Trapping has been a part of the fabric of life for many Alaskans for generations. And whether drawn by a desire to make money or simply to pursue the challenges of tracking a wild animal, those seasoned in the craft can offer a wealth of information.
Such was the case Saturday, as a group of trappers from various disciplines offered tips and tactics to an assembled group at a workshop sponsored by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Information came from a diverse group of presenters. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Tim McKinley discussed snaring wolves and coyotes, longtime Kenai Peninsula trapper Laine Lahndt offered tips on capturing lynx, and refuge ranger Gary Titus highlighted effective ways to trap beavers.
McKinley, who has lived on the peninsula for seven years, said he traps for the challenge more than any money he earns from it.
"You see some amazing things out there in the woods," he said.
McKinley makes his own snares, although he said a ready-made Thompson snare would probably cost $3. That can get expensive when 50-plus snares are used.
"I think the homemade snares are better," McKinley said. "It allows you to customize them more."
He starts with a rigid length of No. 9 wire -- strong enough to hold an animal. Attached to the heavier wire is a smaller, eighth-inch cable that forms the loop of the snare and is attached with a lock. McKinley said his snares are strong enough to hold a wolf -- or a moose -- which sometimes get caught in the snares.
Longtime peninsula trapper Laine Lahndt shows seminar participants one of the more effective attractors -- a piece of fur-like material tied to a string -- used to draw a lynx to a trap.
Photo by Steven Merritt
"Where wolves run, moose are going to run," McKinley said. "And sooner or later you are going to hook a moose."
To remedy those accidental encounters, McKinley said, he uses a hacksaw to cut part of the snare's lock. The alteration allows the much more powerful moose to pull the cable through the lock, something a wolf or coyote would be unable to do.
"Cutting the locks is not a regulation," he told the group, "but I'm a real advocate for that. I'd rather find moose tracks around my site than the animal itself."
Refuge law enforcement officer Chris Johnson told the group that if a moose is discovered in a snare, the preferred action is to call Fish and Game.
"Trying to release a moose on your own is not a good thing to do," Johnson said. "It's a lot safer to call Fish and Game or Fish and Wildlife."
Johnson also reminded participants that regulations vary on state and federal lands during the November to May trapping season and urged anyone interested to call the refuge or Fish and Game for more information.
McKinley, who puts out 50 to 60 snares in a season, said he keeps a diary of his locations as well as detailed notes on the placement of the snares.
He said finding trails and high-traffic areas used by wolves and coyotes was part of the broader learning curve.
"As long as they are hitting your sets ... you are going to school," McKinley said. "The first one was the toughest, but it has been easier after that."
Lahndt said the key in trapping lynx comes from making the trap site attractive enough to draw the animal in -- and to play on its curiosity.
"Most things are visual to them," Lahndt said. "So when you pick a set location, try to target areas with a lot of snowshoe hare activity or other areas like alder thicket, the edge of a lake or the edges of ridges."
Lahndt said he typically doesn't use live bait. Instead, he uses attractors like grouse feathers or even pieces of fabric tied to a string.
He said one of his favorite attractors is a patch of white fur-like material with a simulated eyeball attached. The attractor, not much bigger than an envelope, can be found at any fabric store and is surrounded by a pile of feathers, fur, grass and leaves near the leg-hold traps designed to capture the lynx.
"Anytime you can represent life to a cat, it will make them curious," Lahndt said. "It's just a piece of material with a fake eye on it, but it's peeking out of a pile that doesn't look quite right."
Lahndt, 41, was born in Kasilof and has been trapping on the peninsula for more than 30 years. He said he usually puts out between 80 and 100 traps in a season and targets not only lynx but wolves, coyotes and wolverine.
"I never really have trapped for the money," Lahndt said. "We'll sell to people who want a cat or those who want a tanned hide. There's also a market for taxidermy-grade hides. Over the years I have built up a client list."
He said the knowledge gained in the craft goes beyond trapping animals.
"You learn so much out there," said Lahndt, who has trapped in the Tustumena Lake area for many years. "You learn survival skills, woodsmanship skills. And you learn a lot from the animals."
For Titus, strapping on a pair of snowshoes to check his beaver traps is part of the allure of the winter season. While each trip usually promises something different, he added there is one constant.
"You are going to get wet when you trap for beavers," Titus said. "Which can make the snowshoes a bit heavier on the trip back."
Titus walked the group through several stages of setting up the trap after a beaver house is located. Beaver snares are small and can easily fit in a pack along with a sturdy ax, which is needed for chopping pond ice, and lengths of wood needed to fashion the trap.
Once the 2-by-3-foot hole is cut a distance from the house, a branch is placed lengthwise over the opening and the snares attached. A vertical branch is driven into the pond floor -- creating a fresh bit of bait for the beaver, which will encounter the snares just below the surface of the water.
"I usually try to check my traps every three days," Titus said. "I enjoy this -- there is something about water trapping."
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