The Trapper’s Life

What is trapping? I had no idea. But after meeting my future spouse Paul on a hot July day in Tagish, I slowly but surely found out that hunting and trapping is a passion (and not a means to support yourself throughout the rest of the year (we’re lucky to be able to pay for a flight back to Whitehorse!).

Now, 20 years later, I can tell you that this “living off-grid and out in the bush,” is the real thing. It can’t get any more serious, gorgeous and grounding. Paul happily retired early and we are living on the trapline nearly full-time, coming out to civilization for grub, tools, books and wool (thank you Matchgirl Knitting shop!).

Paul and I are back out on the line come September, in order to pick those berries and try for a moose. We have been trapping this gorgeous, mountainous area in the Pelly Mountains since 1999. It took many years to finally have a tin roof on every cabin – now all that is missing is a sauna! Our main camp is on a little lake pretty much beside the Liard river. As I am writing this (September 26) two adults and four young swans landed on the lake – pretty early – I checked last year’s data and the first swans arrived on Oct 5. So there you go, it seems we’re going to have an early winter – as for snow fall, which we measure after each dump, we are getting more every year. Our trails are along the Liard river but not on the river. We can’t travel on the river because there is jumble ice and sometimes just open water.

The main trapping season starts November 1st. Our main critters that we trap are marten. We always try for wolf but they’re cunning and won’t be deceived that easily. Two years ago when the Whitehorse area had the lynx population crash, we got 4! I snare squirrels around the cabin and around line cabins (a line cabin is a little hut to stay in while breaking trail), then tan them myself which works pretty good and then make some crafts. We have few otters, some beavers and wolverines.

In 2015 we built (bushwhacked) two new trails so as not to have to cross the Liard river anymore which became unpredictable. First it’ll ice over nicely, then we get a warm spot (usually around Christmas) and all you have is open water again. And once you hit Christmas things slow down too – critters seem to take a break.

Up here the best time to trap is right when we can start (Nov. 1). We need at least 40 centimetres of snow; that’s what the Ski-Doos will require, and off we go. We have a few interesting side channel crossings too, where we’ll have to build a little bridge each year. If we can’t make it to a line cabin (10km away from main camp) we’ll have to go back and start over the next day, until we get either to the North Cabin one year or the cabin in the south the other year. We noticed that trapping the same trail each year will deplete our marten population too much, so we leave them be for a year or two so that they can move in around that trail again.

The four-day trapper course that the government of Yukon puts on allows you then to first become an assistant trapper before being able to buy your own trapline. When you buy a trapline you’re buying the things that are on the land like cabins, traps, Ski-Doos but also the trails that are built. Trails are usually only a bit wider than a Ski-Doo.

The first trapper in this area had a dog team and made enough money from selling his furs to have some cash left over. George Darbyshire told Paul and his classmates at the 1997 trapper course that he pays for all his gas with his squirrel pelts! Now that is some commitment. Another trapper, Fred Hasselberg said that maintaining trails is a never-ending task and we can attest to that! We need the chain saw a lot of brush when coming back each November and having to cut out trees that fell over the trail or that broke off from too much snow load. But once the trail is “broken in” Paul drives the Ski-Doo and I stand in the back of the toboggan, therefore saving gas which gets pretty expensive once it’s on our line (Alpine Aviation flies it in at the beginning of April when they pick us up).

Trappers are conservationists out in the bush. They can tell you what critters they have around (if it’s a mouse swimming across a river side channel or not seeing any Redpolls anymore), how much snow falls and when they start getting it, the temperatures are recorded and also how many fur bearing animals they catch. Trappers make sure they don’t over trap their area-that way you have marten each year! Some trappers go further and clean the skulls, work with lynx claws and tan their own squirrels. Most trappers bring their furs to the Yukon Trappers Association to be sent off to either auction (Ontario) or tannery (Manitoba). Some have the furs tanned and then work with them or will try to sell them locally. Fur, as most of us know, is warm, green, recyclable, compostable AND renewable. North America has the most up-to-date humane trapping standards (see www.fur.ca).

What do we do without TV you ask? Paul and I are  both avid readers, the dog keeps us laughing and we do have a few movies that we can watch on our laptop maybe once a week. I am trying out new knitting patterns yearly and have enjoyed felting. As for energy, we have four solar panels which will run the freezer in September and in Springtime and will charge our batteries (laptop, tools etc.). Come November and December we have to rely on our generator.

For Paul and I this is what we do. It’s just something special. Watching the seasons and the light change throughout the year, welcoming and sending off swans, the snipe, and the black birds. Trappers just need to be out on the land. It’s a way of living that keeps you healthy (mentally and physically) and lets you feel connected when you hear the earth hum, birds chirp and snow crunch.

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