house. With Cathi off to teach school, I was home to meet the new cleaning lady. When she showed up, we commenced talking the specifics of this house, while leaning over the dining room counter. She said,

   “You look familiar to me.”

    I said,  “You do to. I know where I have seen you before. You were working at the store last winter when the trapper came in smelling like a skunk.”

  “Yea.” She said. “ That guy was disgusting!” 

  “Oh, I thought you were a little rough on him. He just wanted some food and drink.” I said.

   Well, this new cleaning lady just got all cranked up and was really carrying on about the stinky trapper, so I let her rattle for a while. Finally she came up for air, and I said,

   “That stinky trapper was me, and you’re fired.”