I first met Hayden a little over a year ago. He was 12 years old, a quiet respectful lad that is home schooled by his mom. His parents had noticed his genuine interest in trapping but neither of them had any knowledge about trapping to help him along. Somehow, his mom, through a friend from their church found my name on the internet.
She was thrilled to find someone with knowledge about trapping that lived close by.
When she called to ask if I would be interested in sharing some of my knowledge with her son, I was excited and of course, curious. I’ve had recent questions in my mind: When we’re too old to do this anymore who will take over the management of the furbearers along our extensive river trapline? What will we do with all this equipment and knowledge we have amassed over all these years?
All of a sudden I had potential answers for those questions and couldn’t wait to see what Hayden had learned on his own. His mom had told me he had a few critters he had caught and put-up but he needed help marketing his catch. I assured her that as the Illinois Receiving Agent for North American Fur Auctions (NAFA) I definitely could help in that area.
When Hayden walked in with his pelts, raccoon and muskrat, and parents in tow I was impressed on both ends. What nice people! The pelts on the other hand needed help but showed some great potential. Sure there were some heads missing and they needed more scraping but believe me I’ve seen worse. I definitely had something to work with!!
Since that first meeting we spent lots of time talking about trapping, traps, sets, bait, lure, putting up fur properly, etc. We spent a whole day gathering bait and getting better aquainted.
My partner, Bob Hunter, and I took Hayden along on a scouting/pre-baiting trip. We included Hayden and his brother Peter in our bait grinding extravaganza in our attempt to “show’em the ropes” of that part of trapping.
Along with all of that came the promise that if the opportunity presented itself, Hayden could accompany Bob and I one day on our racoon longline and beyond that, when Bob and I were done, the possibility of a short line with me and Hayden.
One requirement I demanded of Hayden if he was going to “run a line” with me, he would need to be able to set a number eleven while hanging over the side of the boat with nothing to push against. I gave him a sleepy creek number eleven double jaw to practice with and sent him home.
The next time we got together, Hayden was ready! He wasn’t even in the truck all the way before he had the trap out showing me that he could in fact “set it” without any help or props. I was impressed! It was obvious he had worked hard at learning how to do it exactly as I had shown him too.
Hayden would later accompany Bob and I one day on our long raccoon river line. It was an average day for us catch wise, 49 racoon and 1 coyote on the line that would produce 507 raccoon, 2 coyote, 1 mink, 12 rats, 12 beaver, all in 14 days.
Needless to say, Hayden had a good time and was definitely hooked on trapping. I repeated the promise that if the weather co-operated and other things fell into place we might run a line together.
During those first weeks of the season Hayden had run his own line on a creek near his house. His catch included a couple dozen muskrats, a few raccoon, a couple opossum, his first ever mink and wouldn’t you know it, his first ever river otter!
The release of the otter became a family affair with several uncles involved as I wasn’t available at the time, but somehow they got it done.
In the weeks to come, Hayden waited for my phone call, still practicing with the number eleven. I helped him with learning how to put up his fur properly and quickly learned he is a natural at it.
Then wouldn’t you know it, the snow started falling, the temp dropped, the river froze over, and hope slowly diminished reguarding a “short-line” for Hayden and I. Was all hope lost? Never! Us trappers never give up!
Hayden, wondering if he would have to wait another whole year before he would be able to “run a line” with me, his chosen mentor.
As I was preparing for my upcoming “pick up” route for the NAFA February sale, a warming trend was well under way. Everytime I passed over the river I looked to see if it was still ice covered. Unfortunately, it was. I couldn’t believe it as it was so unseasonably warm for so long.
It was time to leave on our three day pick-up route so off we went. Wouldn’t you know it, we didn’t get 20 miles south and every stream we passed over was wide open and flowing freely. When I returned from the route the ice on our river was almost gone. I had a four day weekend coming the following weekend and only work a couple hours in the afternoon driving a school bus anyway.
I got on the phone to see if Hayden was interested in putting out a line. I think you know the answer I got from him. I told him what he needed to bring and we discussed the preparations we needed to make.
First we needed to get my boat in the water. I had a small section of river in mind that we hadn’t trapped in several years. A friend of mine has a launch ramp there and I had asked for permission earlier in the season.
Off we went to launch “the tub”. We arrived to find the ramp covered with mud, apparently unused since the last time I was there. It had rained the night before, so it wasn’t just dirt it was mud!
We had brought shovels in anticipation of this problem and soon figured out the job was not going to get done until we got started. This was to be Hayden’s first lesson about the fun things one gets to do to run a trapline. There were more to follow!!!!!
With the ramp “cleaned off” so to speak, we decided to give it a shot! The river had been very low this year and getting the trailer far enough into the water to float the boat off proved to be problematic. We decided to push the boat off the trailer. After lots of grunting and pushing we managed to get the boat ¾ of the way off the trailer but that’s as far as it would go. I convinced Hayden to “walk the plank”(the trailer tongue) and get in the boat so he could maybe push it off from within the boat. The next sound I heard, “Mr. Wilson, there’s water coming in the boat……..”. Oh Sh**!
I could have sworn I had put the plug in the boat but I guess I didn’t. “Put the plug in quick!” I yelled. Well, remember Hayden is a rookie at this. His reply, “Where is it? What does it look like?” After trying to answer those questions without success it became apparent I was soon going to have some serious explaining to do to Hayden’s parents. “Get out of there quick!” were the next words out of my mouth and out he came to “walk the plank” again. Whew!
Hayden was again convinced to “walk the plank” to hook the winch cable back up to the boat. The plan was to winch the boat back onto the trailer, drain the water, and start over. Suddenly, the boat seemed much heavier and winching it back on the trailer proved to be most difficult to the point it required rest stops. Then all of a sudden “BANG” “JERK” “LURCH”, the winch stand was ripped right off the trailer tongue. Quickly we secured the bow rope to the hitch ball on the truck. Good thing Hayden had already learned to tie good knots!
Finally, I was able to answer the questions about the boat plug and Hayden was able to secure it. He bailed water for half an hour and we started over. This time it went better and the boat was afloat. It was time for me to drive bus so the trap setting would have to wait until tomorrow.
My regular trapping partner, Bob, and I have one basic set that we use almost exclusively and we can put a lot of them out in a hurry. I understood that if Hayden was to learn how to make “the set” I would just have to “let him do it”. I showed him a couple of times and let him “have at it”. He learns quickly! But still, he’s a rookie that discovered that setting a #11 with bulky rubber gloves on is a whole new ball game. The speed will come! Anyway we got about 45 sets out on sign that looked pretty good. I could see the anticipation in Hayden’s eyes as we unloaded our gear and wondered if he could see it in mine.
Early next morning I heard that familiar wake-up call from my wife, Monica. “Snap-Snap, I hear traps going Snap-snap you better get up” she said. I have had partners I have had “ to wait on”. Bob is not one of them and it doesn’t appear Hayden will be either. He was there bright and early, ready to go!
Our first coon would appear in our second set and fifteen more would find their way into the boat. Not bad out of 45 sets was my thought. I forgot Hayden had seen several of mine and Bob’s big catches, when he finally blurted out, “how come were not catching many?”. I decided it was time to test his “home schooling” skills. “Tell me what percentage of our 45 sets produced a coon I asked. He thought a minute, about 36% was his reply. “ I can assure you most trappers I know would be very happy with a 36% success ratio” was my reply.
Our catch ratio would stay in the mid 30% range over the next several days with catches of 13, 17, and 12.
Then we managed to break the steering in the boat. I came up with a Rup Goldberg invention to remedy that problem and we started to extend the line into new territory with 45 more sets.
The old sign in the new territory looked very encouraging but new sign was hard to see but then this time of year it often is. Our next days catch of 21 would get my blood flowing again but after that it would be suspect that mother nature had been there before us and had done her nasty disease duty as our next days catches of 9, 14, and 10 would destroy our nice success ratio.
The season ended on that last days catch with our total amounting to 112 coon and 3 muskrats. with most of them coming out of those original 45 sets. Hayden has learned how to skin fast, and that the meat is worth enough to pay for all our expenses. He is now learning how to flesh and stretch, so he can market his pelts where he can get what they are really worth. Most importantly, his is now one of us and hopefully will be able to fill the void of my passing someday.