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GRANT: It’s January 4th and it’s been another really busy week here at The Proving Grounds. But a very enjoyable week. You know, I’ve been doing some hunting and trapping which will about wear you out. You know, up early to go trapping; staying out ‘til dark and getting dressed in the cold out there to go hunting will put a toll on a guy’s body. But, it’s all fun and that’s why I love doing it. I got to take Raleigh and Rae, my daughters, trapping this week with me and that is so much fun. Just to enjoy and giggle and laugh, but also, even at a deeper level, to pass on the skill and the art of trapping predators.
GRANT: Okay. Hey, it is December 30th, the day before New Year’s. Raleigh and Rae, of course, out of school. So, helping me on the trap line this morning here at The Proving Grounds. And our second stop has a large opossum. Now, people make fun of opossums, but he was just quote unquote grinning at the girls. Opossums have more teeth than any mammal in America. That’s how they devour turkey nests and turkey poults so easy. Especially nests. My girls both like to turkey hunt. Raleigh killed a nice turkey this spring. We’d rather see a flock of turkeys. Just think: one nest can be eight or ten eggs or more. One flock of turkeys versus one opossum. He’s a male. What’s 6.8 minus 2.2, Rae?
RAE: Um, 4.6.
GRANT: 4.6. Exactly right. That’s a four pound, six ounce opossum. Data. Data in wildlife management. Even opossum management, we need data. Make a little trail cause what we’re doing; is if they walk all the way across the road, they’ll find it and lead themselves to the trap. All right. If your family eats a lot of eggs, toss some eggshells in the back. Eye appeal for trapping is just like using a decoy for deer hunting.
GRANT: I would rather come up to a bobcat or a coyote in a trap, a leg trap where they can get out here than a coon, because coons think they’re miniature grizzly bears. Scared me and I know he’s in the trap. I always wear hearing (Growl); easy buddy. I always wear hearing protection even just shooting one .22 bullet ‘cause I’ve lost a lot of hearing. I’ve shot competitively as a child. I’ve shot thousands and thousands of rounds in competition or practice. So, I wished I had started wearing hearing protection earlier. And I only put one cartridge in my gun. I’ve got children with me today. I need maximum safety as we should all practice all the time. Make sure my, I know where my muzzle’s pointed. I only put one in there. I don’t have a magazine full. Because safety is the most important thing you can do for your family.
GRANT: Fur is a very renewable resource. Very green. Very conservation oriented. It’s just a great way to enjoy the outdoors. So, Raleigh, Rae and I had a lot of fun and I felt really good about passing on my passion and the skills and arts associated with trapping.
GRANT: On another morning, Brad and I were checking traps and we were very pleasantly surprised right off the bat.
GRANT: It’s a beautiful morning. January 3rd at The Proving Grounds and Brad and I are running a trap line this morning. We don’t get to run it together much, because we’re busy or he’s off consulting or I’m off, but we had a chance to come together today and wouldn’t you know it? We caught a gray fox. Now, you see little patches of red on here, but this is really a gray fox. They’re more common in timber areas like The Proving Grounds. Red fox like really wide open areas; lots of pasture land and wide open, but foxes are really another predator on turkey nests and quail and rabbits and small game. I’m not as mad at foxes as I am raccoons, but they have a beautiful pelt. They’re certainly a renewable resource. And predators with these big canine teeth eat prey species. I want to eat prey species too so there’s a little bit of direct competition there. Again, I’m not really mad at fox, but I certainly don’t mind catching ‘em. Kind of odd because we caught this fox in what’s called a dogless trap. This trap is designed where a dog can’t get its paw in there. Safe to use around houses or urban areas where guys have to remove coons that are problems in cities or something. Little quick to set dogless trap, but fox, especially gray fox, are much more cat-like than dog-like, but you’ve actually, I’ve actually seen gray fox climb trees, uh, leaning trees, especially. Again, very skilled predator, really equipped to be a predator, and this predator is not going to predate on our turkey nests anymore.
GRANT: Okay. Lay this here and then we’ll. Now, this is by no means meant to be a trapping instruction. There’s more details. This is just a real general overview to encourage you to get involved in trapping because it’s very simple. These dogless traps – I just have a cable run over something solid like this old corner post here. I make a hole in the ground where this can stick in. You want it sticking upright. You want the animal to see it. Now, coyote trap, you want it totally hidden. But for raccoons and opossums, what this is really for, I want it very obvious because they’re a visual animals. I just use an inexpensive dog food you can buy anywhere. I have found that the more inexpensive dog foods have more of an odor and predators are hunting by their nose. They may smell this a hundred yards away and come to it. And I use a real small kibble or size of bait. Just so it will go in there. The theory is, you want ‘em digging to get every piece out and they’ll set that trigger off; not just one big chunk they’ll pull it out and the trigger doesn’t get ‘em and they’re gone. Then I make a Hansel and Gretel trail. I want ‘em just like a deer. If they’re going through an area, and smell something, their sensitivity goes much higher and then they’re going to find your trap. I put a lid on there for two reasons. To keep the birds from pecking out your bait; you don’t want that to happen all day long. Remember, the predators are moving at night. And, also, if it rains, moisture will get in there, mess up your bait or freeze the components solid where the trap becomes inoperable. Again, that’s it – this is not a class on how to trap. Just some little pointers to encourage you to enjoy the wonderful world of interacting with predators with your family.
GRANT: Second to our last trap set and we have an opossum this morning. Now, opossum’s are usually in the top four turkey nest predators in most states across America so I like to remove them from my property. Folks, there’s no way you are ever going to run out of opossums. I’ve been trapping hard for five years and catch more and more opossums. You just can’t get rid of ‘em all. But their fur is so soft, it’s incredible. So, we process the fur off an opossum just like we do a raccoon or a fox. Great fur. Give ‘em away. Let the kids play with them, whatever. Wonderful. See, he’s caught in a dogless trap just like our fox was this morning. Dogless traps are quick to set and safe and easy and, uh, it doesn’t take a lot of technical skill. That’s why I use them. Now, another thing to think of is coons and opossums and fox and everything else also eat blackberries or persimmons and other food that maybe deer might want to eat. They’re all competing for a limited resource out there. And as we talked earlier, with fur prices being low and operational costs being very high, professional trappers are really few in number these days. So it’s up to us land managers to fill that void and do that service for society, keeping that in balance. So, prey and predator balance needs a little help every now and then and that’s where we come in.
GRANT: And away we go. I receive a lot of requests about what it takes to be a wildlife biologist. And I usually respond based on two principles or criteria. First, I really feel you need to be passionate about wildlife. Not just, not just about hunting and being out there opening day of bow season or hearing a turkey gobble in the distance. But about the whole system. How wildlife interacts with each other and the habitat and all the things we do. The prescribed fire and planning and not just those joyful moments of putting your tag on a critter. It’s a 365 day a year job. It’s snow, it’s slush, it’s tornadoes, it’s hurricanes, it’s pest outbreaks. That’s when wildlife biologists are really needed. Not on a sunny day when you’re out there hunting and enjoying the benefits of yours and your previous predecessors’ work that were great wildlife biologists. Man, I always tell students, “You need great communication skills. You need a great work ethic. And you need to be able to smile through adverse conditions, ‘cause you never know what’s going to happen out in the field.” Everybody wants to be a field biologist, this is part of the real field biologist’s day is you’re out here and your cold. You’re in the shade. Just crossed a creek so everything’s wet and you have a flat tire. That’s part of the real life of being a field biologist.