Nolan Raymond, a junior at Hermon High School, enjoys Maine’s hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities. He is involved in Dirigo Search and Rescue as well as Boy Scouts of America. He also plays the drums and competes in track and field.
I’ve fished since I was a toddler, and hunted since I was 10, but I only started trapping last year. I’m not good at it.
I’ll admit, until I learned more about modern trapping, I held the common misconception that it’s unethical, dangerous and causes the animal to suffer. After doing some reading, and attending the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s trapping class, I hold a completely different point of view.
Modern traps are a safe, selective wildlife management resource.
Trapping isn’t what it was in the early days. Like all of Maine’s outdoor activities, it’s always changing.
The standards of traps have come a long way and a comprehensive set of standards apply in Maine. Traps are essentially broken into two classes: foothold and body grip.
A foothold trap works when a specimen steps on the trigger, which allows springs to close the jaws of the trap around the leg of the animal. The trap is staked into the ground and secured by a chain.
Foothold traps don’t rip into the skin or break the animal’s leg and cause minimal discomfort.
Body grip traps are often set underwater to catch swimming critters. These traps are selective: the target has to fit through the frame, and be underwater, to be caught. The trap provides a clean kill.
Beavers and muskrat are two species harvested with Conibears — great traps for muskrat runs and slides in the water — which are sized by number. A 110 is a good size for muskrat, and has one spring. A 120 has the same frame, but two springs to provide more power. A 330 is a beaver trap, with a big frame and two springs.
Foothold traps must be checked daily, so nothing sits in the trap for long. Kill trap regulations vary.
After completing DIF&W’s mandatory trapping class and field day, I was on a mission.
I took what I learned in the class, as well as what I had heard from some seasoned outdoorsmen, and decided to start with muskrats. I bought a handful of 110 Conibears.
Given what I learned about their habitat, I found a nice area near my house that seemed to fit the bill: a wider area of a stream, with some reeds and grasses growing on the banks. The owner is a friend of the family and had no issues in giving me permission.
I set my traps on runs I found in the drainage. The excitement that can come from trapping makes the effort worth it.
I had a memorable experience last season, just a few weeks before everything iced over.
A couple of days earlier, I had pulled my traps out of an area that wasn’t producing and moved them all downstream a ways. As I made my way into the flowage, not far off the road, I was completely anticipating another “bust.”
I started at the trap farthest downstream. It was set on what looked like an area that muskrats were moving off the bank and into the water. The trap was exactly how I had left it. No surprise, but a little bit frustrating.
On to the next trap, just a handful of yards upstream. This one was on a similar looking slide, but deeper underwater. I had put a little bit of muskrat lure on a twig on the bank just above it — to no avail.
As I’m sure you can imagine, my patience and self-esteem were quickly fading, as was my drive to continue. Thankfully, my third trap was different.
It was set under a half-submerged log, where it looked like muskrats were heading up and downstream. At first glance, I saw nothing — not even my trap. This alone got my heart pumping.
I found the anchor chain and pulled it to take the trap out of the murky water. I was shocked, but ecstatic, to see my first muskrat!
Even though it was wet, I knew it would be a great fur. After calling my dad to share the news, I remade the set in hopes of getting another.
I caught a total of seven muskrat throughout the season. For an experienced trapper, seven is closer to a daily catch rate than a full season, but I couldn’t be happier.
I’ve been teaching myself to trap, but I’m certain that if I had a seasoned mentor, I’d be having more action. I’m learning not only to trap, but to be self-sufficient and independent. Although I’m definitely not as good at trapping as some, I’m learning every time I go out.
To commemorate my season, I chose not to sell my furs (as many trappers do), but to keep them and have them tanned. I sent them to a tannery in Iowa, and they should be sending them back, along with a bill, this month.
Once I get them back, I’m having a ’skrat hat made by a local leather worker. It’s supposedly really warm fur, and I’m sure it’ll be perfect for ice fishing — and, of course, trapping!