On the trapline, a lesson in life

John Schandelmeier

This past week, my little girl, who just turned 4, came to me and asked, "Daddy, can we go set a trap for a coyote? I want a hat and some mittens."

My first thought was, " Wow, she wants a big darn coyote!"

But why not? Trapping is a very good winter activity that gets you out of the house and gives the opportunity to learn the way of the woods.

Trapping also teaches economics; I grew up understanding that if I wanted to buy hockey skates, I'd best catch something valuable enough to pay for them.

I also learned that the more care I took with the preparation of my catch, the more the fur would be worth, thus learning the value of quality workmanship.

I learned how to sew from running a trapline. Why go buy fur mitts, when I had the beaver already in my hand? I was after rabbits and ermine at 4 years old and a lynx or a coyote would have thrilled me to death. So if my little girl wants to go set a trap, let's go!

I gassed up the old Polaris, pulled down a couple of traps and off we went. Less than a mile from the yard we came on to a fresh lynx track. There was another older set of tracks near so I knew the cat would be back.

I showed Jona how to make the set and how to be careful when she moved around where the trap was to be. The result was not perfect, but maybe good enough.

On down the trail we went. There were rabbit tracks and grouse tracks to decipher. A red-backed vole had a tiny packed tunnel across the snow machine trail. A red squirrel had been out and about. It was great to see Jona's eyes widen when we came to a spot where a horned owl had taken a hare. The way of the woods.

A week or so ago, there was an article in Daily News about a couple of trappers on the Kenai who were jumped by a brown bear. Not a normal scenario, but those things can happen. What concerned me, though, were some of the comments from readers concerning the event. Many of the comments concerned the cruelty of the trappers -- "Served them right," etc., etc.

Have we come that far from our roots? One comment was "Get your stuff from the store where the animals are treated right." I wonder if that person has ever been to a cattle feedlot. Or to a commercial hog factory. What about a chicken "manufacturing" plant? I have. Have the folks commenting on the cruelty of hunting and trapping ever seen wolves begin eating their prey while it was still alive? Or simply read about what people do to each other? It makes trapping look pretty benign.

I certainly respect the thoughts and feelings of those who disagree with hunting and trapping. I also would like them to return that same respect. From the trapline, my daughter will learn proper care and conservation of the natural world around her. The land and the ways of its creatures will teach reality. Not the way of the Berenstain Bears, but more like the Three Little Pigs.

Jona was not concerned about the owl catching the rabbit. She has tame rabbits at home, but she is able to distinguish domestic from wild. She has already learned that at age 4. Fox and coyotes are for use. We can use them for something, or just appreciate seeing them as they go about their normal day and take their chances in life.


John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Paxson and commercial fishes in Bristol Bay. He is a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest sled-dog race.



Daily News correspondent