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Shaking Off the Winter Blues

March 18, 2015
By Ralph Scherder , Ohio Valley Outdoor Times

I like winter. I don't mind the cold and snow if I have nowhere to go. What I don't like about winter is that there's not a whole lot to do in terms of outdoor activities for hunters. Sure, I could hunt predators, but by February and March it's a little hard to get motivated to do it because I've already been doing it since late October, and by then I've already hunted all my favorite spots several times and would rather leave a few to repopulate next year.

This year I tried something a little different to shake off the winter blues. My trapping partner Rich Faler and I decided to head south for a week to run a trapline by boat in the Florida swamps.

Rich and I started planning the trip about six months ago. He's trapped in Florida on three different occasions, although it's been 25 years since his last trip there. I've never trapped out of state, but I was definitely up for the adventure.

Article Photos

The author trapped this coyote in Florida during a recent excursion with fellow PA trapper Rich Faler. He also managed to trap another ‘yote, a raccoon and an otter during the southern trip.

Getting ready for the trip, we took all the necessary steps to make sure it would go as smoothly as possible. We booked a cabin on the Chipola River near Wewahitchka, FL. We talked to the Florida DNR to clear up any questions we had about trapping regulations, management units, and permits. Our licenses were ordered ahead of time via the Internet. We hoped to each catch a bobcat and an otter on our trip, so we requested U.S. Cities tags for those animals from the DNR. To our surprise, they sent us a whole box of tags with the stipulation that we return any unused tags to their office once we got home.

Foothold, bodygrip, and dog-proof traps are all illegal to use in Florida unless you have a special permit, and those permits are hard to come by. Most of them are issued to farmers and landowners for the purpose of animal damage control. Other than that, all trapping in Florida must be done with snares. I've never used snares before, so I knew it would be a neat opportunity to try something new.

After driving all night, we arrived at our destination around five in the morning, grabbed some breakfast at a local diner, and then settled in at our cabin. We launched the boat that afternoon and set about 20 snares before dark. To my surprise, those sets yielded a silky Florida raccoon the next morning.

One thing I noticed right away about Florida coon is that they're much sleeker than their northern cousins. They're not as heavy, either. A huge Florida boar weighs about 12-14 pounds, which is about the size of the one I caught that first morning. For what they lack in size, though, they make up for with beauty. They are very distinctly marked, their coloration clear and almost perfect. Also, they have very little thick under fur, which is why southern coon are known as "coat coon." The quality of their fur makes them ideal for garments because they're not too heavy and require very little dyeing to make them blend well together.

We extended our trapline that first day to include about 60 sets at 20 locations. Second day I connected with my first snared coyote. I'd hung the snare over a trail that went through some brush under a huge fallen tree on the river bank.

On the third check day, I snared my second coyote, this one on a crossing log above a small creek feeding into the bigger river. This catch truly was an accident. My snare had been intended for raccoons, which means my loop size was technically too small for coyotes. However, when the coyote attempted to cross the log, it apparently stepped into the smaller loop which closed around its paw. The result was one very alive and ornery coyote! Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

On the fourth check day, I finally got what I really went to Florida for an otter. I'd found an otter toilet on a high bank along another feeder creek and had set up the two trails that led from the water to the site. Sure enough, one of them connected. Otters are one of the neatest animals I've ever been fortunate enough to catch.

When I was a kid, I often dreamed of running traplines in various parts of the country for species not common around home. Mostly what I dreamed of was adventure. I wanted to try and learn new things and see different parts of the country. I wanted to take all the things I'd learned around home and apply it to new areas and see if that knowledge still held true. For the most part, I've learned, it does. Trapping is the same almost anywhere you go, whether you're using footholds, bodygrips, or snares. Find where an animal is going and figure out why it's going there. Then figure out its travel route, and that's where the trap gets set.

When you think about it, that's how it is with hunting, too. Whitetails, for instance, are basically the same no matter where they're found. They have the same needs food, water, shelter, and the desire to breed. Successful hunting is really just a matter of figuring out where they're going and why, and then setting up your stand accordingly.

Now that I've made one dream come true this year, I'm determined to make another come true next winter. There are plenty of opportunities in the south. With liberal seasons and bag limits, you can find somewhere and something to hunt almost all winter long and clear into March. Deer seasons generally run much later than in Ohio. Because they are so far south, the rut in states such as Georgia, Mississippi, or Texas doesn't occur until January or even February. Wild boar hunting can be found all year long in almost every southern state.

Of course, just because you're a thousand miles south doesn't mean you'll need sunglasses and suntan lotion. On our trapping adventure, Rich and I experienced cool nights in the 30s with daytime highs around 50. That's still not bad considering it was minus 15 degrees the morning we left home. Regardless of the weather, it's nice to adventure and try and learn new things. Winter is a good time for that.



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