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An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 11-7-2012

Hello friends,

This week’s column is on my observations while watching my good friend Jody Bigalke trap for muskrats and raccoon on the Castle Rock Flowage. What is unique about this adventure is that Jody’s 12-year-old daughter, Tess and 15-year-old Noah Renner are active trappers and really know what they are doing.

Saturday, October 27th
High 49 low 32

Jody Bigalke, “Big Elk”, is an active member of KAMO and has been a good buddy of mine for 30 years. Taking kids on outdoor experiences is basically a way of life for Jody.

It has been at least 12 years since I made an open water set for muskrat and I was really excited to watch this trio work their magic as they set 172 traps on an awesome flowage, on a beautiful fall day.

To put things in perspective, both Noah and Tess have passed Trappers Education Class. Both kids wear chest waders and each of them already has several raccoon to their name this year.

After a couple of mile boat ride, in which we trailed my canoe with my dog Fire in it and another with Noah, I watched my friends go to work. Jody handed half the traps to Noah and he kept the rest. The entire day Noah would work one side of the marsh, Jody and Tess the other.

Last year, both Tess and Noah made over $500.00 for their efforts. This year might not be quite as profitable, as this past summer’s drought has muskrats on the flowage and elsewhere in the upper midwest in low numbers. Long-term drought makes “rats” much more susceptible to predators.

What this team is looking for is to place number 1 Stop Loss traps where muskrats swim out of the water onto clumps of cattail or grass to feed. Feeder sets, as they are called, are very reliable and Big Elk can tell if one was used the night before by fresh vegetation chewing’s and sign of oxygen in the water.

When a rat is caught, it jumps in the water and drowns. The trap is attached to a stake and the trapper follows the chain to his or her catch.

My job was also to shoot ducks and cook some venison steaks for lunch. One duck was shot and retrieved by Fire. I forgot part of my cookstove; we had sandwiches for lunch instead.

Sunday, October 28th
High 51, low 30

Trappers were a big part of how this country was explored and mapped! The warmest clothes that I have when winter camping are made of fur. Trappers are biologists that keep predator numbers down which results in a higher survival of turkey, grouse, ducks, pheasant, rabbit, and fawns.

Today was really fun! Yesterday Jody guessed that we would have 32 rats in the traps. Last year there were 55; the drought I mentioned earlier would have an impact on total catch for everyone that sets a trap throughout the Midwest.

As is their norm, Noah checks his traps and Jody and Tess theirs. I had my shotgun along, but kind of forgot to bring Fire, one duck passed away, I retrieved it.

When a rat is caught who ever is working the set yells out “muskrat”. Tess is almost always in the water. Noah can handle a canoe like a grizzled veteran of the sport and all three of these people can read sign like the natural outdoor enthusiasts that they are.

Today there were 54 rats in the traps and three raccoon. The air temperature was perfect. Jody Bigalke was really thrilled that he was wrong on his guess of 32 rats in the traps and we ended our experience with an awesome meal of venison steak, while all four of us relaxed on the forest floor, well aware that time spent in the great outdoors is time well spent.

Live large!  Sunset