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By John Dowd 

An old trapper reminisces


December 31, 2020

Courtesy photo

TRAPPING WAS A WAY OF LIFE for Bob Sink of Thompson Falls, who trapped professionally in Colorado for 11 years.

As the world spins on, one trapper still remembers the old days where trapping was a necessity. Today, he still believes it is. Bob Sink trapped in Colorado professionally for nearly 11 years and has been interested in the field since he was young. He worked with game wardens, ranchers and landowners to help siphon off some damage-causing critters, and to make some money on the side. Few have as much experience, or as much shear knowledge, on the subject. He has attended numerous trapper's conventions, written articles for trapping magazines and even passed on a job to trap for the state of Colorado.

Sink's interest in trapping as a profession came when he was driving home one day, years ago, and saw a bobcat run across the road. He followed the animal and shot it to take home. He cleaned it, preserved the hide and then hung it up in his shop. Not long after, a visitor saw the pelt and asked if he was willing to part with it. The man offered "275." Sink, not understanding the man's intention, agreed. As the visitor filled out a check which read $275, Sink stopped him and asked if there was some mistake. The man shook his head and said that that amount was correct. Sink had assumed the value at $2.75. After that, Sink decided that he could do well with several hundred dollars per cat, however, found them a tough beast to trap. Once he had practice under his belt he finally started doing well. "I never got rich, but I made a living."

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Sink fell in love with the west. Once he moved out to Colorado, he started trying his hand at bobcat trapping. Sink has captured numerous species including coyotes and beaver, but bobcats were Sink's most challenging adversary. For many years Sink trapped during the winter months, when the trapping season was at its height, and worked construction during the summer. In the height of his trapping career he was working a clover shaped trap line that stretched over 160 miles, and he would do at least 80 of those per day. He strove to check his traps at least every 24 hours, to lessen the chance the animal had to sit in the trap for long periods of time.

Sink says that the quicker a trapper can get to a trap, the better. He says not only does a trapper want to limit the animal's suffering, but the animal can injure its hide trying to escape, or stay long enough in the trap for another predator to come by and kill it. Both outcomes do not favor the trapper's profit. Fortunately, many trappers report that the animal will die quickly in the trap because of the shock and the cold, or because the trap kills instantaneously. After a long season he may end up with 40 cats on an especially good year. Once one figures in the price for gas on 80 plus miles per day plus driving far out to the trap line, trap maintenance, time to process the animal as well as the processing equipment, a trapper might break even. Most of the early years when Sink may only have gotten a handful of cats, he may have in fact lost money.

Over the years Sink has been asked a lot of questions regarding the morality and integrity of trapping as a field. "I can't say all trappers aren't all good people, but I know how I look at it. I try to do the best thing; what's right," he said. " Sink said that successful trappers are concerned about maintaining the ecosystem and having sustainability from year to year. He also says that most states that he knows about require a trapper to report their catch that year, and since most of their income will come from licensed fur trading facilities, it is hard to hide their catch and still get paid. Also, modern trappers would not have a living to make if they trapped out an area completely and indiscriminately. Land to trap on can be hard to come by, and often trappers will use the same plot year after year. He also says that trapping conventions, which a wise trapper will attend, show the most modern and effective methods for catching animals, but will also preach the most humane and ethical methods. Most trappers, according to Sink, intend to do things the best way possible.

Over 50% of the traps on Sink's line were snares and were set to target the specific animal of Sink's fancy - the bobcat. Traps he set were holding traps, which caught the animal by the foot, keeping it there. That or traps that would instantly kill the animal, humanely. The snare traps he would set were done in such a way that the only likely animal to set it off would be a cat. His lines were also set far away into nature, off of heavily used trails. Not only would this protect any passersby but was also a more effective place to put out traps as the wildlife was less disturbed. He also would often target specific animals tormenting ranchers. These were most often coyotes, although he says that bobcats have no quarrels going after livestock like turkeys, chickens, sheep and even young cattle if they can. He has seen coyotes attack calves in the process of being born, and then attacking the mother. According to Sink, coyotes are one of the most ruthless animals he has ever dealt with. Many times, he says, they will simply kill for the sake of it, and will leave most of their prey uneaten. According to Sink mountain lions are extremely effective hunters, and if left alone will kill at least 35 deer a year. Sink also tells how beavers will rout out creeks and dam them up, causing flow changes affecting farmers' water intake for their plots. It can be so bad that it can infringe on a farmer's water rights, keeping them from being able to obtain water at all.

Sink also endeavored to use all the parts he could from an animal, including eating most of the cats he caught. In fact, the only animal he would never eat again was the coyote, which he says, "stink to high heaven." With beaver he would use the glands and castor to make more attractant.

Of several concerns raised by people who are against trapping, according to well-known anti-trapping site Trap free Montana, trapping only brings in a small amount of money per year, especially with the low cost of a license that can be bought once every year and gives the purchaser an unlimited quota on most animals. The site also talks about the limited regulations and how there is a question of the morality of a private person making personal gains from a public resource. To answer those questions, Sink said, according to him, trapping is something that is simply a job, such as logging. Loggers cut down trees in the national forest and make income from that, and most people do not complain about log cabins. To Sink, trapping when it is done right, acts as a bridge between the fast expanding world of man encroaching on nature's territory, and the animals that live on that land. As he put it, there will always be a need for farmers and ranchers and if he can do something to make the lives of those men and women easier than he is going to. At its best, for Sink, trapping controls the populations of animals that are not targeted by other forms of hunting, even though hunting often targets species that actively compete with such animals for food, shelter, and more. without the trapper, as other animals have been pushed back by the advance of society, the populations of trapped animals skyrockets, which can lead to disease and starvation for those trapped animals. According to Sink, when nature decides to handle it, then it may be more sweeping than if man tries to mitigate the losses.

As for the industry, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Census Bureau, wildlife watching brought in $400 million to Montana in 2011. According to the Fur Information Council of America and the Fur Council of Canada, in 2012 North American domestic sales for furs alone accounted for over $4 billion. The National Post says that the modern fur trade is a $15 billion industry, yet only 15% comes from the wild.

Sink says he trapped for the sheer love of it. He says he has always been a loner, and "there's not much like getting out checking the traps and leaving my lunch to heat up on the top of the engine." Sink says he never really knew if he was going to get anything, and it was like an unexpected Christmas gift every trap he would check and get something. However, if nothing else, his most dearly held part of trapping was getting out into nature and sometimes just seeing the animal outsmart him.


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