Tales of the Suburban Trapper

A Mini-Mountain Man makes mayhem
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I was recently at one of the mega-outdoor retail stores trying to spend a gift card. While browsing through the mountains of neat stuff, alternately dismayed because I already owned everything I could possibly want but secretly wishing the gift card had come in a five-figure denomination, I found an aisle full of unexpected merchandise: trapping gear.

Even as an outdoors enthusiast, I had kinda assumed trapping had already been relegated to the overflowing trash heap of wholesome things now politically unpopular. In fact, nowadays trapping often seems to be spoken in the same tone of voice as “Nazi Germany” and “Joe Biden.” This is why I was very surprised to find Conibears, double-springs and trap wax resting among the “Beach Wear” and eco-friendly, 80% recycled BPA-Free water bottles (“Now with less carbon!”).

The oily steel jaws tripped the double-set-trigger of my memory and right there in the store, just a few feet from the gourmet coffee shop, I was transported back to a time in my misbegotten youth when I still believed career opportunities existed for mountain men. In my pre-teen years, ravenous from a steady diet of Huck Finn, John Wayne movies and gun magazines, I dreamed constantly about riding into the mountains in search of pelts and high adventure. This resulted in one of the more unusual endeavors of a relatively unusual childhood: I became a young suburban trapper.

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Personal History

My parents were professional people who had worked hard to move up from their modest beginnings. They strove to give my brother and me more than we deserved as they grew to appreciate the finer things in life, which rarely included hunting and fishing. However, for reasons yet not understood, I craved a different existence and secretly wished we were poor mountain people subsiding in a dirt-floor shack 40 miles from the nearest road instead of our Upper Middle Class existence in a nice subdivision.

While the other kids in the neighborhood traded baseball cards and threw footballs, I went feral — snagging fish in the drainage ditch, building lean-to’s in the neighbor’s wooded fencerow and occasionally setting the nearby cornfield ablaze attempting to cook a pilfered can of soup over an open fire. It was a glorious life kids today aren’t allowed to experience, at least not without a helmet, knee pads, fireproof uniform, safety briefing, coach, assistant coach and parental booster club.

Around my 12th birthday, I made a wonderful discovery — the nearby hardware store sold traps. Eureka! I was on my way to becoming a real trapper. After pestering all the neighbors for paying chores — I cleaned every garage, mowed every yard and walked every dog in the neighborhood, whether they needed it or not — I was the proud owner of several new Victor foot traps, much to the consternation of my mother and amusement of my father.

Finally, I was a trapper with portfolio but needed someplace to pursue the wily muskrat, beaver, mink, elk, caribou or whatever else I could bag. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of giving me bus fare to Canada so by default, I was forced to trap in the drainage ditch near my house.

The tiny creek was a shallow affair slogging through a prominent golf course. It offered approximately a mile of riparian habitat chock-full of bank-destroying muskrats but there was one problem with this lush ecosystem — it was infested with a troublesome nuisance species: golfers. I quickly realized late-season linksters took a dim view of a kid interrupting their game by popping up in the middle of the fairway carrying deceased muskrats.

Thus, checking the traps required running the creek in the pre-dawn before school and before the groundskeepers arrived for work. Every morning I would get up early and pedal my bike to the course. Sauntering along in the inky pre-dawn blackness without the benefit of a flashlight — it would have given away my secret profession — I found most of my traps sprung because 12-year-old self-taught trappers don’t have a high success rate.

However, the occasional dullard muskrat would make a fatal mistake and end up being sold to the fur buyer. Selling my hard-won animals was another unique experience as the buyer was a cantankerous man who lived in a decrepit trailer at the junkyard. He and his residence smelled like skunk, badly. I loved it.

Trappers are required by oath to carry some type of firearm to dispatch animals and protect themselves from bears, wolves or hostile natives, particularly those wearing knickers and carrying clubs. As my parents were even less thrilled about providing me with the lever-action .22 I coveted, I had to come up with another plan.

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Weapon of Choice

After due consideration, I came up with a simple, rugged, reliable armament for the modern young trapper on the go — the RBMK-1. In everyday parlance, this translates to “Rat Bat, Mark One.” As my parents and all responsible people everywhere agreed I shouldn’t and couldn’t be trusted with a real firearm in the middle of town, I started carrying a Louisville Slugger with which to dispatch the hapless rodents. I seem to remember it was a “Powerized” Hal McRae-autographed model, but regardless, it worked fine.

I can only imagine the growing, recoiling horror from readers of younger age. Using the bat wasn’t pretty and probably did cause some kind of deep mental scarring — I ended up as a gun writer, after all — but I did what was necessary. Yes, I bludgeoned countless muskrats into the great cattail patch in the sky. It was a different time.

Later on, I moved to Conibear traps which handled the distasteful task much more quietly. My RBMK-1 went back to Little League duty, though I did sometimes smirk at its secret while at bat.

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It’s Over

Sadly, my trapping career came to an abrupt end early one November morning. I made the rounds and in a span of 10 traps, I found three medium-sized ’rats clutched in the steel jaws. I proudly rode home through the pre-dawn neighborhood carrying the late, lamented rodents.

Since the kitchen table in the formal dining room was off limits for skinning, I did not have any place to prepare my ’rats and sold them whole. During the day the animals would be left in the shade of the patio which served as a natural morgue, at least until I could come home from school and catch a ride to the buyer.

I arrived home the fateful morning especially full of myself. With this haul, I had earned enough money to buy the new Daisy pump BB gun I figured might be useful for the upcoming deer season. Thinking my parents would also be proud of my self-sufficiency, I placed the muskrats where everyone could view the accomplishment.

Going inside, I passed my mother as she walked into the kitchen. Reconstructing the incident, I realized in my hurry to get ready for school, I had failed to inform her of the rodents prominently displayed on the window ledge over the kitchen sink.

My still-sleepy mom saw the animals the moment she reached to fill a glass of water. Looking up, she noticed the three furry rat-like faces, yellow incisors bared in a death grimace, glaring at her from a few inches away in the darkness.

The results were instantaneous and impressive. Several neighborhood car alarms went off, our dog was later found hiding inside the piano and several kitchen cabinet doors were permanently sprung off their hinges. Even though I was in my room, it was also the day my hearing loss began in earnest.

As shrieking faded into the distance, I ran into the kitchen and saw several hair curlers still suspended in mid-air and what appeared to be a high-speed splatter pattern of water on the window glass. Mom was nowhere to be seen and I quickly did likewise.
Later, when I explained what happened, my parents were actually proud of my achievement, though several years had passed.

Immediately after the incident my traps mysteriously disappeared while I was at school, taking along with them my Mountain Man dreams — which was fine because by then I had already decided to become a big-game guide.

After all, a .177 pellet with 10-pumps packs quite a punch.

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