Trapping for Body & Soul
By Andy Paeth
The narrow path paralleling the stream was just wide enough for him to squeeze through. The temperature was hovering just above 0 degrees and it hadn't quit snowing for several days. There was now at least 18 inches of fresh snow covering the once green and lush forest floor. Arlenn James quickly ducked as a pine branch covered with snow lashed back towards his head. Icy shivers ran down his spine as the cold flakes besieged his neck.
"Wretched snow", he growled in anger as he
his Over/Under 20 gauge against a tree. He removed his backpack and
his blaze orange game vest. After only 15 minutes of walking his
thick beard had already frozen with a combination of ice and snow. His
wool hat sat in an awkward position atop his head. He looked out of
with nature as he fidgeted inside
his heavy neoprene waders and what seemed to be endless layers of clothing piled on for warmth. The large man brushed the remaining snow off his burly shoulders and removed a knit flannel scarf from his backpack. "Should have had this on to begin with Arlenn," he muttered to himself in a tone meant to mock the frequently condescending nature of his wife's voice.
He shouldered his pack and soon he was proceeding
down the trail. It wasn't long before he stopped and assessed the
There in the distance about 10 yards in front of him was his fifth set
on a trap line that extended in a circle of approximately 8.5
The 120 conibear was set on a trail about 15 feet from where a mink had
emerged from the water earlier in the week. At the foot of the trail,
below the water's surface sat a 1.5 coilspring rigged to a drowning
that led to a deadfall beneath the murky water. Both traps were undisturbed and the fresh snow had buried the conibear to the top of its jaws. He sighed as he pulled out his trowel and began removing the snow from around the 120. That done, he swiftly smoothed out the trail to make it look like a fresh run and worked his way down the path towards his next set.
His mind began to wander as he meandered deeper
the river valley. Treading the heavy snow was no easy task. He had
snowshoes last season so it was a bit easier than it had been in the
His wife wanted him to get a snowmobile at first but he had
Doctor Ebanez had told him 4 years ago that if he didn't reduce his
level and start exercising
regularly he wouldn't make it past the age of 40. Heart disease ran rampant in his family and he had already lost a grandfather he never met and his father to heart attacks at early ages.
He walked the entire line each morning of the
while his wife tended to their small sporting goods store. The doctor
been astounded on his annual checkup following his first year on the
He was 40 pounds lighter, his stress test came back negative, and his
pressure was low enough to take him off of medication. He felt 10 times
better than he did
before leaving his job as a manufacturing supervisor with General Motors and moving to the dense forests of northern Michigan.
"Whoosh" he was brought back to the present by a fat grouse that had been perched in its roost on a pine tree. The bird was out of reach before he could get a bead on it, "Drat, in my own little world again". His shotgun was raised and he smiled when he saw another bird sitting in an aspen tree out ahead. He took 2 steps forward and the bird flushed out into the open. He fired once and connected with the tasty morsel. "Half of a dinner in the pot and 10 dollars in the pocket" he thought to himself, as he did after every grouse he shot. He had secured a lucrative market selling his grouse skins to some local fly-tyers and Sarah could do wonders with the grouse meat.
Arlenn bagged the bird before approaching the water's edge. He harnessed his snowshoes to the backpack and than he slowly lowered himself into the stream. The forest was too dense up ahead and he would have to wade the next mile downstream. This section of his line was primarily bottom edge sets combined with several conibears placed on crossovers. He moved very cautiously here; he had learned from experience that a 2 mile hike back to the truck in freezing temperatures while dripping wet is not a pleasant thing to do.
This portion of the river had produced many mink, beaver and otter over the past 4 years. He had already taken out all the beaver he felt he could safely remove earlier in the season. The first 3 sets were empty but the fourth set produced a 23" male mink. "Straight to Davy you'll go" Arlenn mused, as he held the expired mink near his face level for a close inspection. Davy was Arlenn's fur buyer and he preferred his mink in the round.
He began to daydream again as he went through the motions of running the line. His thoughts returned to his college years. "College," he chuckled softly, nothing had taught him more about life than running his trap lines. "An education can get you a nice paycheck but it doesn't teach you how to survive," he reiterated this point to every scholar he met.
Arlenn kneeled down and grabbed a Montgomery
by the jaws, " I wonder what set this off, there aren't any tracks
here." He remembered his first bobcat and how he had sat there for 10
just watching it. It had taken him all season to get that cat. He had
noticed the tracks up on the high ridge. The cat had been trailing a
and it didn't take
long to find where he had caught up with the snowshoe. 8 cubby sets and lots of patience had paid off. He pondered the thrill of that chase for a moment than realized that it was getting late and he needed to get back to the store so Sarah could get some Christmas shopping done. He quickly remade the set and waded downstream.
He came out of the water just prior to a small
of waterfalls. He hung the game vest that now contained 2 mink and a
on a broken limb that was strong enough to support it. This was the
point so he stopped and grabbed his lunch from the backpack. He poured
himself a cup of hot coffee from the stainless steel thermos and
a half-frozen ground
The rest of his line consisted of all ground sets. Cubby's, dirt hole and trail sets for the most part. The high ridge provided ample opportunity for coyotes, fox and bobcats. Arlenn couldn't remember a time when things had been better in his life. He was healthy, free and able to trap. Something he had longed to do since his childhood days when he would trap weasels and mink on the weekends. He shoed his way up the steep slope to the top of ridge. To his surprise the first set held a nice size coyote. This set hadn't produced anything in almost 2 seasons. He removed his Ruger Single Six from the shoulder holster and dispatched of the animal in short order. The fight circle was pretty bad. He wouldn't have time to remake the set this morning. Sarah would fret if he was late to return.
The load was beginning to weigh on his back as he trekked amongst the snow-laden conifers and barren hardwood trees. He stopped for a second to catch his wind. He closely admired the coyote. "Definitely not the largest yote but you'll pay the gas bill for the week", he mused. He harnessed the coyote to the backpack and started forward once again.
Sarah James pulled into the driveway of their
home and rushed into the house. "Arlenn, did you oversleep" She bounded
up the stairs and down the hall to the bedroom. Arlenn your boss phoned
me at work, your shift started an hour ago". She entered the bedroom
saw her husband's cold and lifeless body lying facedown on the bed. She
tried to roll his large
frame over but was unable to. She was frantic, "Arlenn wake up, no Arlenn no." She pounded her fists into his back before running down the hall to phone an ambulance.
At that very moment Arlenn James stepped over a
knoll in a narrow stand of aspen trees. "Whoosh" a grouse flushed from
under the snow to his left. The 20 gauge spoke out loud two times and
bird tumbled to the ground. "Half a dinner in the pot and ten dollars
my pocket" he thought to himself as he always did when he shot a
He took a deep breath
and continued walking the line.