I may not have had what most would consider a typical life growing up as a kid, but it was a pretty good way to grow up, full of adventures and life lessons. Living on a ranch, miles from town, denies some experiences, but affords many others.
In winter, I used to figure that every kid would just get up and jump in the car with their mother to go check her coyote traps lined out throughout the neighborhood. I realize now that wasn’t every kid’s weekend morning.
Mom’s talents were pretty varied — artist, musician, writer, rancher ... and darn good hunter and trapper. She taught me a little of every one of those skills, too. She helped me sketch, drove me to piano lessons, encouraged my writing and ranching, and taught me how to set a trap for a coyote, catch a mink and harvest a slough full of muskrats.
Growing up on the Mouse River, north of Towner, N.D., during the Depression, Mom knew that a successful trapline was one way to supplement the income on a small farm, and protect the chickens at the same time. She carried her trapping skills and affection for the outdoors with her after she married Dad and moved away from the river, out onto the prairie.
In the late 1970s it was a good side income for the ranch, too. Dad took a lot of pride in caring for the furs and getting them ready to sell. The prime coyotes averaged $100 each, one winter, back in those days.
Markets went down, but I still got $50 for the first coyote I caught when I was 12-years-old. I caught plenty of muskrat and beaver down on the lakes of our hay meadow, too, to give me a little spending money. While I was checking traps, I developed the lifelong healthy habit of cross country skiing and snowshoeing, my main means of transportation from our house to the meadow.
I think of these things because I just spent a few days hosting my 13-year-old nephew who loves every moment he can spend hunting, fishing or trapping. I’m glad to help foster his affection for these things that get kids out of the house, away from the video games, moving their bodies and burning some calories.
It’s been a good three days together. I introduced him to snowshoeing, and carrying a pack basket on his back as we ran a line of muskrat traps. My own two boys came along and enjoyed the activity and the time with their “big” cousin. “Don’t forget to wake me up to go muskratting,” my 6-year-old warned me as I tucked him into bed.
Now, I know fur trapping is a controversial topic, and I respect everyone’s feelings on it. We live pretty close to nature here on the ranch and we share a respect for our animal brothers and sisters, similar to what I’ve learned from Native American friends. We are all related.
Neither Mom nor I ever aimed to eradicate a single animal from the ranch with our trapping, and we haven’t. There’s a deep respect for the animals we pursue, and we’re prayerful in our pursuit of them for meat or fur. Like raising our own beef, or growing our own garden, it’s a natural activity we partake in.
My uncle, an outdoor mentor to myself and countless others, has a bumper sticker on his pickup that seems apt. “Kids who hunt, trap and fish, don’t mug little old ladies,” it says. Sure, it’s a generalization, but it was true for him, and my mom, and me, and many others I know.
Maybe it isn’t the actual hunting or trapping that keeps some kids on the straight and narrow, but it could well be the hours of time spent with a responsible adult, in the outdoors, doing something that challenges both mind and body with a spiritual awareness.
And, if it’s hunting, trapping or fishing, done respectfully and mindfully, that brings all that together, well, for me, those are traditions worth passing on. ❖
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