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Spring and Summer - Time to Prepare for Fall and Winter Trapline by John S. Chagnon

Spring and Summer - Time to Prepare for Fall and Winter Trapline

Preparing for the upcoming trapping season can be nearly as rewarding to me as the actual trapping season.  Most successful trappers across North America spend many hours purchasing supplies, prepping equipment, making baits and lures, and yes scouting territory for trapping.  One can simply procrastinate and go trapping when the season begins, but you would only be cheating yourself and drastically reducing your success rate during the season. 

Scouting new territory for trapping is my favorite and may be the most important of things we trappers do preparing for trapping season.  In my opinion it is also the first thing we should do preparing for the new trapping season.  It is hard to buy supplies, prepare equipment and make baits and lures if you do not know how many and what types of furbearing critters populate the woods, fields and streams in your area.  It is hard to trap otter and beaver if you do not have a good population at hand.  The good news is raccoon, skunk, muskrat, mink, red and grey foxes inhabit most of our great state in good numbers.       

Today you can even include the coyote, as in the last 30 years they have established “too good” of a population across Michigan.  I say “too good” of a population because most Michigan Sport Persons are also avid deer, turkey and small game hunters.  The coyote drastically decreases large and small game populations. Trapping coyote is one of the most successful population management tools.  Coyotes are the most challenging of the Michigan Furbearing animals to learn to trap.  I trapped my first coyote in the thumb of Michigan 40 years ago, two in one season, and there were not many back then.  Today, coyote are everywhere.

Michigan is a big, wonderful state.  There are a lot of miles from the Michigan / Ohio border to Ironwood, Michigan.   If I’m going to give you advice on trapping in Michigan I think I should let you know some of the areas I’ve trapped in Michigan.  My passion for the art of trapping began on the shores of Lake Huron,  in the Thumb,  as a school boy trapper.   I was lucky from the beginning as family and old time trappers shared their knowledge with me. They introduced me to “Fur Fish and Game” and “Trapper and Predator Caller” magazines.  Those magazines were a treasure chest of good information then and remain a monthly tool of information for the modern trapper.  I attended Ferris State University and rented a place on the Muskegon River.  From Ferris State, I trapped different areas from Big Rapids to Traverse City.  After college I ended up landing a job,  just about in the center of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, between Manistique and Munising.  No finer time trapping was to be had prior to or after my time spent in the U.P.  I met and learned from many great trappers in the U.P.,  but none will ever compare to meeting and becoming friends with Asa and Maria Lenon.  I was so proud when we announced to the world, in 2016, that Asa and Maria Lenon chose me to carry on the great Animal Lure Brand that Herb Lenon started in 1924.  Mr. Lenon is still with us today to guide us; unfortunately Mrs. Lenon passed last year.

Since 2005 I’ve resided in Northern Michigan, Oscoda and AuGres areas were I’m the Division Director of PcsOutdoors and make Lenon Lures at home.  It is also were I have trapped the AuSable River and the vast federal and state lands that surround the area.  If you learned anything from what I’ve written so far, it should be that we should start our search for pockets of furbearing animal close and around sources of water.  It is simple, water furbearers:  Muskrat , Beaver, Mink and Otter need water. Plus most, if not all, canine travel patterns in Michigan are in or around our abundant water sources.  When I’m running a trapline I prefer to trap water animals and canines at the same time.  I also wait until water season to start trapping, which is after Fox and Coyote season.  This allows the fur to prime up more.  Thus, we are harvesting fur when it is worth the most.  Prior to water trapping season, which is muskrat, mink, otter and beaver, trappers must set their land sets for fox and coyote 50 feet from waters edge.  So, in addition to primer furs during water trapping season, fox and coyote trappers can set the hot trails that follow our water ways for prime canines while checking water traps.

Some of my first fur scouting trips every year are while I’m in search of steelhead, trout, blue gills or perch.  The fishing is accomplished using a boat on navigable rivers and inland lakes.   When the fish are biting good I do less scouting for tracks, trails, droppings and beaver cuttings (things that indicate the presence of fur bearing animals).  When the fish limit is reached, or they quit biting, the scouting and preparation begins in earnest.    When areas are found with a lot of sign and dens I construct cubbies out of natural materials found in the area such as wood, large chunks of bark, branches and rock.  Cubbies are pens that prevent the furbearing animal from approaching the bait and lure from any side except the one side opening guarded by a trap.  The trap guarding the cubby opening can be footfold or bodygrip.   One can at times find natural cubbies such as hollow logs or trees and stumps.  Cubbies work really well for weasel, skunk, raccoon, opossum, mink, bobcat and marten and fisher.  That way my sets will be protected from wet and snowy conditions that will prevail during trapping season.  If time warrants, prior to trapping season,  I prebait these cubbies two weeks prior to the season.  Animals such as raccoon, skunk and opossum semi hibernate during extreme cold periods of winter, but having baited cubbies tends to keep them from hibernating as quickly.  The cubbies help keep your trap sets dry and in operation during the periods of inclement weather.   

During your spring and summer fishing trips,  while in search of good eating fish, occasionally one will happen into a good bite by bullheads, fresh water drum, carp, suckers, chubs, etc.  This is your opportunity to save on trapping bait expense while obtaining some fine bait.  Contrary to what you may think, fish as a bait is extremely effective on fox, coyote and bobcat .  And obviously, the best bait for raccoon and mink.  The only difference is when making mink and raccoon fish bait you preserve it, for a lasting fresh fish smell, while for canines you want a slight taint smell.  Either way,  you start by cutting the head and tail off the fish and removing the guts.  Then rinse the fish, cube into 2 to 3 inch chunks, and fill a half of a plastic 5 gallon bucket with the fish chunks.  Do not remove the scales as they are a visual attractant to Mr. Raccoon and Mr. Mink.  Add,  and mix in, 4 lbs of pickling / canning salt, 2 oz. Anise Oil, 8 oz Shellfish Oil, 8 oz corn syrup and 4 oz dried ground beaver castor. This will be one of the finest mink and raccoon baits available anywhere.  You can vary your formula,  just do not forget to add the salt.  This keeps the bait from freezing, allowing scent to travel, and keeps the bait  smelling fresh.  This method is far superior to folks that freeze fish and then use it as trapping bait, because the salted fish will not freeze and lasts longer at the set.  For fox and coyote bait I taint for a few days, in the summer heat, prior to adding pickling and canning salt.  Also, I add fox and coyote attractants.  (I like some type of musk.)  Make sure to use cheese cloth where the lid attaches to the 5 gallon bucket and also add a vent tube.  If flies are given a chance to deposit their eggs your  bait will be ruined.

The final scouting for areas of high density fur population occurs in the later summer months during the annual bullfrog and snapping turtle harvesting season.   The search for these tasty swamp and creek morsels puts us close to mink, muskrat, otter, beaver and raccoon tracks, in the mud, along the cattail and stump filled edges of the Michigan water ways.  Water levels tend to be at a season low in August and allow us to identify muskrat and beaver dens that will be under deeper water in the coming trapping season.  This knowledge will add many extra fur pelts to your season catch in December and January.  When on private land, with permission to trap and hunt, one can mark den and other locations with flagging tape.  When on federal or state land open to hunting and trapping, I mark dens, cubbies and other points of interest on the trapline with natural materials.  One needs to be creative.   If I tell you how I mark with natural material, everyone would know where I’m going to trap and thief’s would have an easy time finding my traps during the trapping season. 

In addition to searching the waterways for animal sign, one should not over look areas in the woods and fields that have sandy areas.  The sand does a wonderful job of capturing tracks, and telling you a little bit about whether fox and coyote are in the area.  Luckily, fox and coyote both love to roam and play in the sand, because many miles of shoreline become void of human visitors in December and January and are a prime place to trap all canines in the late season.  A good time to scout for furbearer animal tracks on old two tracks and country roads is during mid and late summer as you take the family in search of delicious blue berries, black berries and raspberries.  Watch for old, over grown orchards and homesteads, as they are magnets for good populations of furbearing animals.  Also,  these areas tend to have good berry patches (Yum).

My friends, I will complete this article in the coming June and July issues of Woods-N-Water News.  I will explain in detail, how to choose and prepare your trapping equipment and gear for the coming trapping season.  This fall I will share with you some of my most successful sets that have worked well for me in our great State of Michigan.

I always welcome calls from fellow trappers (989) 569-3480 ext 225

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