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Here is a story that was published in The Trapper magazine in the August, 1981 issue written by Herb Lenon. It was reprinted from Trappers World.
Memories Trail - The Trapline
The problems, handicaps and puzzles of the
never cease; therefore the study and improvements of trapline and
technique must never cease.
There comes a time in the lives of all really successful trappers when they must battle between the thought that they have all the answers, and the sound reasoning that they have plenty yet to learn.
Take for example, the very necessary thoroughness of deodorizing and coating traps, and my rather expensive and unpleasant experience of last fall; an experience which has puzzled me up to the present time, and will undoubtedly puzzle me forever. I have had many trappers tell me that the extreme care and thoroughness with which I deodorize and tan my traps is simply foolishness: Yes I have even had trappers, or rather persons that write that they are trappers, write me and abuse me and my ideas With such remarks as that it is easy to see that I am not a trapper and never will be; they then name over a few trappers who could most certainly show me plenty, that nobody but a moron considered boiling and tanning traps a necessity: many other pleasantries as well.
But back to the story of my trapline of last fall with its puzzle. Here in Michigan we have a bounty of $15.00 on male wolf and coyote; $20.00 on female wolf and coyote; $5.00 on bobcat.
It has never been my policy to trap for bounty before the last week of August or the first of September. It being my opinion that one can take as many coyote in September alone as one can in July, August and September; as coyote in Michigan are far from numerous, and one just cannot go out and catch scores of them month after month.
If one traps in July and August, one is just picking off the earlier litters as they show up, and will continue to find an occasional new litter up until about September 10, after which the young coyote are nearly full grown and range widely.
If all trappers waited until the last of August, they would all have as good a chance, and would get just as many coyote in September as in the three months, with a correspondingly lower operating cost. As the other trappers were trapping early, and naturally scattering the litters as fast as they came out to accessible territory, I too started setting traps; I think the first day being August 15th. On this morning I drove to an area with which I was familiar, about 15 miles from my home: here I found the first sign - that of apparently a young coyote and a yearling.
I made 2 blind scent sets along a CC road and 4 Indian sets on a little used side road.
After making these sets I drove North through an area in which I trapped in 1935-36, for a distance of about 70 miles, checking very closely for sign, a task that was not at all difficult, being that I travelled all fire lanes where tracks could be easily seen from the car.
However, in this 70 miles I did not find even one litter; one very large coyote and one bobcat sign, was all I found.
Being somewhat disgusted with the entire area, I drove home and learned that my mother was very ill.
I decided to go to see her, so tended the six traps in which I found two Coyote, the small one and the yearling then drove to my mother's home which is about 300 miles south and east of Gulliver.
On my return home I again visited the six traps, but they were all okay. I then made another trip through some of my old trapping grounds but found only the tracks of 3 coyote the first day, a few more the second day; not sign enough to warrant a long line.
The following day I received word that mother was very low and had been taken to the hospital, the doctors said if the children wanted to see her alive, they had better come immediately.
I again drove down and stayed a few days, returning to take up my prospecting for a trapline that looked promising.
I loaded two steel containers of traps, numbering seven dozen, in my car and took another trip of over two hundred miles, again finding few coyote sign, did not set a trap.
All this prospecting for sign should have been done before starting to trap; however I had worked until August for the State as a bear trapper, and was busy the first part of August making steel grapples, cleaning and tanning new traps, and the thousand and one other tasks one must perform before starting to set traps.
On my return from the last trip I learned that mother had passed away, so unloaded my 84 traps in the containers, in the back room of the house, covered them quite well with two clean pieces of canvas.
As one of the children was ill, I did not take my family along to the funeral.
I returned on Sept. 5th, loaded my traps in the car and again started out.
On this trip I decided to check through a more remote area where the roads were not too good, and consequently less used. My luck was much better, I found sign of six litters of coyote; at three of them there were trappers trapping already, however when I returned from this trip of 200 miles I had set all the 7 dozen traps.
The next three days I completed the circle I had started the two days previous; this trip setting out about 75 traps.
The day following I started out at daybreak, expectations high, trapline fever higher, counting my coyotes in advance.
My expectations for the trip was a minimum of ten.
The first traps checked were the six set to the northwest of home; in them I found one small coyote; I decided against pulling them, and stepped the Mercury up to about 90, headed for the first traps I had on my complete circle.
At the first location I had 8 sets in; nearing them, I saw tracks of two coyotes leading toward the traps; I grinned and counted the bounty money.
However on arriving at the traps I quit grinning; also quit counting bounty, one of the coyotes had approached about 2 feet from the trap, stepped around some and took off; the other coyote approached to about a foot from the trap, backed up, circled around back of the trap, left its card on the scent projection, and went on about its business; no tracks near the other six. About 20 miles on I had 12 sets; these were set in three groups of four sets each. At the first 4 traps there was no sign, next four traps was different; the first of them had a very large male coyote, the other three sets had been dug into from behind, the lure taken away; I reset the one trap and fixed up the other three, thinking, "That old fellow was sure trap wise, dug into four sets before becoming caught." The next four traps were the same; all dug into from behind, well I think, that old fellow was sure lucky, got caught in the 8th set; I could not see tracks as these traps were set in hardwood area.
Next two groups of traps were okay, no sign of coyote near them; however at the next bunch, a coyote had approached one set from the rear and grabbed the scent knot, and run with it.
Jumping cows I think; what to this and what is wrong with this line; guess coyotes are getting smarter or I am getting dumber.
Next, and last traps for the day produced just one small cat.
The following day I took in the 75 traps that I had set on my second trip out; they produced 4 coyotes.
Well that was not too bad, but was far from expectations.
The following day I took another trip about 100 miles, going to the westward, then north and back home.
However with the exception of an occasional track, no sign were found, and no traps were set.
The following day I made about 20 sets in the clay and gravel areas where I trapped several years ago; no sign were found, but that was to be expected, as it was a high grass and clay area. The following day I tended the same 84 traps as the first day. Through the hardwood area where the coyote had dug in behind my traps, I again found a puzzle; not a coyote; but in front of six of the traps a few feet, were fresh piles of droppings.
Well I started cussing some, only explanation I could think of was that some trapper had given them a good squirt of kerosene. At the last group of sets I had one large, but young coyote; its actions were still puzzling me; here this coyote had come to the first trap, walked behind it, took the knot in its teeth and carried it down the road about 100 yards; approaching the second trap it again came in behind the trap, took the knot again and carried it about 30 feet to the second trap, dropped it and walked right into the third trap.
At another trap a coyote had approached about 10 feet from it, then walked back about 40 feet from it and run like mad through back of the trap, grabbed the small chunk of wood in its teeth and threw it about 3 feet; this piece of wood was about 2 feet long and five inches in diameter.
Well I sure knew something was radically wrong; but what: It seemed the coyote wanted the lure, but were scared of the trap; were the traps dirty? jumping cows no, I had used these particular traps the year before; they had been kept in a perfectly clean building all winter; they had been boiled in lye, then tanned to a dark blue with bark, they were covered with new, clean waxed paper, my footwear was perfectly clean, as were my gloves. No sir, those traps were clean, and I mean perfectly clean. The next day I tended the other 75 traps; in them I had six coyote; 2 were very large old-timers.
Now I am really puzzled. How come I get 10 coyote in the 75 traps, but only 2 in the 84 traps.
It cannot be the lure; anyway I am using the No. I at about 5 sets, No. 2 at 3 or 4 sets and No. 3 at one or two traps out of every ten. Although I sell a great many trappers lure throughout the same part of the state in which I was trapping, and most of them buy the No. I for the past 15 years, even if coyote had become wise to the number one, and even the number 3, they still couldn't be wise to the number two, as it had only been offered to the trappers for a month or so.
No: It was not the lure, no it was not dirty traps; then what in the world was wrong.
It was nearly impossible to even consider the possibility that some trapper followed about the same line as I, that he had watched for where I had parked my car, and kerosened them; but what else could it be.
As it started raining the last day out I thought; "Now the traps will work," it rained very heavy for two days, then lightly for most of three more days.
I visited the traps set in this vicinity and had two coyote, I cat. Before tending the traps again I drove in a nearly impassible road several miles, and found some coyote sign, at two places I found where old extra large coyote alone, at another I found fresh dropping; rather small, thus denoting young coyote. Here I set 8 traps, where the two large ones had crossed, I set two traps at each place; one scented with number one, the other with number 3 lure. The following day I started out to tend my traps.
As the traps had been out longer than they should have been, and because of the heavy fall of rain, I expected a good catch.
Being terribly puzzled by the coyote coming to my traps from behind, and being unable to decide on the cause, I took along 20 clean traps.
These traps were set at the four places where the coyotes were puzzling me, which reminds me to tell you that at two of the places the coyote had failed to return after I set the traps. In the 84 traps I had exactly no coyote; however did have one very small bobcat.
In setting the 20 new traps,I took pains to park my car so that if some other trapper had found, and kerosened the first traps set, he most surely would not find these.
One of the groups of traps to which the coyote had never returned, were set on a very poor road in southwest of Trout lake; when I set them the mother coyote and about 8 pups had run up and down this old road for about one-fourth mile between two nice sand ridges; I had traps on each ridge and between them. There was not a car track on this road when, or since I had set the traps; therefore I was expecting to make a haul when they did return; as I knew for certain no trapper had spoiled those sets. The 75 traps again produced; this time I had 8 coyotes, 2 of which had been stolen, also another bobcat which was stolen.
This thief had worked over two bunches of my traps, finding 2 traps besides the three that contained coyote and cat.
Well there was nothing to do but pull them all; one of the coyotes I had, they had hunted back and forth for, until the surrounding area was covered with tracks.
This coyote had crossed a sandy fire lane, then backtracked in the same place; the grapple mark being only an inch or two from where it crossed first. That good luck was all that saved it from the thieves: They thought it had gone on in the original direction.
At one of the places where a coyote was stolen, I placed two of the traps well back over a ridge where I thought it would be safe to set.
The following day I tended the traps set near home, not much luck, one coyote, one cat.
The following day I took the family to visit the 12 traps I had set on the very bad road of which I wrote, luck was fair, had 2 young coyotes and another cat; the two extra large coyotes had not returned.
Where the one cat was caught, someone had sprung the trap near it; a very large cat had visited both the set where the other cat had been caught, and the one where the trap was sprung. Another of my traps was sprung by a man; or should I say man; these traps were set on a private road, posted private; I had permission of the owner, who was glad to have me trap out the coyote and cat.
The following day I tended the 84 puzzles: In the 20 new sets I had 2 coyotes, in the 84 puzzlers I had one.
The day after I again tended the traps that had produced quite well, but as I had taken quite a number of them, had only 2 coyotes. Where the little sneak thieves, one of them an imitation trapper, not even fit to be called a thief, from McMillan, Mich. had hunted high wide and handsome for more coyote for the kitty, but no luck.
Now one of these thieves had a car with all four tires of a different tread; he had on footwear with an unusual tread on the sole; so what did I do; I just backtracked the car until I found where he had parked; I followed his sign until I found some of his traps; I put on my gloves and checked two of them; they had his little name and address on them.
Now just to teach this fellow a lesson; why did I not follow his car tracks around his entire trapline, hunt up his traps, smash them up with an axe, hang the broken traps up in a tree and write my name on them with a slogan about crime does not pay? Well instead of doing that I reset his traps as well as they had been set: I suppose to this day, he thinks he sure got away with that coyote and that dumb Herb Lenon never knew who took it. It would be a great pleasure to see a fellow like that enter some of the horror camps of Germany; but well what of it, one just cannot take the time to hunt up such trash and quarrel with them, the law does not allow one to give them what they should get, and one just can't let one's hatred burn out one's intelligence. So the worst of bad luck to him: Something like cancer or T. B. would be satisfactory.
Trapping time was getting short, October was here with its open season on grouse and rabbits, and a very wide open season on the trapper's traps and coyote.
After the hunting season opens one just cannot trap; either some hunter's dog gets in a trap, and the hunter throws the trap in the brush, or shoots it to pieces; or maybe they take the trap and all the rest they can find.
The more decent hunter just hunts up the traps and steps on them.
However not all hunters are in this category; many of them are intelligent enough to realize that the trapper of predators are vital to their continued sport.
But among hunters, like among people of all walks in life, the majority are swell fellows; it is those few small men, small in mind, small in soul, decayed to their very hearts, that cause the trouble and sorrows in this world.
Back to the trapping.
Well this is my last trip to any number of traps; I leave at daylight, as I intend pulling most of my traps.
The first two traps are for the big coyote, he is in the trap; a very large male: Next two traps are for the other big fellow, he also is in the trap, another very large male, then on to where the fellow had sprung the trap near the bobcat.
The bobcat has returned and become caught, however it and trap is gone along with 5 more traps, not too bad though, only one cat and six traps stolen out of a possible eight traps.
Yup: old lady luck is with me, the thief only found 75 percent of the traps and the cat.
On to my 84 traps plus the 20 new sets I had made; in the 20 new sets I have 3 coyotes, in the 84 old sets I have one. Where I had set the traps on, and between the two ridges where the mother coyote and about 8 pups had been; one of my puzzle questions was answered.
Eight of the traps were set with knots, 4 with the Indian set, every one of the eight knots had been taken from behind, three of the Indian sets were dug into from behind; the other had a mass of coyote tracks around in front of it, but as it was set at the base of a bank about 18 inches high, it was not dug into. Yes: Old mama and her many pups had been back; but the haul I had anticipated did not materialize.
However this answered one question, the puzzles were not the results of some other trapper kerosening my traps, that I know for sure, for not even one car had ever travelled that road after the traps were set.
The following day I pulled the traps on the 75 trapline; here again the hunting season was paying dividends, only the dividends were paid to the hunter.
At one place a very large timber wolf had become caught in a No. 3 Oneida trap, stayed there too, until someone stole it. Further on a bobcat had become caught, unfortunately it had climbed a tree but a short distance from the road, a nice little fellow from near Newberry was looking for extra dough, he being one of those small men that drove a truck with dual tires, one mud grip, one Goodyear tire on each side, well he just adopted my bobcat, but was good enough to leave the trap.
Now I know who that gentleman was, and just supposing I was as dirty as he, suppose I had taken a nice plank, drove about 20 spikes through it, laid this little spiky planky where his little tires, worth $300.00 had each gotten 5 nice spikes through them.
Well say what you think, or wish what you think, it sure would have been just what he deserved.
But after all, if I had done something like that, then I would be in the same low degraded trash class as he.
Down in a nearly treeless grassy valley I have 3 coyotes; two of them have cleared the plains, and are tangled in the brush; the other has tangled up on a lone tree and a log it was in plain sight, at least plain enough for someone with a small brain to see and steal.
Further on I have another cat, near home I have another and a coyote.
This was my last trip, I should have had 10 coyotes, four cats, one timber wolf, instead I have 9 coyotes, two cats.
Now please do not think I am making up stories about the thieves, I am not, the coyote, wolf and cats were actually stolen.
It is really a shame that we have to put up with such a scourge.
One time I had six coyotes and a cat; 5 of the coyotes and the cat were stolen, another time I had 10 coyotes out of 18 stolen. One year I had over 50 traps stolen.
What can we do about it? The Conservation Officer is the proper authorities to handle such thievery, however it is out of their line; the Sheriff does not know how to handle it. So the trapper just goes on, hoping against hope that all thieves get cancer.
It is just too bad that we trappers cannot get together in a trappers' organization; but apparently we cannot; trappers write to me and ask what happened to the National Trappers Association, the American Trappers Association, the North American Trappers Association.
Well fellow trappers; what happened to them is simply that enough of us trappers did not join; those of us who did, probably did not work hard enough to make a go of it; just like the fact that most of us do not really try to get subscribers for Trappers World.
Our association did not grow and function, simply because we trappers are the association.
If we want our new, and truly a trappers' magazine to grow, we must work for it and work hard and long.
Send in your stories, get your friends to subscribe, give your copy to someone that may subscribe, subscribe for it a year for that Christmas present for your chum: What could be a better Xmas present?
But here again I am wandering far off the trapline story: So back to my trap me and its puzzle.
After the coyote came in behind those traps where no other car or trapper had been; that proved no one had kerosened my traps. I had rather thought someone had, therefore left them there, thinking if that was the cause of the trouble, the trapper would not suspect my knowledge of it; therefore would not look for any new sets I may make.
On the other hand, if the traps were not too dirty, maybe the rain and wet earth would deodorize them.
Anyway my time to trap, from Sept. 6 to Oct. 4th was so short I hardly had time to pull them, boil in lye, again in bark and reset them again.
Now as I have previously said, those traps were carefully, and properly treated: They were handled exactly the same as the 75 traps on the last half of the line; yet I never had even one coyote fail to walk directly into one of the 75 traps.
On my 84 trapline I estimated about 20 or 22 coyotes that would not come to the traps from in front, a loss of about $350.00 in bounty: No wonder I lay awake nights wondering.
I have forgotten the exact number of traps visited from behind, but it was about 30 or 35 knots taken and probably 25 or 30 Indian sets dug up from behind.
In my mind there are only two possibilities: First is that the roll of waxed paper, 125 feet long was contaminated somehow, at the store, warehouse or factory.
As I placed wax paper under the traps where ants were plentiful, the one roll would have just about taken care of the 84 traps. Whatever it was, it was a powerful odor to stay there despite several rains and the wet soil.
My traps were all buried under from three quarters of an inch to a half inch of sand; but they seemed to smell them just as quickly as when they were first set.
I pulled 3 traps that were come to from behind several times, I examined them very very closely; I dropped them in clear, clean boiling water to see if a speck of oil would rise, and made every test I could think of: I found nothing.
However I did not think to bring home several pieces of waxed paper and examine them.
There is one other possibility: When I went to mother's funeral I did not take my wife and 2 boys along as one boy was ill. These-boys are, or were then, three and one half, and five years of age.
The youngest one is with me at every possible moment, helping me in whatever I am doing; the best little worker I ever saw. One day when I was boiling and tanning traps, he, as usual, was with me: After taking the traps out of the tanning solution, I lay them on the drying rack.
The little fellow said, "The traps are all nice and clean and black aren't thev Daddy," I assured him they were; he then said. "Now we give zem a good spraving of flytox so the flies won't get on zem and make zem dirdy."
Well that gave me plenty of food for thought: Was the waxed paper contaminated; or did the little fellow give zem a good spraying of flytox while thev were in the back room, and I was to the funeral?
Well that I will never know, but of one thing I am mighty darn sure, never again will I use wax paper on my traps; Oh no: once is enough, especially when I think how handy that $350 would be. Also that experience proved to me one thing: If traps go into the ground dirty they stay dirty.
Never again will I leave traps where a little pal can possibly give them a "Good spraying with flytox to keep the flies from getting them dirdy."
Live and learn, I hope.