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An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 2-27-2013

by Mark Walters

Otter Trapping “101”

Hello friends,

This winter has been a unique one for myself, as well as, my 12-year-old daughter Selina.  We are raising a litter of ten golden retriever pups and keeping mama and her pups healthy. That goal as well as selling all ten and keeping track of the buyers and their choices is a larger responsibility than most people might be aware.

I kind of lucked out with this project (it allowed me to be home at night) due to the fact that last fall I received an otter-trapping permit, as did my good buddy Doug Cibulka.

The two of us set out eight, 330 Conibers, all under the ice with the hopes of either catching an otter or possibly a beaver.

In the end, our trapline required six-miles of walking through a beautiful wilderness area in northern Juneau County and some of the time the weather conditions were truly “brutal”.

Thursday, January 31st
High 2, low minus 17

Today it was my turn to check the traps, so far they have been out for 12-days and we have not caught a thing. We did have beaver spring a couple and I may have messed up on an otter when I “possibly” forgot to take a safety spring off of a trap when I placed it under the ice.

On this day, you could have made a movie out of the weather conditions, fresh snow, was being blown by 20-mile-per hour winds and the air temp was at zero.

The hike to our two set locations is about 1.5 miles apiece, and today I was loving every minute of another winter challenge.   First you scrape the snow away from the set.

Next you use an ice chopper and chop for two to ten minutes to remove all ice above the trap.     The trapper has to be careful when chopping through the ice, to make sure that they do not damage the trap or potential fur in the trap.  This is a very physical job and another reason that my body fat is less than today’s high temperature.

The day wore on with empty traps and a constant smile due to the brutal temps and love of under the ice trapping.

You can well imagine the feeling of victory when I thought I saw a sprung trap with fur in it.   It was difficult to tell because the trap was well secured and the hole over it was filling in within seconds with blowing snow.

Danger is something for trappers using an extremely strong trap like a 330 Coniber you simply cannot see under the ice very well.   With blowing snow, it is almost impossible.  If you put your hand or arm in it, it could be your end if you are not able to chop your way out with your other arm.

Since this is only my second time trapping otter, I am “green’ to the sport and the physical and danger challenge are what I am after.

After careful chopping, I discovered a “big kahuna” otter in my trap and was dreaming of the new Chevy pickup I was gonna buy with the fur check.

Reality sunk in when the otter froze to the trap so quickly that I had to put it underwater to thaw it out just to remove it from the trap.

Over the coming days, Doug Cibulka and his 14-year-old son Derek checked the traps.

Derek will be a trapper some day, he is signed up to take Trappers Education classes and the boy is in to it.

I joined Doug on the last day of this adventure and we had two memorable experiences.

We tried calling in some coyote while on the trapline and instead called two wolf to within 40-yards of my old high school buddy.

Our last set of the season was pulled and it had fur in it.   Our catch was not an otter, or a beaver, but a muskrat instead that caused a good laugh and, at least we got something feeling.

The rat sold for $8.00 (a bit of trap damage).  The otter went for $90.00. The new Chevy pickup is in the same fantasy as me being the winning contestant on The Bachelor.

I have been living on these fantasies for forty years and do not know of a happier person.

Pray for deep snow and an inch of rain a week after that, we need water!  Sunset