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Running a Pennsylvania Trapline

Zachary M.

This week’s Blog Post was written by Zachary M., a Gobblers Alumni! He describes why traplines are good for wildlife management and how he sets up his every year.

One of my favorite pastimes is pursuing Pennsylvania’s furbearers. Whether I am predator calling local farm fields or trapping muskrats in swamps, it is always a good time. Fur prices today are at an all-time low, and so it is not a profitable hobby by any means. Although my motivation is not for money, I trap simply because I enjoy it and other the perks that go along with running a trapline. The sport of furtaking has a long history in the Americas dating back to colonial times. Today it is sometimes viewed as cruel and barbaric, but with modern traps and regulations, it is without question a humane sport.

Every year I attempt to harvest a few of all of Pennsylvania’s furbearers, but there are certain times of the year when I target specific species. For example around the end of December, fox and coyote are prime, muskrat and mink season are in the process of drawing to a close, and cable restraint season opens. So logically my target species for that point in the season are fox and coyote.

Once I decide that I am going to set some traps (in this case canine traps), I retrieve my prepared traps, tools, and lures, then head out to make sets. My destination is generally a scouted location where I suspect they are traveling, such as an intersection between fields. Once I arrive at a location, I chose between several different types of sets. When trapping canines I always place two sets at each location, which increases my chances of connecting on a target animal. Then I will travel to many different locations, set them, and it creates a trapline.

The next day I head out extra early to check my line, which is personally my favorite part. Typically I check for about 2 weeks on a group of locations before moving to another area. Many trappers say, “It’s like Christmas every day.” In my opinion, nothing beats the mixture of excitement and pride, when one arrives at a set that has connected. Soon after examining the catch, I decide to either dispatch the animal or release it unharmed. If I choose to release it, I use what is called a catchpole to restrain the animal until I open up the trap. If I choose to harvest the animal I use a .22 caliber rifle to dispatch the animal.

One major advantage trapping has over other wildlife management techniques is that it allows the trapper to be very selective in the animals they take out of the population. Once an animal is dispatched I will take it home to use. First, I skin the animal to remove the hide. Next, I will flesh the skin, which means scraping the hide to strip away fat and meat. Then I will either board it so it can dry, tan it, or freeze it for future use.

Examples of dried furs ready to sell.

The majority of the furs I put up I sell, but I do use some of them for taxidermy and fur garments. I will also take advantage of other useful parts of the animal such as the meat and castor off of a beaver. This makes the most of every animal harvested. Despite the work that a line entails, I enjoy running one. Often family and friends go with me to help out. Perhaps my favorite part about the sport is how much I learn throughout the year. The phrase, “You learn something new every day,” is a pretty accurate way to describe it. I would recommend any outdoor enthusiast gives it a try, you might just find a new hobby.

All photos in this blog belong to the author.