A Friend Rides Along
Like a lot of you, I’ve been going to trappers’ conventions for many years. I think the first one I attended was when I was right out of high school when my buddy Pete and I headed over to the U.P. Trapper’s Convention in L’Anse, Michigan. It was at a place called the Whirl-I-Gig, and the event and location lived up to its name! What a great time we had, and we whooped it up with the best of them. We met several guys that I’ve since run in to over the years, and we still laugh about the good times we had that weekend in the early 1980s.

I’ve probably attended 175 conventions since then, both as a spectator and a dealer. I’ve been to many national events where there were thousands of people, as well as a few state events that had less than 40. All have been interesting, and all have been a way to visit with and get to know people that are like minded. In other words, trappers.

I don’t go to many conventions anymore, for various reasons, but mainly because I’m busy with summer predator control work. I do miss seeing some of the people; although, I’m sure we’d pick up the conversation right where we left off the last time.

I hear it all the time, people mention that some of their closest friends are also trappers who they’ve met at conventions; I’m no exception. I’ve also made some great friends while I was giving trapping and snaring instructions as we hosted many people from all over the country. Looking back, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to surround my kids with quality people their entire lives, mostly because of people associated with trapping.

I was excited this year in the fact that a few good friends were able to get away from their own traplines and lives, and venture to Wyoming to accompany me on my fall line. I also had a few lifelong friends come out from Michigan to use my place as a base to hunt big game. To say our house was busy this fall is an understatement, but we love it! The supper table conversations were lively for literally a whole month, and it went by fast. Our kids came and visited and went about their daily lives but resurfaced, often at supper time, to visit with people they’ve literally known their whole lives.

A couple of these visitors are close friends, Jim and Linda, who come out West almost every year. We first met in 1996, when he came all the way from Pennsylvania to Montana to take fox trapping instructions from me. Linda had come along with him, and we all hit it off immediately, like we were old friends. Jim went with me on my trapline for a few days, and Linda went with my wife out to her family ranch and got to see some of that operation. They loved the wide-open spaces, and the “Big Sky”.

Jim went back and made some big catches almost immediately, like I knew he would. He was already skilled at making sets and picking locations, but I remember him being shocked at how much ground I was covering daily. Eastern Montana had a lot of red fox in those days, and having a pickup load of them, along with a few coyotes, badgers, and countless skunks every day that he was there was a great inspiration to him, I guess. The season end catch pictures he sent me after that were gratifying for me too because I knew that maybe I had been the one to give him the little push needed to think big and expand his operation and efforts.

They’ve made several trips out since 1996, and after our move to Wyoming several years ago, they’ve ventured out almost every fall. Jim and his sons and a granddaughter have come out to our trapping event in August, Coyote Days, a few times also. Jim has helped me pound in many fall traplines, and I know he’s still amazed at the amount of ground that we cover.

On a side note, we both drive Ford pickups, and we often visit and compare mileage, tires, engines, and how they ride. A few years ago, he’d texted to tell me that he’d ordered a new F-250.

I texted back, “Me too.”

He wrote back immediately “Which engine?”

I replied “6.2 gas.”

His reply was “Serious? Me too.”

When we both realized we’d ordered the same color, that new brown that Ford called “Caribou”, we had a huge chuckle out of it!

I usually run deep lug 10-ply tires on my work pickups, while Jim can get by in the East with a little less aggressive tire. Other than that, we unknowingly picked the same vehicles. I guess that shows how close we’ve become over the years.

Jim and Linda fly out every year, so he doesn’t bring any equipment. I usually have a trapping bag ready to go, with hammer, sifter, screen pan covers, etc. I take him to our supply business and let him browse around the lure shelves and pick out what he wants to use while he’s here. He has his personal favorites, based on past success and experience.

I noticed last year that he had a 3-prong scratcher in his bag when he started setting, and he told me that he’d gone down to the hardware store and bought it. He uses one at home to tear up a little extra sod and grass for extra eye appeal; which is a great idea.

We usually set at least two or three sets at the average coyote location, for many reasons, but usually it’s because good locations can be quite a distance apart, and if I’m going to drive the miles to set it, I want it set up heavy.
Since the ground is usually easy to work with in November, we usually rely on big dirtholes for the majority of our sets. We’ve worked together enough that we can usually agree on the exact spots for sets with minimal debate and discussion. I usually jump out with the cordless drill and auger and drill two to four holes at a spot, while Jim is getting his bag and grabbing a few traps. Not always, but we usually set on “our” side of the road or trail, but that’s not etched in stone.

I put the drill back in the bed of the pickup when I’m done and grab my own bag and driver and start setting, the whole while Jim is setting his spots. It speeds things up when we utilize cable stakes from previous sets, and that usually works fine. We make note of where the loop of the old cable stake is and dig our trap beds accordingly. I do use some flat type T-bone sets too, and I guess I set those more than Jim does, although we’ve never really discussed why. He has his preference, and I have mine, and both work well.

If one of us gets done quicker than the other, we usually make a quick circle around the area to look for a track or two, or a dropping to use. It’s usually only a minute or so, but at times it turns up something interesting. We both recognize the sound made by the rattle of equipment and a set making bag being put in the pickup, and that’s the signal to get back as quick as possible and head to the next location.

We repeat this process on several ranches spanning a huge variety of terrain. I have almost all of the locations picked in my mind well ahead of setting traps. I know the gates that are hard to open, the places where hunters camp, and the places to set so I can check them from a distance.

Checking the sets that we’ve put in together, along with traps that I’ve had in the ground before Jim comes out, makes for some long days, but we are both in our element, to say the least. I know there’s nowhere that Jim would rather be, and I never get tired of him saying, “You don’t see scenery like this back East”, as we pull up on one of the many vistas.

I have a couple of Lee Steinmeyer’s Death Ray’s, and that speeds up dispatching coyotes, especially when we have multiple coyotes caught. When we have a single coyote, one of us takes it in the direction of the pickup to finish dispatching, while the other decides if the set should be slightly moved outside the catch circle or just a simple remake.

Remakes are always a topic we discuss daily, and I usually base that on how things have been going on previous checks. Some litters of coyotes, and individual coyotes for that matter, will act different towards remakes, and I know some people who move their sets after a catch almost every time.

I see different results from catch circles all the time. Some seasons it seems that a fresh set needs to be made to catch remaining coyotes at a location, but this past fall was the exception.

I knew going into fall that I’d be dealing with a high percentage of old adult coyotes, versus the amount of young of the year, or pups. Our denning and summer control efforts showed that there were a lot of dry coyotes and those that had been bred produced smaller than the usual six pup litters.

When I expand into my fall trapping operation, this is when I work ranches that we don’t in the summer, I fully expected to have to use a lot of well blended flat sets and maybe a higher percentage of sets with just fresh coyote gland. Reason being, some of the survivors I’d be dealing with might be a tad bit shy.

I wasn’t surprised when old “dog” male coyotes were the first to be caught at locations, as that’s often the case, since they are so bold and aggressive. But I saw right off the bat that old female coyotes were working the remakes and getting caught within a check or two. Some of these coyotes were old warriors that I know had to have migrated to some of these ranches; drawn into the void we’d created by taking out the bulk of the existing coyotes in the past.

I didn’t see much for circling or kicks or scratches at locations that had caught a coyote earlier, so decided quickly to just use remakes more than usual. I simply cleaned out the pre-existing dirtholes, shoved the grass plug back in the hole, when one was still present, put a small smear of bait or lure on it and go.

If it was T-bone set, I’d just pry the bone out of the ground, hit it on side of my hammer or sifter to get rid of any excess dirt, and replace it in the hole left from where I’d pulled it out and then re-lure. It made for quick remakes, and I relayed all this to my buddy Jim when he got here.

We had several great days together, and many great conversations. My son had shot a bull elk earlier in the fall, and they both got to eat elk for the first time. Suppers at our house were real events some evenings, as I mentioned before, and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

I’ve taken a lot of coyotes out of sets that Jim made long after he’s gone home. I almost always take a quick picture with my phone and send it to him. A quick description of where is usually included. He’ll usually respond with an, “I’ll be darned”, like he’s surprised that he caught another one.

Humble describes Jim best.