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Tunnel Vision - Tunnel Thinking

Charles L. Dobbins

(This article was originally published in the November issue of The Trapper magazine)

    No, this article does not explain how a pocket set, cubby set or a large hole dug in the bank should look like a tunnel. Tunnel vision can be explained as looking through or down a tunnel. Nothing on either side can be seen except the other end of the tun nel. Tunnel thinking is very similar. Your mind is turned or adjusted to only the objective. With some foresight and forethought, your out of doors activities can be more productive and more fully enjoyed with due consideration of other things, people and objects. This consideration covers ALL things pertaining to your outdoor activities.
    The best way for me to explain this would be to take you on part of my trapline that I had set yesterday. Since you have an appointment in the late morning, then you will only cover one farm with me. This particular landowner has some beaver problems. These beaver built a dam in a stream and some of the backwaters created by this dam has flooded part of a corn field. The farmer cannot get his corn harvesting equipment into this flooded part of the corn field.
    When I set traps for these beavers, there were signs of coon, 'rats, fox, coyote and mink. I also set traps for these other animals also. I will run this portion of my trapline and take the actions as some (not all) trappers do in handling different situations. These actions taken by some trappers are not quite in their best interest. It may seem these actions taken are in the individual trapper's best interest at first, but time will prove differently.
    As you go over this section of my trapline you will see situations handled one way, then I will take you over the same line again and do things as I believe they should be done. The second time over the line I will explain why I did it differently than the first time.
    It had rained some in the night with some high winds. We leave early, even before daylight. We go zipping along an interstate for a few miles, then turn off onto a state highway. A couple of miles farther we turn again onto a gravel road. The sky is somewhat overcast with a cold wind blowing. I mention to you that we turn on the next lane to go back to the Randall farm.
    I slow down to turn into the lane and a pickup truck is stuck in the ditch of the lane. There are a couple of dog boxes in the bed of the truck. Two men are digging in front of the back wheel. It looks like the driver had attempted to turn around and misjudged the closeness of the road ditch and one back wheel of the truck is buried axle deep in the ditch. After we are past the truck, I mention to you that they are the Smith brothers from across the river. They are coon hunters and catch a good many coons each season. I grin and say, "they might break some part of their truck getting it unstuck. That might keep them out of the woods for a couple of nights."
    About a half mile farther on we come to the house, barn and outbuildings of the farm. I stop to open a gate that will give me access to the back part of the farm. A black and white border collie stands off about forty yards and is constantly barking at me. As I open the gate I see a water logged corn cob lying close by. I pick it up and fling it in the direction of the dog. It retreats a few yards and continues yapping at me.  I drive through the gate, stop and shut the gate. All the while the collie is barking at me. I yell to the dog to "shut up," but it doesn't work.
    We proceed along the tractor farm road towards the creek. There are long shallow puddles of water laying in the roadway from last night's rain. We come to another gate and you offer to open it for me. I tell you to leave the gate open as we will be back through here in a few minutes and there is no livestock in sight. I have the radio tuned to a local station and the weather report says, falling temperatures in the afternoon and into the low twenties or upper teens by midnight. I slightly curse under my breath as this means the warmer unfreezing nights I have enjoyed will put some ice on the water and definitely freeze up all dirt sets. The farm tractor road starts to angle away from the creek. There is a new red clover field between this road and the creek at this point. The distance from the farm road to the creek is about three hundred yards. I shift the transfer case into hi-lock and drop the transmission down a gear. We proceed along the edge of the meadow towards the tatter trees in the distance which marks the creek line. A glance in the outside rear view mirror shows  a couple of muddy scars the tires are leav ing. We come to a place that is a little lower along the edge of this field and I know just by looking at the types of grasses and other vegetation that grew up with the clover this place is going to be a bit softer. I depress the accelator a little more to get up momentum to carry us through this soft place. The Gumbo Mudder tires start to throw gobs of mud up on the hood, cap and windows of the truck. Yesterday it was dry and I didn't have the mud to contend with, but last night's rain changed that. We get across this thirty some yards wide soft place and onto firmer ground. We get to the opposite side of the meadow and are as close to the creek as we can get. I sling the packbasket over one shoulder and go ducking around and through the undergrowth towards the creek.
    The first set was where a large sycamore had uprooted several years ago by the creek bank. There are a couple of holes among the decaying roots that showed sign of animal use. I had a # 1 1/2 coil blended in the entrance of one of these holes. The trap is covered with dirt and a light sprinkling of crumpled dry leaves was used for blending.  This set was untouched.
    The trap at the other side of the root system was missing from its bed. I survey the immediate area and quickly see where the dead limb drag had turned over leaves as the animal pulled it towards the creek. I followed the scuffed up leaves for a few steps and spotted the barked up small sapling that halted my limb drag. A medium sized coon lay motionless watching my approach. I quickly dispatched the animal and reset the trap back at the hole that enters the tangled roots of this downed tree. I recover the trap with dirt and add some  "Mink Stopper" above the entrance hole.  We let the coon lay as we will be back past here shortly and pick it up then.
    The next set is a 'rat set up under an overhanging tree root system. The rats have all the silt worn off an underwater ledge where they sit to eat the food they bring here to this protected place. The #1 1/2 longspring is not in its bed. The "educated boot toe" hooks into the two feet of drowning wire and up comes a dripping drowned 'rat. The trap is reset back in the same place. I lay the dripping wet 'rat on a small log to be picked up on the return trip from downstream in a few minutes from now. A few yards below the 'rat set I have a  #330 guarding the mouth of a small stream that beaver has been using to travel up to cut small soft maples. The #330 is placed where a post size limb has been laid across near the mouth of this small stream. A patch of reddish fur on top of the water by the diving limb tells me the trap has connected. The dead beaver is wrestled out onto the bank and the trap removed from it.  The #330 is reset back in its original place.
    We proceed a ways down the creek and a small field of corn that has been late picked is on the opposite side. There are but few places where I can wade across this stream with hip boots. Just across from this corn field is one of these places. We cross the stream and six traps yield two coons and two rats.
    This is as far down the creek as I have permission. A water gate is across the creek at the property line. I have a trap in a well used trail that follows the edge of the water, then goes through the water gate. This gate has collected drifting grasses, leaves and sticks. The trail goes through a passageway in this debris. The trap is on a drowning slide wire. The trap bed is empty. I reach in to the murky water and follow the drowning wire until I feel a furry body. I bring up a young buck mink. The trap is reset back in its same place and covered with water soaked leaves.
    Looking on down this creek from the water gate I can see 'rat slides even from here. I know the landowner below this property line has a couple of teenage sons who trap a few 'rats along the creek each season. This was the reason I couldn't get permission to trap below this water gate. Yesterday when I saw those 'rat slides from here I thought I could just go thirty to fifty yards below the water gate and make a couple of sets for a night or two, which I did. We cross the fence and wade the shallow water next to the bank. Along here the creek banks are about eight feet high so we are well hidden from view of anybody in the fields along the creek.
   The two traps are about five feet apart and I can see the tail of a 'rat just underneath the murky water. I stoop over to grasp the tail of the animal, but it won't come. The trap, wire or chain must be fouled on some underwater obstruction. I reach down deeper to grasp the trap chain to free it from the obstruction when I hear voices close by. Then I hear the unmistakable sound of traps and trap chains rattling. Two teenage boys appear up on the bank above us. One has about six #1 tongspring traps held by a stick through the chain rings for easy carrying. The other lad has a single barrel shotgun cradled across his arm with the other hand on the grip of the stock.
   The conversation opens with, "I thought my dad said you couldn't trap on our land."    I responded with, "Yes he did, but Mr. Randall has those beaver on the creek damming it up and flooding the lower part of his corn field. I checked on down the creek here to see if they might be coming down here. Since you don't trap beaver, I didn't think you people would mind," I lied.
   The trap carrier came back with, "There ain't no beaver on down the creek on our land. Take all your traps and get back across the fence."
   I pulled both traps and placed the 'rat and traps along with the muddy stakes in the packbasket and headed for the fence.
   "I don't want to see you on our land again," shouted the shotgun toter.
   I nodded my head in agreement as I crossed the fence.
   We retrace our route to where we had left the beaver and load it into the packbasket. As we near the place where I had draped the wet 'rat across the log, a movement in that vicinity caught my eye. A hawk rose and climbed up and away over the taller trees. When we get to the log where I had placed the wet muskrat, it wasn't there. On the ground by the small log was bits of torn muskrat fur, blood and the tattered remains of the rat. The hawk had torn it apart and eaten most of it. I cursed the hawk and was tempted to pull the 'rat trap and set it by the torn up remains to "get even" with the hawk. I didn't set the trap for the hawk and continued on to pick up the coon we had left by the downed sycamore.
   The sun was well up now and there were some clouds moving in. I dropped the heavy packbasket in the truck. We left deeper ruts leaving the meadow than going in as it was slightly an uphill grade to get back on the tractor road. We proceeded farther back in along this road to the beaver flooded corn field. This tractor road went between this corn field and a new wheat field. Just off the road about twenty yards out in the wheat was a large stump. Around this stump was growing some short brush, dried golden rod and some taller grasses. Yesterday I had made a dirt hole set on one side of this stump and a flat set on the other side. It was a combination fox-coyote-set. I could see the dirt patterns from the roadway and nothing had occurred. We proceed along the road to where it would be the shortest route from the road to the creek. I hooked the transfer case into the Lo-lock position and geared down the transmission. I aimed the truck across the soggy picked corn field towards the far treeline. The tires were throwing out gobs of mud, grass and cornstalks. At one place it almost came to a complete stop. The engine was turning good revolutions and the mud was a flying.
   The truck went a few more feet and I could feel the tires digging down. I shifted to reverse, let out the clutch and the front tires threw big hunks of mud a good ten to twelve corn rows in front of us. The truck followed its tracks backwards. I cut the wheels to get a better approach to maybe go along with the picked corn rows. The motor whined, the gear boxes groaned and the tires kept slinging the mud. The truck seemed to get better traction by following the corn rows than going across them. We make it to the tree line. I shut the engine down and step out into the sticky mud of the corn field. There is a hissing sound as mud fries on the hot exhaust and manifolds. I sling the packbasket and am glad to be out of the mud of the corn field and onto the leaves and better footing of the woodland. Ahead I can hear the water as it spills over the beaver dam.
   A coon snarls as I approach it at the end of a log. Coons were using the beaver dam to cross the creek and their muddy tracks showed on this small log. The trap was set where they stepped off the log to continue on up along the creek towards the corn field. I dispatched the animal and set the trap back in the original place. Dirt was obtained to bed in the trap and the set was topped off with crumpled leaf mulch.
   A castor mound produced a beaver from a #4 double longspring as did a #220 that was set in about ten inches of water between a tree and a steep bank. Lure had attracted the beaver through the #220.
   A beaver trap is not in its bed at a feed bed made of soft maple and willow branches. Just underwater a foot or so from the trap bed is a muskrat underwater. The 'rat couldn't get the big foothold trap down the drowner wire. The trap just rolled over when the 'rat struggled and the weight of the trap held the animal underwater until it drowned. The beaver trap is set back in its  original place in about two inches of water.  The set is relured because of the rain last  night.
   There is a dry wash coming from the corn  field to the creek. Yesterday there was  much coon sign in the bottom of this wash.  Last night's rain had washed out this sign.  About halfway between the corn field and  the creek is a large stump beside this wash.  The top and base of this stump is covered  with coon droppings. On one side of this  stump I constructed a hole at the base in the  somewhat rotten wood. I had baited it with  some "Coon Bringem." Today there is a  large possum grinning at me. I dispatched  the animal and reset the trap and covered it  with dirt and leaf mold. We carry the catch  to the truck and the vehicle clawed its way  back across the muddy corn field to the  tractor road.
   When we get to the gate we had left open,  it is closed and there are several head of cattle grazing close to the fence. Tracks in the muddy roadway shows a tractor had been through here since we were.     As we travel back towards the farm buildings a farm tractor pulling an empty manure spreader is on the road ahead of us. It is traveling in the direction of the farm buildings, too.  The both of us will be at the gate by the barnyard at almost the same time. The tractor driver stopped, opened the gate, then  drove on through. He started to get off the tractor to close.the gate when he saw us coming. He pulled the tractor forward a few yards, then'walked back to the open gate just as I pulled through it.
   "Good morning" we greeted each other.  "Today I caught three of those beaver that  had been flooding your corn," I informed  Mr. Randall.
   "Glad to hear that," he said.
   I opened the tail gate of the truck to show  the landowner the beaver.
   "Glad you got those coons, too, they tear down lots of my corn," he said as he turned one of the coons over to have a better look at it. He continued on by saying, "Please  don't leave that gate open at the end of the pasture. The heifers were grazing in that direction and if they had gotten out I would  have spent considerable time to get them  back in."
   Without making any excuses, I replied  with, "OK, I'll keep it shut from now on." 
  As he climbs back up on the tractor he says, "I hope you get all those danged beaver," and the tractor disappears around the barn.
  We shut the barnyard gate and proceed on down the farm lane towards the gravel road. In the farm lane there are the tracks of the wide big lugged tires of the tractor. When we get to the place where the coon hunter's truck was stuck, I could see by the tracks that the tractor was used to pull the truck from the ditch. I commented that the truck must have been stuck worse than it first looked. I get you back to your vehicle so you can keep an appointment in an hour from now.

  Now I will run this trapline as I have learned to do it properly througn experience. On this trip over the line you will see some things are done differently. Not all things being done has to do with the actual trap setting, but all things that I come in contact with is taken into consideration.

  First off I would not take somebody along for only a few hours, then have to take the time from tending or setting traps to get that person back to his vehicle. This is very much like you missing work for a few hours. Your boss will dock you for the time you are not working. In this instance there would be traps that were not set to extend my line. Traps riding in my vehicle do not catch fur.
  When I saw the coon hunter's truck stuck in the ditch, I would offer assistance. I carry a tow chain and would attempt to pull their truck from the ditch. Would they do the same for me under similar circumstances? After this episode and understanding human nature somewhat, I believe they would. This would also help to create a closer bond between the trappers and hunters. (We need that bond.)
  When I opened the gate at the barnyard and the dog started barking at me, I would call the dog by name. How did I know the dog's name? When I first asked the landowner for permission the dog barked at 
 me. I made an effort to be friends with the dog. I asked the landowner what the dog's name was. Now when the dog barked at me  I called it by name. It ceased its barking and wagged its tail. I know all farm dogs do not act in this manner. However, by me trying to be friends with the dog would create a  better relationship between me and the landowner.
   When I went through the second gate and left it open because, "I'll only be gone  for a few minutes," is bad policy. Things can happen that could detain you.  Livestock can get out and cause crop damage, get on the highway, stray far away, among other things, not counting the feelings of the owners of the livestock. On  this trip the gate is closed behind me.
   I keep the local radio station tuned in on the radio to keep tabs on the weather. Today the weather reports says, "Falling temperatures in the afternoon and into the low twenties or upper teens by midnight." I had been enjoying the unfreezing nights as this kept the traps from freezing down.  Now things must be done to keep the dirt sets from freezing as well as the open water sets.
   Instead of driving across the new clover meadow, I chose to walk from the tractor roadway to the stream where the traps are. I have only one beaver trap here. Since it is going to freeze tonight, then tomorrow I  will be able to drive across this meadow  without making deep ruts in the ground.
   Should I have a beaver in the #330 today I  can tie a wire to its leg or tail and sink it in a safe place and get it tomorrow when I can drive closer to the set. Sure, this three hundred yard walk will take some time, but it will make for a better relationship between me and the landowner. I won't be cutting deep ruts in his meadow today, tomorrow when it is frozen I can drive across it.
   The first set was untouched, but it was covered with dirt at the entrance of a well used hole among the roots of the toppled sycamore tree. Remember, I just glanced at the set and went on to check the next one. I  had TUNNEL THINKING. I wanted to see what happened next. What about this first trap when I come tomorrow? It will be frozen in. Let's not use TUNNEL VISION, look towards tomorrow. Re-do this set. There is plenty of dry dirt under the upturn- ed roots of this tree to make this into a freeze proof set until the next rain. The next set had caught a coon. Here I used an antifreeze when I remade the set. I knew about the colder weather coming but didn't do anything to the first set. Most trappers will not adjust their sets to the coming bad weather. They are using TUNNEL VISION. When they first made the set it was all right for the weather at that time, but when the change of the weather turns for the worse they mostly leave it as it was.
  This second trap had a coon in it. If I am going to come back past this place shortly then I will hide the animal and pick it up on the way back. I will relate here some things that can happen to the animal while you are gone. Some of these things have happened to me and some have happened to other trappers. A bird of prey can find an exposed animal and tear it apart or carry it away. A roaming dog can locate your animal and carry it away. A hunter could accidently come upon your animal and the hunter may think he made a lucky find. It could be that he had no intention of actually stealing the animal, it was just laying there dead. It would be hard to convince the finder that the animal is actually yours. So when you are going to cache an animal it is best to hide it from all predators. (Out of sight is out of mind.)
  The next set is where I caught the 'rat under the overhanging root system. The rain of the night before had caused the water to raise slightly, but not enough to cause flooding. Tonight it will get much colder. This freezing will STOP the runoff of the excess water in the fields and small ditches. This should bring the water level of the stream back to normal quickly. Should this cold weather hold for a period of time, then the stream will freeze. It has been my observation that a cold snap just after a rain will not cause the water of flowing streams to freeze quickly, unless the temperature really drops far. Most flowing streams will 
 stay open for a few nights even if the temperature stays below freezing. There is a valid reason for this and the common laws of physics bears it out. When it rained, it fell on the ground. The rain water took on  the same temperature as the earth it fell upon. The excess water flowed towards the lower places and ditches. It will eventually  find its way into the natural waterways.  Now when a cold snap comes along the  water standing in the fields and ditches will  freeze. This will cause a quick lowering of  the water in the streams. The water in the streams won't freeze as quickly as the water in the ditches and smaller streams. It has taken on the temperature of the land when the rain fell on it. Should the temperature stay well below freezing for any length of  time, then the streams will freeze.
   There is another thing to consider should a rain come and melt the ice of the small ditches and the ice laying out in the fields. This rain water is super cold. Should a drop in temperature come after a rain under these conditions, then the streams will freeze over rather quickly. The rain has fallen upon the ice and frozen ground and it won't take long at below freezing temperatures to cause ice to form on the larger flowing streams.
   All of this must be taken into consideration when making sets or remaking sets. There is no hard and fast rule to follow, it takes some common sense and a deep gut feeling about the coming weather conditions. Make your sets accordingly. So much about rain and ice.
   I will trap right up to the property lines if conditions permit. I took the mink from the trap at the water gate and remade the set using dry material to cover the trap. Here is where I said I did as some trappers will do. That is trespass upon land which I do not have permission to trap on. (I don't do it.) I wrote that into the article about going to set traps for just a day or two just across the fence. As you can see it can lead to trouble. There can be bad hassles that stem from illegal trespassing. (TUNNEL VISION) So  some trappers think they can put in a few  traps for a few days and get away with it.  (TUNNEL THINKING) Well, maybe.  However, since it is the young sons of the landowner below the water gate, it is rather unlikely they will make a sizable catch. In a few years they will be away to college or in the service, then permission can probably be obtained. However, with the episode that happened in the first part of this article I don't believe permission can be obtained. So the trespasser loses when he used TUNNEL VISION and TUNNEL THINKING. There are some readers that this has brought back memories of the above situation happening. They lost some good trapping permission by using the tunnel vision and tunnel thinking syndrome.
  Retracing my steps from the water gate I pick up the two 'rats and two coons by the small corn field. When I get to the beaver I know it will be a rather long carry to the truck. I also know the meadow will be frozen tomorrow and I can drive across it. When I get to the beaver I use a dead pole about two inches in diameter and eight feet long. I cut a piece of wire about a foot long and wire the beaver's foot tight up against the pole. I wade out to deep water and shove the pole into the bottom so the beaver is completely submerged. I will pick it up tomorrow when I can drive closer to the stream. The cold water of the stream will hide the animal and the water proof fur will not spoil by tomorrow.
  I carried the 'rats and coons to the truck and proceeded to the set by the stump in the new wheat field. Here I added antifreeze to the set. In the first part of the article I just checked the set then went on. I knew freezing temperatures would happen tonight, but with tunnel vision I didn't remake the sets so they wouldn't freeze. Now I did.
  Now about driving across a picked corn field. I've heard strong arguments both ways on the subject. The deep ruts the vehicle makes in a picked corn field is of little consequence. The field has to be tilled anyway before another crop is planted. It does take time to walk across such a muddy quagmire not to mention the extra physical effort. However, such hard'pulling is very hard on all parts of a vehicle. Sure, I made it across in the beginning of this article, but such vehicle abuse takes its toll. Keep doing it and sooner than you think you will have a big repair bill to pay not counting the down time that you and your vehicle was not out on the trapline.
   Since I know it will freeze the ground hard tonight, I chose to walk across the picked corn field. Tomorrow I can drive across it with little strain on the vehicle. So I walked across the picked corn field. The beaver I will cache and pick up tomorrow when the ground will be frozen and I can drive closer to the stream.
   In the beaver set that took the muskrat, I would place the trap differently than just two inches underwater. Here again the ordinary trapper isn't thinking ahead. Surely he saw the 'rat sign in this beaver colony. He can make 'rat sets to take the 'rats before they get to the big beaver traps or he can put the beaver traps deeper so it will miss most 'rats. 'Rats do come in on good beaver lure and visa-versa.
   Where the dry wash went up to the corn field and I only had one trap with this much coon sign is poor policy. As I mentioned earlier in the article that I made a hole under the stump and used a coon lure. There are more animals in the vicinity than coon that are interested in good coon lure. Opossums, skunks, foxes and surely there is more than one coon using the stump as a toilet. Such places should have no less than two traps. Sometimes four or more will be needed to do the job. These traps are not all set at the stump. There are trails coming to and from this place. Cubbies, dirt holes, and bait sets can be used close by. So what if I do catch a non-target animal, there are more traps in the vicinity to attract the target animal.
   This article is to try to help some trappers to SEE things differently than before. Also to try to get them to LOOK ahead and try to foresee the consequences of good or bad happenings. Treat ALL things that don't belong to you the same as if it was yours ..... this includes land.


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