In many areas of the country, it’s hunting season. I saw a notice warning hunters to prepare for severe cold when hunting deer this coming weekend. The progressives are still waiting for global warming to appear. The rest of us look at the sunspot cycle and, seeing little to no activity, know that solar heating will be less. That means a cold winter…and snow. The Kansas City area may receive up to four inches of snow this coming weekend.
When I was growing up on the farm, we didn’t have long term weather forecast. Our long-term weather prognostications came from the Farmer’s Almanac. I don’t remember how accurate the Almanac was. Dad’s only interest was when to start planting in the Spring.
We looked for our first snow, or sleet, or some form of frozen precipitation, around Halloween. I remember numerous times when plans to go Trick ‘r Treating went awry because of snow and/or sleet. Starting with November, I seem to remember one snowfall after another until March and occasionally in April. One of my least favorable memories was Easter Sunrise services, outside, while it snowed. The point to my ramblings to this point was that hunting in the snow, was the norm for the 1950s and early 1960s.
Our farm was in three segments. The original part, around the house and barns, was about 30 acres that included a one-acre apple orchard and a three acre woodlot along the backside of our acreage. The other two segments were leased. One was a large fifteen acre field a half mile away from the home patch, but within walking distance. The third portion was a bit over a mile away bordering the wooded Big Muddy river bottom. With the leases came exclusive hunting rights.
During the Fall through the Spring, we ate a lot of wild game. Dad had at least a number of rabbit traps scattered around and one of my duties, when I got home from school, was to check the traps…regardless of the weather.
I didn’t mind that little chore. I liked walking around outside, as long as it wasn’t raining. Usually, the temp when I got home hovered around the freezing mark. There may have been a little thawing during the day, but in the late afternoon, whatever had thawed was refreezing. When I took a step, it was always accompanied by a ‘crunch’, the crushing sound of stepping on ice and snow.
Frequently, whatever I retrieved from the traps was what we ate for supper, that day or the next. With six traps scattered around the farm, it was an unusual day when I didn’t find one trap, or two, sometimes three, occupied.
Dad’s traps were hand-made from scrap 1X4s. They were about 2 1/2′ to 3′ long, 7″ on a side with one end plugged and a falling trap-door on the other. Towards the plugged end was the bait, usually some vegetable (carrot) or dried fruit on a stick that ran up through the top of the trap. The stick was attached to the trap-door release by a piece of string or cord. When a rabbit entered the trap and nibbled the bait, the movement of the stick caused the trap-door to fall. Simple.
When I got home, I would change clothes into some old jeans, plus a sweater, lace-up boots, coat with a hood and gloves. I would take my single-shot Stevens .22 rifle along in case the trap contained something other than a rabbit or squirrel.
I usually got home from school by 3:30pm and was outside heading for the traps by 3:45pm. Dad worked in the mines and would be home by 4:30pm, Mom, teaching school in another small town, would get home around 5:00PM. Grandma lived with us at the time and she was fixing supper and often was waiting for me to bring home the entree.
Crunch…crunch…crunch. I don’t remember being cold outside. My face would sting a bit when the wind picked up. My nose, too. My eyes would water when I walked into the wind but I loved being outside.
When I neared a trap, I could easily see if it had been sprung. If it was, the trap-door would be down. It the trap-door was still up, I still had to check to see if the bait was still there. Sometimes, if the bait wasn’t firmly attached to the stick trigger, the animal could get the bait and back out of the trap without causing the trap-door to drop.
If the trap was sprung, my chore could get interesting. How? Well, you see, I never knew what was inside the trap. Dad’s later traps used a heavy wire door on a hinge. In those traps, I could see what was inside. But his more common trap had a wooden door and that was what made the chore…interesting.
The conundrum was that the trap had to be big enough to allow the game to enter, but small enough to keep predators out. The problem was that a trap big enough for a large rabbit, was also big enough to trap a ‘possum, raccoon, or a skunk.
I had some heavy leather gloves that I used to extricate the game. If it was a rabbit, I’d grip the rear legs in one hand, the head carefully, rabbits can bite, in the other, a quick twist and into the bag with it. I’d do the same if the trap contained a squirrel.
But, if it didn’t? Ah, that was the interesting part. In our area, it wasn’t uncommon for a predator to find the trap with a rabbit, or whatever inside, and think it was going to be an easy meal. It was not unusual to check a trap and find it empty but with the remains of a rabbit or whatever scattered around the trap amid many tufts of fur. Some raccoon found it easy to lift the heavy wire door and get at the rabbit inside. Sometimes that lead to the ‘coon being trapped with the remains of a rabbit or squirrel.
More than once, I’d receive an order from Grandma to bring back a raccoon if I found one. Grandma had a recipe for BBQ’d ‘coon that was very good. A bit stringy, perhaps. Stewed, a raccoon was indistinguishable from a strewed rabbit or squirrel.
If the trap contained a ‘possum, I’d just open the door, kick the trap a few times and let the ‘possum escape. I’d do the same if it contained a skunk. The difference with the skunk was that I’d step further back and have my rifle ready in case the skunk decided to do some retribution for being trapped. In that case, I’d have a skunk-hide drying on the barn-door the next day.
On rare occasion I’d find something else in the trap. Feral cats weren’t too unusual. I’d let them go like I did with the ‘possums. On one occasion, I found the frozen carcass of the neighbor’s dog inside a trap. I don’t remember if anyone told him what happened to his dog.
Dad used to trap the year-around. That is until he found a bull snake inside a trap with a squirrel half-way down its throat. He stopped trapping after early Spring after that.
One winter, on a weekend, I think, I was checking the traps on the land down near the river bottom. The trap was one of Dad’s older ones, all made of wood. It had snowed overnight and when I approached the trap, the area around it was covered with blood and bits of fur. The trap was completely torn apart. The fur lead me to believe the trap had contained a raccoon. The tracks around the trap looked like those I’d see from time to time, a bear. A small bear, likely a black bear that had traveled up from the Illinois Ozarks fifty to sixty miles south of us. Dad and I had seen bears tracks but few, other than our neighbors, believed us. The county conservation agent didn’t. Regardless, whatever had torn the trap apart was bigger than a raccoon or a wild cat. Dad’s traps were build strong.
When I heard the forecast calling for snow this weekend, and that it was hunting season, I thought of the farm. I remembered walking through the brush and fields of the farm, the crunch that accompanied me as I walked along on the frozen ground, the snow and utter stillness of the land, silence everywhere except for the wind and me.
I don’t care for the cold anymore. Cold makes me ache but the memories of being outside, face stinging, eyes watering, walking along the fence-line to the next trap, keeps me warm.