After the Depression it seemed like everyone was broke. Growing up then wasn’t easy, but it prepared us early on to work hard. Spending money for boys was very scarce and one way to earn it was to trap. My older brother Ray and I trapped, as did all the neighbor boys. Ray drove a Model A coupe to get us around and when I went by myself I would go on horseback. I started trapping when I was 9 years old.
Ray and I would go trapping and looking for furbearers whenever we could. Skunks, civet cats, muskrats, minks, coyotes, raccoons, badgers and jackrabbits were our available game. Beaver sold for a good price, but they were protected because too many were trapped in earlier days. If they were damaging your timberland a special permit could be obtained from the state to trap them.
We soon learned that skunks liked to live in culverts, so it wasn’t long before we knew the location of every culvert in the neighborhood. There must have been some poison ivy by one culvert because after checking the culverts on a Sunday, my face broke out in a terrible itchy rash on Monday. My parents did not know what kind of terrible contagious disease I had, so I was taken to the doctor. He knew what it was, and gave me some calamine lotion to apply. Medicine for poison ivy has not advanced much in 50 years.
Once, Ray and I were looking in a small culvert with a flashlight. We could see eyes, and there were skunks in it. As we were trying to figure out how to get them out, Lee Blaksley, a local trapper and fur buyer, drove by and stopped. He said if we would push them out with a long pole we had, he would shoot them as they came out on the other end. We started poking, and Lee shot them in the head with a .22-caliber rifle when they looked out the culvert. There were five skunks in this small culvert, and Lee gave us $2.50 apiece for them. Twelve bucks was a whole lot of money then.
Another method we used to get skunks out of holes and culverts was to take barbed wire, push it in the hole, and start turning the wire. The barbs would wrap in the tail and fur, and we could pull them out. For bait we used dead chickens or chicken manure. The skunk smell was terrible even when you didn’t get sprayed and we were not very popular around my mom and sisters. I am sure the teachers were not very pleased on Mondays either. I don’t remember being sent home, though.
One time we captured a badger in the pasture and put him in an empty stock tank. We covered it with slat cribbing, and weighed it down with railroad ties. We would sneak up and the badger would be sleeping on his back. As he smelled our human scent, he would roll over and start to hiss. One morning when we got there, the badger was gone. He had enough power to lift the slats even with the ties on top.
Looking for coyote dens and digging them out of their dens was another way to make some spending money, as there was a bounty on coyotes. The coyote ears were taken to the treasurer’s office at the courthouse to collect the $5 bounty. The most coyotes we dug out of one den was eight. We dug out three other coyote dens that I remember. Today it’s quite rare to see a coyote.
In the late 1930s, there was also a bounty on crows and magpies. There were hoards of crows then. They ate dead carcasses and were believed to spread diseases from one farm to the next. It was legal to put dynamite in their roosting areas and kill as many as possible. We didn’t do this, but some did. The bounty was 5 cents for a crow head and 10 cents for a magpie head. The heads were taken in to collect the bounty. Later, only the beaks were taken because the heads would stink up the courthouse.
Before the pelts could be sold the animals were skinned and pelts stretched until they dried. Following are the prices we sold pelts for in 1940: badger, $10; coyote, $10; mink, $15; skunks, $2.50; civet cats, 25 cents; opossum, 25 cents; muskrats, $1; raccoons, $10. Once, Ray sold 140 jackrabbits for $12 total. This does not sound like much; but before World War II many farm hands worked only for room and board in the wintertime.
When I was a boy we used foot traps and had up to 20 traps set at any given time. It was illegal to use meat as bait because birds of prey including eagles would be harmed, so we used chicken manure. Later on, I used Conibear traps that kill the animal. I used them mostly for trapping beaver and they were very effective. The traps had to be set below the waterline so dogs weren’t caught.
For many years there was good money in trapping. I trapped all my life and sold the pelts to Blaksley and other local fur buyers. Raccoon, coyote, beaver and mink sold from $25 to $50 a pelt. Prices were good until the late 1980s. The demand for fur declined in part because of the negative publicity created by PETA.
Today, with very few trappers, the raccoon and beaver population has exploded. They can be a real nuisance and very destructive. When I had beavers damaging the trees and riverbanks on my property, our game warden, Lyman Wilkinson, gave me permission to destroy them either by trapping or shooting them.
I have good memories of my boyhood trapping adventures. There wasn’t TV or sports to entertain us so we had plenty of time to spend outdoors. Trapping taught me independence, persistence, resourcefulness and the value of money, among other things. These early lessons served me well all my adult life.