The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 17, 2012

Ken Maurer's Outdoors column: Fox story

By Ken Maurer
For The Daily Item

MILTON — Let me take you back a few decades.

Man, when I think about it, it was a long time ago. The thought comes from a faded photograph (circa early 70s) of a skinny little kid, half-frozen but smiling, posing beside a snowman.

Instead of a head on the snowman, there is a red fox. The fox was the little kid’s first, an occassion for a photo, which we didn’t seem to take a lot of back in those days.

My father was a trapper, and when I was quite young, I found a few rusty old traps in one of our old sheds. He hadn’t trapped for quite a few years, but we had some Fur-Fish and Game magazines laying around, and I was enthralled with the stories of those old trappers. I got to messing around with the traps, and it didn’t take too long for my dad to get an idea.

With my small inventory of a couple of old worn-out Victor long spring and jump traps I started trapping rats (not muskrats, actual rats) around the barn. I received a bounty of 25 cents for each one, a tidy sum to me at the time, since I had no other source of income.

Even back then, traps were expensive and at a quarter a catch, I wasn’t going to be heading into the real trapping season with many traps.

In late summer, I picked tomatoes. I hated picking tomatoes, but it was money and I needed money to buy traps. My uncle and older cousin raised tomatoes back in those days, so there was work, as long as my younger cousin didn’t drag me into the woods to swing on monkey vines instead of picking tomatoes.

I scrounged up enough money to buy some traps and the first year or two I caught a couple of muskrats, possums, skunks and an occassional raccoon. I read what I could about fox trapping, but for the most part it didn’t sink in, and I really didn’t have any “fox” traps.

Then one evening my dad told me to come with him to visit a friend. When we got to this older gentleman’s house, they got to talking about the good old days. I was bored and clueless until the man looked at me and told me he heard I was a trapper.

Yep, I was.

It turned out that this fine gentleman had a basket full of traps that he no longer used, and he wondered if I would take them off his hands. Well, didn’t this turn out to be a pretty good day!

He showed me how to set the double coilspring # 1 1/2 and #2 Victors and pointed out a 1 1/2 longspring that had a metal fish riveted to the plate. There were also a couple of stop-loss Victors and an assortment of Blake & Lambs. I felt like I hit the lottery for a million bucks. I now had fox traps.

With my fox traps, I cleared the area within walking distance of our house of skunks and possums. Then I caught more skunks and possums. I was pretty disgusted with my fox-trapping prowess.

Then one evening after I had remade all my sets, we had one of those magic Christmas snows. A fresh covering of snow goes a long way in turning any set into a fox set. The next morning I stumbled along checking my traps, not really expecting anything different, and there he was — my first red fox. At that moment, I more deeply understood the phrase “jumping for joy.”

I never did become a real expert at it, but I still like to do some trapping. It is an enjoyable challenge and I doubt that anyone is closer to the land than a farmer or a trapper.

n Email comments to kenrose@tds.net.