I started trapping pocket gophers right in front
of the house. My neighbor & oldest brother gave me my first lesson
on how to scrap away the topsoil and find the underground tunnel, set
trap and then put your shingle over the opening and cover it up with
so the gopher didn’t know your trap was there. That excitement of what
I’m going to catch is just as strong today as it was 35 years ago.
I kept moving out further away from home because I was able to ride my bike further each year and the excitement of how many I might catch was growing. I must have been nine years old when Dad gave me my first lesson on fur trapping. I think he was just getting tired of carrying me across the Wapsipinicon River and every fence in between.
He let me set the tile outlet ½ mile away on the road to Grandpa’s house. I'll never forget how he showed me how to set the trap on my knee( had to use my feet the first year), trigger set the pan to snap quickly, and then firmly push it down so it lay under the water. I used his John Deer 50 tractor to check that trap every morning before school for a month.
I set some more muskrat run sets there and up the waterway the next 2 years. I caught 2 muskrats the first year and 7 the next. I was on a roll. Dad let me drive the truck then so I followed the creek south past Grandpa’s house into muskrat heaven. That year the ditch was full of muskrat sign.
I’ll never forget the first stand off I had with a muskrat in the culvert. I came up to the set in a 3’ diameter culvert and the muskrat broke free of the trap just as I jumped down to club him. He took off through the culvert in 2” of water and I chased after him thrashing my club trying to hit him. Water was splashing everywhere with each miss and then right in the middle of that 20’ long culvert he turned to face me and lunged forward biting my club. That startled and scarred me pretty good. He chased me right back out of the culvert and then turned and ran back in. I jumped the bank and ran over to the other side just in time to catch him coming out. That time I didn’t miss and all the adrenaline in me help lash out a very hard blow. My 11-year-old body was running 110% that morning.
The next year I caught my first coon at the first culvert. I was all bummed out at first because he had pulled my stake since that ground was the muckiest loam soil you find in spots around that area. Dad was just driving by starting his trap checks, and he said, "Go check that big cotton wood tree, the first thing a trapped coon will do is head for a tree." Sure enough there he was, a big boar hung up only 5’ above ground with Dads good old angle iron stake. I ran the gamete of emotions that morning.
Every year I’ve trapped generates similar stories from the trapeline. That excitement of the catch always gets my blood boiling. I trapped at North Iowa Area Community College and then around Iowa State University. The raccoon around Ames where the biggest I ever caught (guess they were more educated down there). My biggest year ever was 1986. I farmed and trapped with Dad. I did most of the work and he told me everything he could about both. We caught 118 racoon, 250 muskrats, 46 mink, 8 fox and 1 beaver.
He always said there where more mink running on dry land than in the water. We backed that up some by catching the biggest buck mink in a conibear box set about 100’ from the creek in tall grass.
1999 was the last year my Dad trapped. He lined up all the trapping ground for my brother and I. He enjoyed talking about the trap line every morning over breakfast. I hoped I’d be able to go trapping with him another year but God decided he set enough traps and needed to teach in heaven. Those guys are lucky up there because they have another trapper willing to share everything he owns and knows. I know I’ll say a prayer for my Dad the next time the excitement of the catch keeps me awake during trapping season.
In memory of Dale W. Fox (1929-2000)