Volume IV, No. 2, Winter 1976
Comer Owen has been trapping as long as he can remember. Born and raised on the James River where he still lives, it was natural for him and other farm boys to harvest nature's excess wildlife population. Very early he learned the habits and characteristics of wildlife, along with trapping techniques and tricks which hard work and experience taught him. For instance, one of the first things he remembers learning about trapping coyotes was, instead of using his hands, to use a stick to finish covering his traps to make it look more natural. The scent of man made no difference, since man's scent was everywhere anyway in the settled areas where he trapped undesirable coyotes.
Comer has had his best luck trapping in and around feed lots and around and on top of hay or straw stacks where on some nights he has caught as many as three coyotes. A hungry coyote will eat almost anything, so cattle and hog pellets in self-feeders are an irresistible banquet for it. Comer has caught many Coyotes trying to get to these stock feeders. Though there are no hay or straw stacks anymore, the huge elephant-sized hay bales which many farmers use now make popular places for coyotes to gather because of the rats and mice that live around them.
He baits his traps with coyote droppings and urine. Since they like to steal from each other, they are attracted to the scent, expecting to find food or another coyote. Comer gets the droppings from separate territories and switches them from one place to another. To get the urine he puts a live coyote in a drain coop, gives it water and catches the urine in a pan under the coop.
He sets two or three traps in the same area and instead of anchoring them, he puts a drag on the end of each one. This way when a coyote gets in one of the traps, it will drag that one off leaving the other traps undisturbed. The drag will leave a trail for Comer to follow when he checks his traps. This procedure leaves the second and third traps to catch another coyote that would have avoided the area if it has seen a coyote in a trap anchored in the ground.
It is usually rather easy to follow the trail of a trapped coyote. However, Comer has made a practice of listening and watching for crows if the trail is hard to find. Since crows don't like coyotes (or foxes) they will likely be making a noise right over the trapped coyote. Even when the dogs are chasing a coyote and there is a crow flying or making a noise, the chances are he's probably right over the coyote.
To keep the traps from freezing in the wintertime, Comer puts them in the ground. He first digs a hole and then puts grass in the bed, covering this with a piece of canvas. Next he puts in the trap with a plastic bag over the top to cover everything except the jaws of the trap. He finishes by covering the area with grass to make it look natural.
Trapping takes patience and hard work. Comer said the hardest part for a beginning trapper is to have the patience to stay with it even when he doesn't catch anything. The trapper must expect to run his lines regularly no matter the weather or how busy he is. There is a great deal of work involved at every step.
Though recently there is much public sentiment against trapping, trapping has always been a big part of the Ozark heritage. The early white men in the region were trappers, taking advantage of the abundance of fur bearing animals and the easy accessibility of the fur market in St. Louis. Even after families began to settle, men and boys of every generation have continued to trap for extra money to supplement the meager yearly cash income of most hill families. There is still money today in trapping for those who have the stamina and skill. However, it is a job that must be done correctly for minimum cruelty to animals and for adequate control of the growing coyote population. It is not an occupation for amateurs.
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