By: Nate Hicks
Trapping season is something I look forward to every single winter. Over the years, my understanding of wild critters has grown exponentially from simply putting in the time. Everything I know about trapping has been developed from my own experiences and research; I've never had a mentor or a teacher help me through the initial barriers to entry. I have taught myself many things from reading hundreds of articles, magazines, and books on trapping. I started trapping nuisance raccoons and woodchucks with foothold traps and live traps when I was a young boy. That curiosity continued and I soon started pursuing other species. Today, I enjoy predator trapping the most but continue to put out sets that target over a dozen species: Fox, coyote, bobcat, beaver, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, and muskrat to name a few. I truly believe trapping has helped me to become a better outdoorsman/woman in so many different ways. This article will cover some of the main reasons how trapping has led me to become a better big game hunter over the years.
1. Keeps you Outside in the Off Season
When you typically wouldn’t be in the woods because most of the hunting seasons have ended and the cold dark winter months set in, you find yourself in the woods a whole lot more! Depending on where you live, what species you’re targeting, and what the local regulations are in your area, trapping seasons commonly overlap with the majority of all hunting seasons. Once the hunting season ends, trapping season commonly continues for many months. (Check your area to be sure.) The more you are in the woods in the off season equates to more interactions with target hunting species such as deer and elk, it just happens. This essentially allows you to become more familiar with your favorite game. I enjoy learning about wildlife habits during specific times of the year because you force yourself to understand their habits. What’s drawing them to a certain location? Do they feel safer
in certain areas? Always have your head up and scan for game; Don't just stomp through the woods unaware of your surroundings. Take note of the locations where you see game and mark it on your GPS. You also might stumble upon really good sign, scrapes, rubs, antler sheds, and even dead game not retrieved from the general season. This is essentially scouting!!
2. Scent Control
When trapping certain predator species such as coyote, wolf, bobcat, linx, and fox, scent control must be practiced if you hope to be consistently successful. Yes, there are people who do not practice any sort of scent control when hunting or trapping and still have success but from my experience if you want to have consistent success in the field you should practice meticulous scent control. Whitetail deer are said to have nearly 300 million nasal receptors, whereas wolves are not far behind with nearly 260 million nasal receptors (See graph below). Most whitetail hunters I know practice scent control in some capacity but aren’t as meticulous as they could be when it comes to the basics. (i.e. Keeping a certain pair of boots stored away in a scent free area specifically for the purpose of hunting or trapping.) At the very least when you are trapping you should be wearing scent proof boots, kneeling down on a scent free pad when making sets, wear gloves, and storing traps in a tub away from other strong odorous materials. This will get your mindset right when hunting season rolls around in terms of scent control. You will have certain practices and habits in place to make you a more meticulous scent control fanatic for the hunting season. Practice like you play! In this case, trapping would be the practice and hunting would be the play! It can't hurt.
Photo Credit: GoHunt.com
3. Physically Demanding: Keeps you in Shape!
If you’re like me and you do the majority of your trapping and hunting on public ground then you are most likely personally carrying all of your gear each time you set foot in the woods. I personally don’t have access to a four-wheeler or side by side to help haul my gear around either. When I walk into the field to set traps I carry a few buckets with all my traps, baits, lures, stakes, trowels, hammer, and anything I might need to get the job done. When heading out to a new piece of property for the first time, I often end up carrying over 30 pounds of gear. With each new set that is placed, the weight of the load goes down. Man I tell you what, carrying all that weight will make a man of you, it's a great workout, I truly enjoy the challenge. I think we can all agree that hunting is a relatively active sport and the better shape you are in the better you will perform when it counts most. I essentially get a great workout from doing something I love, it's the American dream!
4. Reading Game Sign and Understanding Landscapes
The name of the game when looking for locations to place traps is reading game signs. You need to be able to think like an animal and understand the different landscapes the critters prefer to travel on. Trapping has forced me to pay attention to detail when walking through the woods more than ever before. I have trained my eyes to pick up on certain tracks, scat, game trails, and terrain features. When scouting, I can distinguish coyote scat from a red fox’s scat and also be able to tell what it was that particular animal may have been eating. This helps me decide what to use for bait, where to set my traps, and what type of set I want to make to have the best odds of trapping my target species. The small details are so important and I have trained myself to pick-up on the slightest clues.
By learning what critters are eating, where they are traveling, and understanding their necessities you will naturally transfer this knowledge to your hunting skills. I have become an excellent deer tracker largely due to my diligence in being able to pick up on detail and think like an animal would. Understanding the different land features and landscapes on any given property will make you a better hunter hands down. You will develop such a keen eye for game sign that you will have dreams about it; I get em all the time. This is a key skill to develop as an outdoorsman/woman and can pay huge dividends when hunting new ground for the first time or tracking a day old blood trail.
5. Keep your Skinning Skills in Check
By and large, one of the sole reasons trappers trap is to harvest pelts from critters that have beautiful fur coats in the winter months. Many people sell the fur they collect over the winter to fur buying companies. One of the main things fur companies look at when determining the price you will receive for each pelt is the quality of the hide as well as how good of a job you did skinning that critter. It's important to understand what cuts you need to make to bring in the highest dollar for your pelts! Even if you don’t know the first thing about skinning animals, you will learn quickly; skinning is half of trapping. In my eyes, you spend more time skinning and preserving fur than you do actually trapping. This simple fact has helped me to better understand the biology and anatomy of different animals. Skinning different species can vary in technique but overall the goal remains consistent in that you want to remove the hide in an organized and neat fashion. This has helped me tremendously when processing game in the hunting season. I am just more familiar with what I am doing and find myself much more comfortable in the process.
6. Increase Knowledge of Local Wildlife Regulations
As sportsmen and women, it is our responsibility to become experts on the different laws and regulations that are put in place to protect the longevity of our industry. It is my personal opinion that in general there are more regulations on trapping than there are in hunting. I will be the first to agree that sometimes it can be overwhelming the amount of rules that are involved with the most basic forms of taking game. As trappers in today's culture, we need to make sure we abide by the rules set before us and make sure not to give a bad name to other trappers, hunters, and outdoorsman and woman. The fact of the matter is, these laws and regulations exist to help sustain populations and guarantee these critters a fair chance at life. Becoming more familiarized with local wildlife laws takes time and every opportunity you have to stick your nose in a state regulations booklet will make you that much more confident knowing you are legal when out recreating. Every year when the new regulation digests booklets come in my home state, I make sure to grab every single one and read through them to see what changed from the previous year.
7. Predator Management
Predator management is probably the most obvious answer to how trapping would lead you to be a more successful big game hunter. The less raccoon living in your directly correlates to higher turkey populations. The less coyotes in a certain area results in a higher number of fawns making it through the first couple of months of life. According to whitetail deer researchers, within 90 days postpartum (after birth) nearly 50 percent of whitetail fawn mortality occurred from coyote predation in southern states such as Texas and Oklahoma. That's half of the deer population lost purely from one predator species. More deer essentially equals a better opportunity at harvesting a big buck during the general season. I think most hunters understand this concept once the statistics are shown. Read THIS ARTICLE for more information on coyote impacts on deer herds.
In many ways, trapping has encouraged me to become a student of various species I previously didn’t pursue or know a lot about. I failed for multiple years in my pursuit to catch a coyote in a foothold trap. Luring a smart canine to step his paw in a location the size of a fifty cent piece isn't the world's easiest task. My increased understanding of other critters has helped me to better identify where I might find target species during the hunting season in the fall; I have developed a set of skills and knowledge over time that helps me to make quick decisions on the fly. I am not saying if you go out trapping a few times you will see more deer or have more success in the field. I am saying that if you put in the time to understand non-game species that interact in the same environments, locations, and habitat as the big game-species you chase in the fall, you will naturally increase your understanding of those target species.
By: Nate Hicks