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Life of a Trapper: Common Themes

   
 

As the oral history accounts show, the life of a government trapper often involved lonely, challenging, and exhausting work, but it was also rewarding. Many of the interviewees talked about the positive and negative effects of the work on their families - the long hours and time away. All mentioned their enjoyment of working outdoors and observing animals. Others shared their appreciation for the common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause within Wildlife Services.

Below are some of the more common themes and representative quotes from activities conducted over the past 50 years:

Growing Up Trapping
Work Satisfaction
Challenging Work
Work Ethic and Desire to Help People
WS Like a Family
Work-Life Balance
Tools and Techniques
Endangered Species Work
Future of Trapping 

Click here for links to full interview transcripts.

Growing Up Trapping: 

“My mother trapped in the 1920s, and her and my Uncle Herman used to run trap lines, and that's what got my interest…my mother taught me how to skin animals and prepare pelts and even set traps and things like that.” ─ Odon, age 72 Idaho sheep herd. 

“…I started out like all farm kids do, doin' a little trappin' and a little huntin' like that for makin' a few pennies for fur. But the first thing I remember catchin' in a trap was a skunk, and I sold it for 75 cents.” ─ James (deceased)

 

Work Satisfaction:

“It's been a good job. It's been my life, you know, I mean, that's what I've enjoyed. After workin' 38 and a half years, if I could be young again, I'd do the very same thing. [chuckles] I'd do some things different but this is what I'd want to do.” ─ Dale, age 64

“I've enjoyed every minute of it and more. [chuckles] I mean, bein' outdoors, all the wildlife I've seen over the years…You see everything. And you're out there alone. I like it when I'm back in more wilderness country, there's no one else, by myself, and it's so quiet and peaceful. It's unbelievable.” ─ Gale, age 67

“…one of the exciting things about trapping…it gives you a good excuse to get out in the field at all times of the day and really have an opportunity to closely watch the behavior of animals and the habitats in a way that you normally wouldn't do.” - Mike, age 63

“There's so many good things about my work, it's hard to pick what's best. I think probably overall just bein' able to do what you love to do and that's what you do for a living, what you love to do.” ─ Larry, age 60

“I'm really about as lucky a feller as you'll ever see in your life because I got to make my livin' doing exactly what I liked to do best.” ─ Glynn, age 71

“Wildlife Services guys are there to try to keep people in business, whether it's working nowadays with the state highway department or bridge projects or livestock or whatever, endangered species stuff, it provides a lot of satisfaction for the employee to be able to be able to go help people.” ─ Stan, age 65

“…what I enjoyed most is just being able to help out the ranchers. It was very satisfying to help ‘em with the problem that they had.” ─ Shorty, age 66

Challenging Work: 

“The only way to measure your success in predator control, you don't measure it by the number of coyotes taken. You measure it by the numbers of sheep, lambs, and calves that reach the market. That's the way to tell what your success is. Because one coyote in the right place is worth 100 taken where they're really not botherin' a whole lot.” ─ Monte, age 81

“A dog is pretty smart, [chuckles] but they don't hold a candle to a smart wolf.” ─ Gale, age 67

“Coyotes are probably the smartest of the predators. They're more persistent, I think you might say, and I think the thing is, to solve a coyote problem, sometimes you can't just use one thing.” ─ Jack, age 81

“What would I tell a trapper, a beginning trapper? To learn your animal. He will teach you where to catch him. The coyote will tell you where to catch him. You've just got to pay attention to what he's tellin' you. Diggin' a hole in the ground and buryin' the trap is 10% of it.” ─ Glynn, age 71

“I'm just saying it's just like all the rest of wildlife management. The people part of it is the hard part. The technical wildlife part, that's the easy part.” Guy, age 67

“…this is a skunk story…this lady…she called and said there was a skunk in my live trap…I drove in there and here she'd gathered up all of her old lady friends. I'd say she was sixty or seventy years old. So I talked to the skunk as normal, got him awake, went walking up there with my blanket that I was going to put over this live trap. And happened to trip on a board and my face ended up about a foot in front of that trap and the skunk let loose and I was yellow from the top of my head clear down my chest. All these women were standing there watching this. So I just stood up, picked up my trap without putting the blanket on, went and put it in the pickup, and drove off. And I never said a word [laughs]. They didn't say nothing. They were just laughing.” ─ Shorty, age 66

“…one time I was after a lion…I was walkin' along under that ledge, and I see these lion tracks, and boy, they were fresh…A big tree grew right out there at the foot of the ledge, and he'd went under it goin' this way, and I went around under it, and when I got over on the other side, here his track was goin' back toward to where I just came from, on top of his other track...So I got to lookin', and I went back around under the tree and got around on the other side…right there about eye level, oh, 10 feet from me, here this old lion laid [chuckles] in one of those little (rock) pockets…when he seen me lookin' at him, he just jumped up and run past me.” ─ Jack, age 81

Work Ethic and Desire to Help People: 

“…what's really gratifying is when you can solve some problem that somebody had had for quite a while and they just had kinda given up and maybe you could figure out how to remedy it for'em, you know. And that to me was very gratifying.” ─ Odon, age 72

“…what I enjoyed most is just being able to help out the ranchers. It was very satisfying to help 'em with the problem that they had.” ─ Shorty, age 66

“Wildlife Services guys are there to try to keep people in business, whether it's working nowadays with the state highway department on bridge projects or livestock or whatever, endangered species stuff, it provides a lot of satisfaction for the employees to be able to go help people.” ─ Stan, age 65

“When I first started, I was an animal killer, and then I got to a point where I became what I was supposed to become, I think: an individual that controls problems.” ─ John, age 61

WS Like a Family: 

“And then our families, we got together at times, all of our families and visited. We were close, all of us…I'd like to think I was friends with all the people in the department, because I like them all. Good people, all of them.” ─ Philip, age 68

“…you had a sense of family… It was more a family esprit de corps and all that stuff. That was what I enjoyed. It was a lot of fun settin' up programs, supervising programs, dealin' with people. And the old trappers, we'd talk about—it was a family affair.” ─ Don, age 64

Work-Life Balance: 

“I'd generally, generally be gone from home mostly through the week, but sometimes I'd be back. And then we had a trappers' cabin up in what they call now Horse Thief Basin. There's a reservoir there now, and we made camp there. Barbara and the kids Base campstayed up there with me in the summer, and we went horsebacking out of there quite a bit and was able to come back to camp, some day trips. ” ─ Jack, age 81

“I think back, I should have taken more time off…When the kids were little I wished I woulda taken a little bit more time, taken ‘em places, you know.” Odon, age 72

“I think that I started work for $225 a month, and that was the year I lived in the teepee tent…Things was really, really hard. And I wasn't the only one, all the people they put on about my same time, we all had a hard time with their families and things…Things are a lot better financially for—the wages are better and the per diem and all those things are a lot better now than they were then.” ─ Philip, age 68

“I spent too much time on this job that I shoulda spent with my family when I was young, but I didn't. And I had two boys and I took them quite a bit, but there's a lot of things I didn't go to that I should've…When I was trappin' I used to take a sleepin' bag and stay up with the sheepherders on the mountain…That's the only one regret I got, is not spendin' more time with the family.” - Bob (deceased)

Tools and Techniques: 

Note: Some of the tools and techniques discussed in the oral histories are no longer used in wildlife damage management. Examples include the use of compound 1080 (except in livestock protection collars in some states) and strychnine.

Getting to remote areas on horseback. “When I was the district supervisor, I had a government saddle and bridle, and I'd either borrow a horse from a trapper or a lot of times we'd go ridin' into sheep camp and just borrow a sheep herder's horse. Of course, one never knew what they were gonna get. A time or two I didn't know whether my horse was gonna make it back to camp or not.” ─ Don, age 64

“…on my trap lines, all I ever used is urine scent baits…We'd get urines (sic) from dogs or out of the coyotes, but we'd add a little…lion urine or bobcat urine into it. He had other little ingredients that we used. And it really worked well here. That seemed to be the best lure for coyotes that you could get, was urine sets. Didn't use much else.” ─ Blue, age 55

“At that time…it was a camp-out thing…you were pretty much a loner all the time...when I first come on, they give me a teepee tent to camp out in. At that time, we didn't get paid for camp rate. We paid our groceries and our propane and our ammunition. They paid us I think it was $140 a month for truck use, and that included our horse and dogs and campin' out.” ─Dale, age 64

“You can set snares, foot or neck snares by the kill if they (lions) buried it. Usually when they buried it or covered it, they'll come Setting scent or attractants for coyotes.back and feed on it that very night. So you know that you've pretty well got that lion that did the damage.” ─Dale, age 64

“We'd use strychnine lard balls. We'd take a square chunk of strychnine that was made in the research center, put that into a little piece of lard about the size of a dime or a nickel. We'd place these around a carcass, and the coyotes would pick ‘em up and die from that.” ─ Shorty, age 66 (tool no longer used in wildlife damage management)

“I'd say the best thing for disguising a person's scent is regular old sagebrush, out on the prairie. Just use that around your trap set and it's going to take away your scent and the trap's scent. I always cleaned my traps, kept ‘em clean, dyed ‘em.” ─ Shorty, age 66

Regarding selectivity of aerial operations, “I don't enjoy killing things, but that kind of made my day because I thought, ‘Boy you can't get any more selective than this!” ─ Odon, age 72

Endangered Species Work: 

“We initially…started off tryin' to find out where those things (Red wolf) were and how many there were and what damage they did and satisfy - try to keep the ranchers satisfied. Anyway, it went on and we finally wound up tryin' to catch ‘em and put ‘em in a captive breeding population, which was successful and they now have'em in the wild again.” ─ Glynn, age 71

“We started the least tern projects in southern California, probably back in 1985 or so…we worked four or five different little projects down there over a couple of years. Workin' down there, their chicks' numbers doubled, and then they just started hirin' our people for special activity work down there. Now it's a big thing, and the birds just skyrocketed…we trapped coyotes in around there. It seemed like everything was killin' the chicks there, great blue herons, possums, ravens.” ─ Blue, age 55

“…black-footed ferret, we had that project for I'm thinking five or six years in a row, where we would go down and take 20 coyotes out and they did blood tests on the coyotes to determine what diseases they might have, plague in particular.” - Larry, age 60

Future of Trapping: 

“…we're gonna see less trapping for fur and recreation, but more for damage control or damage abatement…we're gonna see fewer professionals on the ground, and the few who are there are gonna be more highly trained.” Guy, age 67

“There will always be a need. When there's humans and wildlife livin' in the same neck of the woods, there's always gonna be some problem. ..and I think that's gonna be the wildlife disease area, the humans hazards, human safety…we're havin' less and less livestock…There won't be the old boy on horseback with a string of traps, probably, although I still think the trap probably has its place.” ─ Don, age 64

“…trapping seems like it's been kind of singled out by some of the animal rights groups that think trapping is unnecessary. But it's definitely part of wildlife management…as long as man has changed the use of the land for his livelihood, there's always gonna be a need to control certain segments of wildlife…I think trapping will still have a future.” ─ Odon, age 72

“I think the more people that use the forests and things like that, the more regulations we're gonna have. And time changes. We can't do anything about those things. That's just part of the changes of time.” Philip, age 68

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