Fur Takers of America


Fur Takers of America

After two unsuccessful years of trying to attend the Fur Takers of America’s trapping course, luck finally turned my way. A few months ago I had the opportunity to travel abroad to the USA attending the famous six day course of the Fur Takers of America (FTA) covering all the basics of trapping, snaring, cages, fur handling, research, and conservation. For the trappers of the USA trapping dates back as far as the first time they set foot on their new continent. Trapping is part of their livelihood and therefore trapping and trapping experiences are been transferred from generation to generation and today courses all over the USA are presented to teach youngsters the basics of trapping and conservation. The fur market is playing a major role in keeping this trapping business on the cutting edge of trapping technology. Significant investments are introduced into research which involves conservation, animal biology, animal behavior, fur handling, trap development, snare development, trap placement, lure and bait development, research on damage causing animals; and the list continues.

After more than 24 hours in the air jumping from plane to plane I finally set foot on American soil at Fort Wayne Indiana and was picked up at the airport by car for the last stretch of my journey. It was about eleven o’clock the night when I booked in at YMCA Camp Potawotami for my six day trapping experience.

Camp Potawotami
Sleep quarters

Tired and totally exhausted with my body that was aching for some rest, but my eyes and brain in an utterly different world of excitement and anticipation for this new adventure lying ahead. I was totally confused about the correct time, flying in and out of different time zones, adding all of this has definitely taken its toll and needless to say that I had very little rest the first night. “Jetlag” what a mind blowing experience.

The first morning started well before sunrise, like every morning for the duration of the course, it was a great experience waking up for the first time in an entirely new country surrounded by strangers. I soon realized when talking to these people that every conversation has one thing in common, trapping. With the same interests, even the fact that I was from South Africa, this place was suddenly feeling like home and strangers soon become best friends. I received a very warm welcome from all the organizers and trainers and after receiving all my equipment for the week the course immediately turned into an extreme training phase. I soon realized the reason for being here, we will undergo some severe training, we will spend a lot of time in the classroom and in nature and we will definitely be trapping some wild animals.

It was from the second day that the intense training with all the different kind of traps and snares started. Classes involved the correct handling of traps, preparation and cleaning techniques of traps, building different kind of snares and placement techniques of this equipment. The theoretical work was always followed up by practical’s which involved hours and hours of setting and resetting traps always under the watchful eyes of at least one trainer, ready to assist.

Practical field work
Trapping in water

This was an immense experience and the perfect time to exchange some knowledge. I soon realized that for these people, unlike in South Africa where trapping is mainly used for removal of DCA (Damage Causing Animals), the importance of an uninjured animal in the trap is their main objective. This is not DCA management; this is a way of living, the fur of these captured animals is of the utmost importance. This then also the reason why trappers in America has developed some of the best traps in the world. It is not all about capturing and eliminating the animals, it is to trap the animal and hold it unharmed and secure for the trapper to arrive and safely remove it. Because of the value of the skin and the fur these traps are developed to absolutely reduce injuries. Driven by these objectives the trappers in the USA are developing technology to improve and design some of the best traps in the world.

Day three was a very exiting day; this was the first morning of checking traps that were placed out in nature the previous day. We were in the field before sunrise and as a group we were visiting each trapping site and continuously being trained and taught by our qualified instructor.

Gary Jepson inspecting a trap site

It was very interesting to see all the captured animals that were totally unfamiliar to me, nothing like this exists in Africa. After releasing the trapped animals it was back to basics again and we had to reset traps again bearing in mind what you have learned from the previous trapping experience. Always understanding that the animal you are trying to capture will constantly be the best and ultimate teacher. This practical way of teaching was phenomenal and this was gaining hands on experience at the highest level.

Red Fox

Some of the captured animals were kept for the skinning classes that followed the second last day of the course. This was also a very interesting part of the course to see how much care and preparation is required to secure the most valuable and best produced skins.

The skinning class
Coyote skinning
Collecting glands for lure making

Every day at around four o’clock we were back at camp where we then exchanged our professional trapper with another group’s trapper. This is an excellent teaching method because people do things differently but with the same results, therefore seeing and learning from multiple trappers was an unforgettable experience.

Every evening after supper it was back to the classroom for some more learning. This classroom teaching sometimes carried on until eleven o’clock at night, but I must admit for me personally this was some of the highlights of the course. Listening to multiple trappers, professors, researchers, doctors and wildlife biologist was absolutely amazing.

Classroom session with Dave Hastings

These people where spending a lifetime working with nature, people totally devoted to nature, people knowing the animals they work with off-hand, people trying to reveal the secrets of nature on a daily basis, people who absolutely love what they do. Trapping for DCA, trapping for fur, trapping to protect endangered species, trapping for research there is so much more to trapping. This FTA course was a phenomenal lifetime experience, understanding and looking at trapping in a totally different way.

The FTA course had one of the best organized programs, scheduled to perfection and the organizers, presenters, biologist and trappers where some of the best the USA had produced. It was truly a privilege and honor to meet all these people and to receive training from some of the legends in the USA world of trapping and predator research. My FTA trapping certificate has got his honorable place on the wall in my office, definitely my favorite amongst all others. Revisiting my newly gained trapper family at FTA in the USA gaining and exchanging expertise from the legendry trappers and wildlife biologists is definitely not out of the question.