Thursday, September 19, 2013

Trapper versus furbearer

The coyote that outfoxed two trappers. [Flickr Photo]

Canis latrans, a true survivalist


Two men wander through a forest made thick with fresh snowfall. Tree limbs bow low under the weight of a winter storm cascading over a dimming gray sky. The wind picks up to rustle snowflakes into the mens' bearded faces. Again and again, the blizzard cuts through the trees at the progress of the heavily-flanneled men, testing each footstep made in the rapidly growing snow drifts.

One man carries a shotgun, the other a flashlight. No words are exchanged as the pair tramp deeper into the dark wood with day's light quickly fading. Brutishly, yet quietly, the man with the flashlight steps over fallen trees in his wool pants, separating the ice and snow-laden underbrush by spreading his arms out in front of him. Behind him, his armed companion keeps his eyes up, off the ground and searching the lifeless, frozen tangle ahead of them. He is always listening, always watching for movement.

This isn't how trapping is supposed to go...

Flashlight looks up too, from time to time, but only at the risk of losing the trail. The animal the two track is weaving more now, and the snow is piling up quickly to cover its tracks. The trap around its foot does not hinder it as much as it should, and the steel stake meant to hold the animal and the trap in one spot failed long ago. Now all that's left is a wild goose chase through the woods at night - except the goose is a coyote.

The coyote is making his way down towards the riverbank, the men can tell. However, there is no trace of blood, only indistinct marks quickly fading in deep snow and dim light.

Deep in December, Coyote's pelt is thick and rich. It draws a premium price on the fur trade market, though it does not come easily. Coyote is equipped with a nose that sees all and ears that hear everything. He is, perhaps, even craftier than Fox, though not as bold as Wolf. He has the strength and rugged resolve to be scrappy and opportunistic, making him a true survivalist under the harshest circumstances.

Arrival at the mostly-frozen river confirms the men's fears. Coyote was able not only to pass through hindering riverbank grasses thanks to the high snow, but also to cross the river on ice that is far too thin for the men. This time, Coyote beats men at their own game.

Flashlight turns his beam away from the trail of bad news to see Shotgun's face wane into worry, and then, disappointment. Indeed, this coyote must be a big beast to continue to move in the storm, and the cover of nightfall is to his benefit. Man does not see so well at night, flashlight or not.

Shotgun intends to press on, but his partner has more sense. The nearest crossing is more than a mile downstream, and by the time they cross, the snow would be even deeper and natural light completely gone. The men cannot survive in the cold overnight, during a blizzard, and without shelter - Coyote can.

Reluctantly, the men turn back, defeated by the toughest canine either has ever almost encountered.

The following day the men return to the woods to find no trace of the canine. No trace, that is, other than the steel trap once around their prey's paw. Now it contains only a tuft of gray-brown hair, sitting empty in the snow.

Defeated, the men know this particular creature may never be almost seen again, for his survival has made him all the smarter for it. He will forever more be weary of easy meals in places that reek of human hands. The men have learned too, though, and will continue to improve upon trapping lessons from the very wildlife they pursue. They will do what generations of trappers have done before them: adapt and overcome. So the cycle goes on - man versus wild, trapper versus furbearer.

“Survival has its own etiquette.”
- Janet Morris

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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