By Bernie Barringer
It’s no coincidence that some of today’s
most successful bowhunters
have a background in trapping.
I don’t remember much about being 14 years old, but some things are just burned in my memory. That was the year I became a trapper, and I remember my first muskrat vividly. I also remember my first mink, fox and raccoon. I could take you to the exact spot where I caught every one of them, despite the fact that it happened more than 40 years ago. I can remember the smell of the river, the feeling of lugging a raccoon home in my packbasket, the sight of glowing eyes in my headlight, knowing that other school kids wouldn’t roll out of bed for two more hours.
I carried trapping over into my adulthood and made a good living throughout my 20s catching fur in big numbers. I worked my tail off in order to stay one step ahead of the growing competition that high fur prices brought in the 1970s and ’80s. Trapping taught me a lot of lessons — lessons that have served me well in life.
Most notably, trapping has made me a much better bowhunter.
I have often wondered if others felt this way, so I posed this question to two friends who spent a lot of time trapping and bowhunting. Tom Miranda and Stan Potts are both nationally known bowhunters. You can watch them on TV most every week. They both have strong opinions and interesting observations about how trapping has made them better bowhunters, and are willing to share a few of their secrets here.
1. The Value of Persistence and Responsibility
“At a very young age, trapping taught me a valuable lesson,” says Miranda. “If I work hard, I mean really hard, good things would come from it. The grind of tending traps, working in bad weather, skinning and stretching the pelts, the long hours of early mornings and late evenings make trapping a real job.
“Trapping also taught me responsibility. I knew that rain or shine I needed to check traps. This requirement has helped in my hunting as I don’t ever let the weather bother me. If it’s prime time, I’m in the tree. My toughest bowhunt ever was in the Canmore bow zone of Alberta hunting bighorn sheep. It was 14 days of minus 20 and colder. Steep, slippery mountains, tent camping, deep snow, bitter wind chill and 10,000 feet elevation; hunting in extreme conditions has a lot in common with trapping.”
2. Attention to Detail
A fox trapper realizes that his target animal has the entire world to walk around in, and he must make that fox step into a one-inch circle. You need attention to detail and a very deep understanding of the animal’s behavior to be successful. “Picking a location to trap a fox or coyote is exactly the same as picking the right location to shoot a big buck,” according to Potts. “Set location is everything in trapping. You look for land features that come together, such as ridges, terrain and habitat changes. You must pick the exact right spot both in trapping and in hunting. A lot of it is instinct, but instinct can be developed over time.”
“A non-trapper sees a stream,” explains Miranda, “but a trapper sees the mink tracks under the overhanging bank. A non-trapper sees a farm field, but a trapper sees the edges, the funnels, the things that cause the animals to drift a certain way.”
Potts used a technique common to trappers to learn better buck behavior. “I would pick up the tracks of a big buck at the edge of a field where he was feeding and just follow the tracks until I jumped him. I would pay attention to the lay of the land and how he used it. This really helped me better understand why picking exactly the right tree is so important.”
3. Scent and Wind Direction
Picking the right tree for whitetail hunting has been a topic hunters have hammered on for years, but trappers seem to have an upper hand when choosing the right locations. Part of that, according to both Miranda and Potts, is because hunters don’t spend enough time understanding how deer use the terrain and their senses. “A big buck’s number one line of defense is his nose,” Potts says. “A fox or coyote uses his nose to hunt. A buck wants to be quartering into the wind whenever he can. Just like you can use a canine’s nose to draw him into a trap, you can use the way a buck uses his nose to get him.
“The perfect wind for hunting,” according to Potts, “is usually almost wrong.” Subtle variations in wind can make a big difference; you will rarely find a perfect wind, so you must play the wind angles correctly.
“Trappers know that an educated coyote is just as tough to catch as an educated whitetail is tough to hunt,” adds Miranda. “Sitting tree stands with the wrong wind direction is a no-no, the same as setting a dirty trap.”
4. The Common Denominator
You may have noticed one theme that runs through all of these comparisons between trapping and hunting: hard work. “Successful trapping requires dedication, commitment and hard work,” Miranda explains, “just like successful bowhunting. Lazy trappers rely on luck for success, and so do lazy bowhunters. Go early, stay late, hunt in marginal weather, take into account moon phase and position. Top bowhunters make their own luck. Average hunters and trappers would say, ‘I would rather be lucky than good.’ Top hunters and trappers say ‘Don’t Ever Quit!'”
While I am longer a commercial trapper, I still run a few traps each year to stay in touch with the land and my roots. The hard lessons I learned from my successes and failures have led to a lot of success in bowhunting. So if you find yourself wondering why so many of the top hunters have a background in trapping, you have now begun to understand the reasons why. And you have the option of taking the advice of the old adage: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”
About Bernie Barringer:
Bernie Barringer hunts and fishes for a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 400 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored 11 books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Travelling Hunter. He is a recognized authority on DIY hunting, and blogs his hunts on his website www.bowhuntingroad.com.
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