Over the years, I’ve learned never to take things for granted in trapping. Things don’t always go as planned, and we trappers do make mistakes. I try to take away a valuable lesson from each failed experiment on the ‘line, but for some reason, it’s taken me much longer to learn from my marten trapping mistakes. I’m still not sure what the lesson is, but I guess it’ll get clearer as I find success. Until then, here’s my story.
I got my trapping start with marten in northern Maine, and they’ve been my favorite furbearer ever since. An old timer who lived down the road taught me to trap and helped me get my start. I found early success with my first line of 20 or so sets, and caught about 30 marten in my first three years. It seemed as though everywhere I set traps I found marten, and things were good.
I moved out West for work, and tried my hand at marten trapping in Utah and Montana. A college classmate and I set a trapline in the Uinta mountains, cold rolling in territory we’d never scouted before. It was quite an adventure. We set a few dozen traps each and caught half a dozen marten in a week. Catch per trap set seemed low, but we didn’t have a chance to see the line through for an entire season. School obligations forced us to pull the traps and focus on coons and muskrats closer to town.
In Montana, I decided I’d get into trapping in a big way. I had a good full time job, more income than I’d ever seen before, no expenses and no family obligations. At the time, I thought it was great. I can still remember making the famous quote to a friend “I’ve got a four wheeler, a snowmobile, about 250 traps……it’s gonna be a gooooood winter!”
Montana’s great hunting opportunities got in the way of trapping some, but I did put out a marten line in the backcountry of the Beartooth Mountains. I made 30-40 sets in a beautiful, remote setting in what I thought was great marten territory, and ran them for close to a month. I used the knowledge I’d gained from marten trapping in Maine and learned from other trappers: proper location, lure, bait and traps. In all, I only caught 3 marten, and two of them were caught days apart at the same set. It was truly disappointing. I’m still not sure why, but the marten simply weren’t there. I talked with other trappers and developed some theories, but never did figure it out.
Years later, I returned to northern Maine and determined to get back to the old glory of marten trapping I’d experienced in the early years. With limited time, I made a dozen sets in marten habitat late in the season, and didn’t catch a marten. I knew they were there, but other trappers had harvested a few earlier in the season and my traps didn’t connect.
The next year I scouted new ground and made a second attempt at a Maine marten line. I ran 20 sets for 9 days without a marten. The five weasels I caught didn’t come close to covering the fuel cost. The area was close to a major road and lumber mill, and I attributed the lack of marten to human activity. The season was cut short due to an emergency closure to protect Canada lynx. It was another strikeout.
This past fall, I was determined to redeem myself on the marten ‘line. I put together a bunch of new gear and scouted an area to trap. I started a month late due to other obligations, but set up in an area with a known marten population and covered a large chunk of ground with 25 sets. I ran the line religiously for three full weeks, and didn’t catch a single marten. Crushing.
I now sit at the low point in my marten trapping career. I’m haunted by the scary thought that I was a more effective marten trapper in high school than I am today! So it’s make or break time, right? Can’t get any lower than this. Get better or get out of the game.
I’m not sure what ultimate lesson I’ll learn from this failure, but here are a few key points that stick with me moving forward, and may help you if you struggle in a particular aspect of trapping.
- Humility is key – After a few years of success, I thought I knew it all when it came to marten trapping. On a fundamental level, marten are an easy animal to trap, but in reality, execution on the trapline is key, and I didn’t have what it took to execute. I need to dig deeper and find out what it takes to succeed year in and year out and execute on that.
- Work harder, but be smart – I made a lot of marten sets in three years, but some would say the effort wasn’t enough to be successful. That might be true, but remember that 0% is 0%, regardless of how many sets you put in. I need to work harder at finding the smart locations that will catch marten.
- Find success and build on it – When I’m able to connect with high percentage sets that catch marten, then it’s time to duplicate those sets as part of a larger effort to catch more marten. You don’t catch 20 marten. You catch 1 marten 20 times. Sometimes we lose focus while trying to think big picture. That’s why beginning trappers often find quick success. They focus on the small things that make a difference.
- If things aren’t working, change it up! – In all of the above failure scenarios, I laid out a trapline and stuck with it for weeks, even though I wasn’t catching marten. It’s a lot of work to set up a line, and you hate to pull and reset traps what that work has been done. I kept hoping my luck would change with patience. Now I’m learning that it doesn’t work that way. Put in a big effort, and if you find no success early on, start moving sets and switch things up until you do find success.
It’s been a tough few years on the marten trapline, but I’m not ready to pack it in just yet. Hopefully these failures will help build a foundation for future success – if I can just learn from them already!