I have a story to tell – it concerns a fox and involves a
You get the pleasure of hearing it – or in this case reading it
– because Illinois Outdoor News is launching an adult outdoors
writing contest in wake of the popular kid’s outdoor writing
contest. Specific details on the adult contest will come in the
next issue, but I’m going to give you a head start by sharing one
of my own personal outdoors stories.
Since I’m going to be judging the writing contest, I’m not
eligible to win. Which is probably just as well, since my story
probably stinks compared to yours. It’s called The Trapper.
Back in the late 1970s, when I was still a few years shy of
being a teenager, I caught a ride to Zander’s sporting goods one
November morning and spent every dime I had on four leg traps and
three conibear traps.
Sure, $87 was a lot of money for a 10-year-old. But it was an
investment. With those seven traps, I was certainly going to make
my life’s fortune. Heck, I might even make enough money in my first
season of trapping to hire my own crew of trappers for my second
season of trapping.
On the night before my first trapping season opened, I sat down
to do the math. Opossum pelts were selling for 50 cents. Muskrat
pelts were going for $2. And a good raccoon pelt might bring me
$12. I suddenly realized it was going to take a lot of opossums and
muskrats to break even on my original investment. And opening my
own brokerage account would require a raccoon in every trap – every
single day of the season. No, the math did not look promising.
Talk about an economic crisis!
Early on opening day, I woke up and headed out to set my first
trap line. I’d spent weeks scouting out every single promising
trapping location on my family’s farm, and I carefully set each
The next morning, I woke at dawn and ran the trapline. Nothing.
I checked it again that evening, just in case the raccoons and
muskrats and opossums had been out partying into the afternoon.
For the next 70 or so days, it was more of the same. Not a
single critter fell victim to my trapping, not even a lowly
opossum. But something somewhat magical did happen. After about a
week, I forgot all about making money as a trapper. Suddenly, there
was a satisfaction – and even an excitement – to getting up with
the sun and walking across Illinois’ version of frozen tundra with
anticipation of what the daily trapline check might offer. Early in
my trapping career, I had realized I would never make it as a
But three days before the end of my very first trapping season,
I walked over a small creek bank and discovered a gray fox in one
of my leg traps. Two days later, on the very last day of my first
trapping season,_a mink fell victim to one of my conibears expertly
set inside a drainage culvert.
It was – and still is – my proudest moment as a trapper.
Although the two critters were not part of my original business
plan, the fox earned me $55 and the mink brought $35. According to
the accountant I’d hired for my first season as a professional
trapper, the season’s revenue ($90 for successfully trapped
furbearers) minus the season’s expenses ($87 for new traps) earned
me a whopping net of $3.
Before taxes, of course.