Generational divide caught in a trap

Like many outdoors enthusiasts, my love for hunting and fishing was inherited from my father and grandfather. As a kid, I learned countless lessons to help become a successful hunter and angler from the elder Knepp men.

Now that my two children are becoming the age when many start to learn about the outdoors, I find myself continuing my family tradition of sharing knowledge and time in the field with the next generation.

Since they have been old enough to work a reel, they have been fishing. Both of them seem to legitimately enjoy it and have already become respectable anglers catching everything from sharks on the Outer Banks to trout in Montana.

When it comes to hunting, my daughter had not shown much interest, while her younger brother is already counting down until when he is allowed to hunt deer. I told them once each was 8 years old I would consider letting them join me on a whitetail hunt.

One outdoor activity my daughter took interest in this year for the first time was trapping. Last winter I showed my son the ropes and he helped me catch a few raccoons. River loved setting and later checking the traps and took legitimate pride in catching his first one.

That hide now hangs in my log cabin as a great reminder of a special event. This year he told me he wants to catch one to make a coonskin cap.

I decided to wait and try to catch the raccoon for his bold fashion statement until later in the season. The relatively warm fall we experienced meant many raccoons would still not have desirable fur, referred to as being blue.

But when we went to visit a family member we saw two raccoons cross the road in front of us and quickly disappear from the view made possible by my headlights. Immediately my kindergartener thought that would be a good place to set a trap.

The next day we discussed why we saw those raccoons in that specific area. They were crossing from a wooden lot near the creek where they likely had a den to feed in a nearby field of standing corn.

While I had no desire to harvest any raccoons, River definitely did not forget seeing them in that area. And I have to admit, I was proud he wanted to get out in the field and give it a try. This may have had something to do with me giving him money for his raccoons last year. I thought it was a good way to teach him about the fur industry.

The next day I talked to the landowner and he gave me permission to set a few traps with my son in hopes of catching one. I thought by doing so and catching one, he would be content until later in the season when the fur may be better quality.

Since I had no desire to kill a raccoon, I talked to River about just trying to catch one and then let it go as practice. This may sound cruel to you, but I went with live traps so whatever we caught would be unharmed and easily released.

Many people think live traps are only for pests in town, but I can tell you over the years I have caught many raccoons using them. They are also perfect for children because the lack of danger of getting finger pinched in a trap or having them step into one.

When it was time to go set the traps, I was surprised when my daughter said she wanted to join us. She put on a pair of her younger brother’s rubber boots and jumped in my truck.

I took the two of them in the small cut of woods along the edge of the cornfield and told them to look for a place they thought the raccoons were traveling back and forth. It did not take them long to discover a nice-sized hole in the brush with a path worn in the ground.

We found a level area to set the trap and tossed in a can of sardines. Next we put a large stone on top to keep it from moving. The kids collected pine branches to hide the trap that also keep the raccoons from being able to reach in from the sides and grab the bait. Finally, they picked up some big branches to put around the sides and top to help camouflage the trap and help make sure the animals needed to go into the opening of the trap to get the fish meal awaiting.

On the way home, the kids were already predicting how long it would take them to catch one. I figured it would be two or three days until something finally was inside. I also hoped it wasn’t a skunk, opossum or a feral cat.

The next day on the way home from the office I made a detour and checked their trap. From a distance I was sure there was a gray cat in the trap. But upon closer inspection, I realized they indeed catch a small raccoon.

After dinner, I asked Bella and River if they wanted to go check their trap. The two enthusiastic furtakers grabbed some flashlights and we headed out to see if they indeed had been successful.

The two were very excited when they saw they had, in fact, caught one. After they studied the animal for a few minutes, I told them we should let this one go and they were happy with that decision. Soon you could hear the young raccoon running through the fencerow in the darkness heading back for his den.

While my 6-year-old considers himself a seasoned raccoon catcher, his older sister definitely seemed proud of herself and was excited to tell her grandfathers about her success in the outdoors.

Some people may find something as little as trapping a raccoon to be less than significant. But for someone who has grown up loving the outdoors because of interactions with family instead of the actual act of harvesting animals, I think it was a perfect way to introduce my daughter to a new activity while sharing both knowledge and time together in the field.


Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.