Animal rights activists took a swing at sportsmen this year with a ballot measure that aimed at taking away a piece of Montana’s outdoor lifestyle – Sportsmen swung back though – which made my first catch of the season an exciting experience!
Usually my trap line is laid out slowly over time beginning December 1st. A foot hold trap placed in a draw is complimented with a marten set elevated off the ground with bait and skunk essence mixed with Vaseline. I’ll set a trap or two, explore a new area, look for lion tracks and find a number of ways to distract myself until a trap line is made that I can handle.
This year things were similar except that I couldn’t wait to set a trap. I set traps for marten, fox and bobcat with eagerness and enthusiasm like I did 25 years ago. Steel traps were flying out of my pickup truck.
The air smelled fresher than I remember and my legs ran up the hills and jumped over creeks with vigor. Trapping season was here again – but it almost wasn’t! This huge part of my life that I think about all year was threatened and I found my motivation higher than ever with the realization that we had defended this right.
On my first full trap line check a friend came along for the afternoon. We checked empty traps making short hikes from road systems on Forest Service lands. Fresh tracks in the snow prompted me to add a few traps along the way. One trap set for marten was on a steep corner and I decided to wait to check that one on the way out.
When we returned to that corner Lance got out of the truck and followed my tracks in the snow up the draw to the trap. “There you go.” He said pointing at a marten held firmly in the jaws of a #120 body grip trap. That first catch of the season was much more than a catch. That marten represented the hard work of many dedicated trappers who spent time and effort raising awareness, raising money, writing letters, attending booths at various events all over the state and giving up our summer and fall to fight.
The fight that took so much time and energy culminated into one guttural yell that bounced off the mountains all around me. It was a marten, one single marten from a single drainage in Montana. I’ve trapped dozens of them over the years but this one was special.
The first marten of the year, the year – that almost wasn’t.