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How One Trapping Career Began

Visit a few trapping forums or go to a few trapping conventions and you'll soon discover that trappers love to tell their stories, and love to hear the stories of other trappers.  Maybe we've retained this trait from the old days when trappers told their tales around campfires at the rendezvous.  Whatever it is, I find few things more pleasurable than to hear a seasoned trapper talk about how he got started, what he has learned, and the odd things that happened to him over the years on the trapline.

The following comes from Jonathan Weber, a lifelong trapper and resident of New York state.  Thanks, Jonathan, for sharing a bit of your story with us.

 How I Got Started Trapping

I plowed into it on my own at first when I was eight years old - caught a muskrat in the creek behind our barn. That was 60 years ago! My dad and grandfather didn't trap, but there were a few rusty Victor #1 longsprings hanging on the shed wall for barn rat duty once in awhile.

I Learned how to fox trap at age 12.  I Had the good fortune of meeting a crusty old guy at the fur buyers that winter when my dad dropped me off to cash in on my 20 or so muskrats.  His name was Mark Swigert. He was a professional trapper from the bounty era. What a blessing that was for this kid. The buyer's tables were full of red fox, and I had never seen anything like that in my life.  I asked him where all of those came from.  He turned and pointed to this older man sitting on a stool over in the corner smoking Camel cigarettes. "Mark over there got these."

My curiosity and enthusiasm oozed almost uncontrollably, and I found enough courage to ask this man how he did that. I showed enough interest that he asked me where our farm was, and I told him. "Tell ya what. When I get back from the Adirondacks this spring sometime, I'll look you up. As interested as you are, I'll show you how to catch red fox."

He arrived in April that year.  After meeting and talking to my father for awhile, off we went for my first day in class.  That was it for me - been addicted ever since.

At age 12, in 1954, I caught my first red fox in a dirt hole set with a few drops of gland lure and a mouse nest in the bottom of the hole. The fox trap "of the day" in that era was the Victor #2 square jaw coil spring. That started my life long addiction and affection for red fox trapping.   I had the blessed fortune and gift of having Mark Swigert as a mentor, an older professional trapper at the time.  He knew E.J. Daily and Stanley Hawbaker (all about the same age,) and he taught me very well.

Mark was a remarkable teacher. I remember a vivid story from one day when he followed me on my line. I spotted what I thought may have been a raccoon dropping because of the seeds in it. Mark picked it up, pulled it apart and described and identified everything that was in it for me. After that diagnostic investigation he told me it was from a gray fox.

I had asked him how he could then tell the difference between a gray fox and red fox dropping. He paused several moments in deep thought and silence, breaking that spell with a smirk before he uttered - "Jonathan, in order to be real positive, you have to taste them." And, I believed him!

He was, after all, an old (late 50's) Adirondack Mountain man - rugged as the grit of the earth. I knew Mother Earth was his sister. I could tell from his weathered, textured face and the wear on his hands. He knew everything about animals, birds, snakes, frogs, toads, insects, trees and shrubs - more than anyone I have met or known in my entire life to this very day.

After he gathered up in musing over my trust in what he just told me about the droppings, he smiled and said, "I've never had to taste one yet. I just know the difference."

As I drop this ink, I am bubbling in the emotions of the cherished memories from what Mark taught me as a young kid - never to be forgotten. I loved that man as a friend and teacher, and have missed him since he passed before I was 16.

Yes, I remember my first red fox as if I just caught it this morning, and that was 56 years ago!


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