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M&J Outdoor Communications » Why Johnny Doesn't Trap?


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Why Johnny Doesn’t Trap?

It’s a good question - “Why doesn’t Johnny trap?” And unfortunately, it’s one that can be answered relatively easily, particularly if you use and compare this outdoor quandry to another familiar and yet equally as unfortunate phrase, “Why Johnny can’t read.”

In most cases, Johnny, that mythical yet all-too-real young man that symbolizes all that’s wrong or soon to be wrong in this country, can’t read for a variety of reasons. These reasons can and often do change from year to year, from geographical location to location, and, most radically, from person to person; however, there are a handful of variables that apply regardless.

Why can’t Johnny read? Johnny can’t read because he was never taught. Perhaps Johnny’s family placed little or no emphasis on education, in which reading plays a primary role. Or maybe Johnny just never had the opportunity to go to school. Maybe he had to work, even as a youngster, and schooling just never fit into his Grand Scheme of Things.

Could it have been that Johnny just had no desire to learn to read? “What do I need that for?” he asked time and time again, not realizing that in today’s 21 st century, the race for advancement, financial comfort, and well-being is indeed being won with education and knowledge. But there was no one there to explain this to Johnny, who looked at books the way Dom DeLuise looks at a case of Slim-Fast.

Others would say, maybe even Johnny himself would profess, that there was and still is no incentive for him to learn to read. “Won’t make me money right now,” he says.

And finally, there’s time, that all-too-elusive element that each and every one of us chases with hopes of capture. “I’m too busy to read,” Johnny says as he works to get both himself ready for work and his two-point-eight children ready for school. “There’s just no time,” and he’s out the door.

But what does Johnny not being able to read have to do with Johnny, the boy, not trapping. If you look closely, the reasons are really one and the same. Take teaching, for instance. The art of trapping, and it is indeed an art, isn’t something that in most cases comes as a result of studying line drawings or reading 100-year-old tales of the hardy beaver trappers that founded the West. Certainly, information can be gleaned through such research; however, most trappers are the products of mentoring programs. Granted, these mentoring programs are oftentimes coincidental , with the mentors themselves - fathers, grandfathers, uncles - often not knowing the role they actually play in the development of this next trapping generation and the passing of this oh-so-fragile outdoor torch. Still, there remained the equation: teacher + pupil = knowledge.

So, where are the teachers? If we acknowledge that we as a consumptive society have indeed lost a generation of trappers/teachers - and many for the same reasons behind this almost total lack of recruitment - should it not make sense that we would also have lost the pupils?

And what about formal trapping education? Today, many states require first-time trappers to attend and successfully complete a state-approved trapping education course. Excellent in theory, but aren’t we trying to cut yet another piece of this already dreadfully thin “Time Pie” with these youngsters? And what of the 13-year-old, non-driving trapping course trainee? Who continues the education? Who takes the time?

Which brings us, again, to this matter of time. Today, Johnny has 1,000 demands on his time each day. Some of these, like schooling, require a before and after commitment. Add to this athletics, homework, chores, and a social life, and it becomes easy to see why Johnny doesn’t have time available for something as “neither here nor there” as trapping. Sure, he makes the time for the opening day deer hunt with his father and his uncles, for after all, Johnny was raised a deer hunter, and missed, for whatever reason, the education and experience provided by such unglamorous species as rabbits and squirrels. In the end, there’s only so much time in each day, and when the priority list is drawn up, trapping’s way down there at the bottom - if it’s there at all.

Ok, now let’s say Johnny’s a little older, say, 19 or 20. He has a driver’s license, he’s a high school graduate working a part-time job before college, and he’s living the good life at home with Mom and Pop. Time’s not an issue. Neither is a trapping education course because his state of residency doesn’t require such a course of first-time trappers. Furthermore, he’s dabbled in trapping over the years, and knows enough about the outdoors and furbearers in general to be considered a decent trapper. So why’s he still sitting at home watching South Park and eating Cheesy-Poofs?

Money, plain and simple. There’s no money in trapping anymore. Two dollar ‘coon and $1.50 muskrats (if he’s lucky) just can’t pay the fuel costs, even for a part-timer with a short trapline. Sure, every trapper will say that he or she stills traps (1) to keep his or her hand in it, and (2) for the general love of the activity. Both may be and probably are truthful and heartfelt statements; however, when it comes to providing incentive (there’s that word again), money wins the race hands-down.

Remember 1979? How about 1980? Remember how those $9 muskrats, $45 raccoon, and $65 red fox had folks coming out of the woodwork, and every living, breathing soul that could come up with a pair of mismatched, leaky hipboots, a half-spool of stovepipe wire, and a dozen Conibears suddenly, overnight, became “A Trapper?” It wasn’t love for the sport; it was money. And when the money went away, so did 99 percent of the trappers. So how does needs-money-for-college, not to mention the occasional tank of fuel and a six-pack Johnny justify a trapline financially? He doesn’t.

And finally, there’s the one no one wants to take about - public opinion. It’s no secret that the sport of trapping has taken a tremendous hit in the public relations department during the past decade. Trapping has for all intents and purposes been banned outright in Colorado , and with each meeting of the various state legislative bodies, the subject of “what’s next with the trapping bill” continues to be brought to the forefront.

So where’s Johnny in all this? Well, Johnny, at 16, is pretty impressionable. He’s meeting girls, and he wants little more than to fit in with the group. And it’s funny, but trapping doesn’t appear on many of the in-crowd’s lists of cool things to do after school. Sure - and thank goodness - there are exceptions, but for the most part, trapping, and unfortunately in more and more cases, hunting, is taking a backseat, replaced by more politically correct activities. That’s not to say these activities aren’t all well and good, and most will lend much to Johnny’s better development throughout his formative years; however, what they aren’t is trapping.

So, there it is - Why Johnny doesn’t trap. And of course, this brings up the subject of what can be done to see that Johnny does trap, or at least realizes that trapping is a viable option in his outdoor education.

State-sponsored trapping education courses, while certainly having both pros and cons, can help start young people on the road to trapping. Likewise for non-trapping adults, such courses can provide a background upon which both teacher and pupil can build throughout the year. Good, too, are the countless dozens of trapping clinics, seminars, and mountain man-esque rendezvous which are held over much of the country each summer and fall.

But while classes and clinics are wonderful places to start a young trapper’s education, nothing can replace nor equal the information and experience a young person receives (1) at home, and (2) at home in the field while in the company of their mentor. Sure, and until things change in both the national and international fur markets, trapping on a small, part-time scale is not going to be a money-making proposition. At best, the short-liner is going to make enough for a tank of gas and a couple pizzas; however, for the young person, a little bit is often much more than enough.

With this in mind, we as adult consumptive users may want to consider de-emphasizing the role money plays in trapping, a task that given today’s fur market in the United States shouldn’t be difficult, and attempt instead to instill in our young charges the importance of trapping in wildlife management. Better still, we as teachers should stress the rich heritage that is the sport of trapping - the history and the background and the tradition. We should bring the spotlight to bear on the outdoor education which is available to the trapper as a trapper. And finally, we as bearers of the torch might want to consider teaching these young people, and reminding ourselves, that the natural world is best studied under a magnifying glass.

An old man once told me that in his opinion, trappers made up the finest group of outdoorsmen in the world. When I asked him why, his answer made be both smile, and think.

“A trapper’s world is the size of the pan on a Victor #1 leghold a million times over, son. They look at life an inch at a time. You can’t learn more about life any better than that,” he said. And he’s right.