With all the political nonsense behind us in Montana trappers are still doing what they do all over Montana. But there are a lot of misunderstandings about what that is exactly so here’s an overview.
First, trappers spend many hours all summer getting ready for the next trapping season. Things like making waxed dirt which is exactly as it sounds, flake wax is mixed with dry dirt to create weatherproof material to bed traps in. Shovelling, sifting, storing the dirt in a cool scent free place is just the beginning. Adjusting traps, boiling and storing them, getting furs that were frozen in the busy season fleshed and stretched and collecting baits until cool weather comes keeps trappers busy.
Then season arrives and trappers hike many miles a day carrying heavy supplies to good locations that they have scouted all year. High country trappers must make lean-to cubbies or marten leaning poles to keep traps weatherproof.
Sets are made for specific animals like bobcat, fox or marten on land or beaver, muskrats and mink along waterways.
It takes many days to get all the traps placed and set in the best locations.
Each trap that is set can take up to an hour to get to the location, and get everything just right. For land sets, trappers must dig a hole big enough to fit a trap and chain then secure the trap with a stake driven into the ground.
The work is gruelling at times but in todays hectic world this labor of love is simple and reconnects trappers to the land like nothing else can. Digging into the Earth and observing nature intimately every day puts trappers in a class all their own.
Once the traps are placed the traps must be maintained. Heavy winter snows, freeze-thaw conditions and catches of animals all create the need to re-make trap sets to keep them working.
Back at home trappers must skin the animals out, remove all the flesh and pull them snugly over forming boards and allow them to dry.
Fur handling is one of the most challenging jobs in the fur trappers list of many tasks. After all the furs are dried, trappers store them in their work shops often referred to as a fur shed.
Furs are then ready to ship to an international fur auction, state auction or local fur buyer. Many trappers also keep furs for tanning.
The work trappers do is physically demanding and requires dedication to the craft. There aren’t many fur trappers compared to the huge numbers of other user groups like hunters and anglers but it’s not because trapping isn’t awesome, it’s because trapping is time consuming and takes a certain level of dedication to do successfully.
If you’re interested in trapping visit www.montanatrappers.org for information about the art of trapping and educational opportunities with the Montana Trappers Association.