Hunting and gathering may be one of the oldest professions on this continent.
Today, commercial hunters and trappers carry on that tradition, hunting and
trapping animals with guns and snares.
Hunters travel into the unexplored, true wilderness regions. Besides providing
food and clothes to us through their expeditions, professional hunters collect
wildlife data needed by environmental organizations.
Wayne Langman was first romanced into a wildlife career when he read about
frontiersmen and mountain men. At age eight, he read Traplines North, a non-fiction
book about a family who guided hunters in the fall and fishermen in the summer,
and ran traplines in the winter and spring. He was hooked.
Langman now hunts and traps animals that are pests to humans. Raccoons,
for example, are notoriously troublesome.
Commercial hunters and trappers must be licensed to hunt and sell animals
for human consumption. Many also skin animals and sell the pelts to the fur
and leather industries. In addition, professional hunters control animal populations.
"No fur trapper would remove more than the population could replace in
the coming year. To do so would only reduce his next harvest, and his profit,"
Langman says, explaining how trappers help the environment.
Illegal commercial hunters, or poachers, have no regard for the future
of the species. For example, some poachers illegally hunt elephants for their
Lee Sillars is a trapper. He says people in his field must show a profound
interest in animals. "Each animal has its own traits and one must be able
to read the signs in the woods so as to know where and how to set traps for
a particular animal."
Each hunter works on their trapline, a designated area where they set traps
and gather data about the wildlife. Animals are caught or killed using a 22-caliber
pistol and traps, such as foothold traps, snares, conibears, box traps and
egg traps, which cost from $5 to $300, says Sillars.
Wolf, fox, lynx and coyote are common targets of trappers. Pete Buist,
a trapper, also hunts black bear and moose. Other animals include mink, muskrat,
raccoon, beaver, nutria and marten.
The work is extremely seasonal because it depends on the hunting seasons.
For example, Buist hunts lynx, marten and fox in December. Out-of-season trapping
occurs only when measures are necessary to control nuisance animals -- such
as the work Langman does.
Women do not make up a large portion of trappers, but there are a few.
Some partner with their trapping husbands. Others just enjoy trapping and
the lifestyle, says Don Meredith. He is with an environmental protection agency.
When asked about the dangers of the job, Sillars says that nature doesn't
pick sides. Meredith says trappers often work alone and under conditions of
"They have to be prepared for any eventuality. If an accident should happen
-- falling through lake or pond ice, an accident with a snowmobile -- a trapper
must make some quick, informed decisions to save his or her life," says Meredith.
"It is not the kind of life for just anybody."
Both Buist and Sillars have fallen through ice in below-freezing temperatures,
and Buist drove his snowmobile one-handed for 120 miles when he dislocated
his wrist. "It's smart to trap with a partner in the winter in case of an
emergency," says Sillars.
Sillars says that because the season is so short for furbearers, long hours
are devoted to the job. Sillars often works from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. Those
16 hours don't include the skinning and hanging of pelts for the auction block.