In all my years of enjoying hunting and fishing and writing about them, I have neglected giving any ink to trapping.
Trapping is every bit as much of a way to control our natural resources as these others. It is with this in mind that I contacted Ernie Stevens of Rock City Falls, a life-long trapper. I sat down with Ernie, and here are his answers to a few of my questions.
ED: How and when did you start trapping?
ERNIE: I was about 10 when my brother David and I were picking through an old barn and found two muskrat traps. We self-taught ourselves and trapped for a couple of years, and then ordered a dozen new traps. Ironically the UPS driver who delivered the traps invited me to a trappers meeting later that week, and it was there when I really got hooked. I have been trapping now for almost 40 years. I remember my mother saying I was born 100 years too late. I also would like to say that I had some great mentors, one of which is Bill Schwerd of Middle Grove, director of NYS 4-H Shooting Sports program.
ED: What do you trap?
ERNIE: I am a multi-species trapper. I trap mink, muskrat and raccoon in the early part of the season, and in mid-November to mid-December I will trap fox, coyotes, fishers and beavers. I don’t do too much winter trapping because the ice makes it difficult.
ED: I have heard the price of furs has dropped, is that true?
ERNIE: Definitely not as good as in the ’70s and ’80s when wearing fur was more acceptable. Most of our wild furs go overseas to Europe, where the prices are very good. There was also a problem of where you trap. With new housing, etc., on the rise, where you trap is shrinking and trapping in these areas was a problem with people’s pets. Trappers have been looked at as bad guys in these situations, but there are also leash laws that are not being adhered to. Anyway, the average prices are $6 or $7 for muskrats. If you are looking to make money, do not choose trapping. You have a better chance at poker.
ED: How much work is really involved?
ERNIE: First, you have to like the outside. In addition to setting out your traps, you must check them daily, and that is regardless of the weather. Then there is your fur shed, where you do you skinning, fleshing and stretching, all of which takes a number of hours.
ED: How, if at all, has trapping changed?
ERNIE: I do not think trapping itself has changed because the principles have remained the same over the past 150 years. What changes is where you can trap. Also, the average active trapper is around 40, but I have students who are in their 60s and looking for a hobby.
The average age of a student is 25. Also, 5 to 10 percent are females, and there are even a couple of families. Ironically, they all want to go after coyotes, which is probably the smartest of all, and hardest to trap. Muskrats are the easiest.
ED: How would a person get started in trapping?
ERNIE: You have to take and pass a trapping course. This entails home study, classroom instruction and in-the-field instruction. When the class instructions are over, there is a written test that students must take and score at least 80 percent. Obviously, most of the training is hands-on, and the instructors I work with are very good and have a combined experience of 250 years.
There is usually a course in September at the 4H in Ballston Spa which usually will attract 50 to 85 students, and the course is given rain or shine.
I would like to thank Ernie for all his help with this, and hopefully, a few of you will show up at this course.
More from The Daily Gazette: