This will be an instructional/how to article, though I feel the need to set the stage first as to how I acquired the skills I write about and how I implement them regularly. Before attempting anything described in this article, check local laws and regulations.
About fifteen years ago, when I was a younger man and had an answer for everything, I overheard some cowboys call their Queensland Healer dogs as “tools, not pets.” As I listened to and watched the cowboys work their dogs, I scoffed at their comments about their animals being tools. I looked at a friend of mine who was with me and said, “They’re comparing their horses and dogs to hammers and screwdrivers.” My friend and I laughed at our irrational comparison, looked once more at the cowboys and walked away. Though I had grown up in a small mountain town, most animals I knew of, be it dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, goats, etc., were all pets to their owners. Before that day, I had never heard of an animal referred to as a tool. Every animal I knew of had a name, a cozy bed, countless toys, and were typically talked to like a child.
It was not until I became an avid hunter, a federal trapper, a “homesteader”, a husband and father that I truly understood, and greatly appreciated, what those cowboys said years ago. I did not grow up in a hunting household, yet, from my earliest memories I yearned to be a hunter, a trapper, a mountain man. Even in my youth, I wanted the freedom to provide for myself, be it through trapping, hunting, fishing, gardening or trading for what I needed. I romanticized the idea of producing my own food and “bringing home the bacon” for a family that didn’t need anything I couldn’t provide or procure.
In my early twenties, I became an avid outdoorsman. I took the skills I acquired from my many years in Boy Scouts and improved on them, challenging myself to shoot better, to set up better camps, and to become a more confident man in the field which in turn made me a better man at home. At first, I had more struggles and failures, but as time went on, and after I was hired as a federal trapper, my skills greatly improved, making me a more successful outdoorsman, tracker, and hunter. I try to learn from my mistakes, failures and even successes to eliminate future unintended issues. As Mark Twain once said, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.” I have devoted my life to education and learning how to give my family, and me, a better life; a step up from those around me who are content believing what they hear and following the crowd. I have never followed the crowd, hence why I became a trapper in the 21st Century.
As I mentioned, I spent my youth and early adult years in the Boy Scouts. I earned the Eagle Scout award and then became an assistant scoutmaster until college started taking up more and more of my free time. They were the greatest years a young man could have. I learned invaluable skills that now serve me, every day, in ways I never could imagine as a teenager. Unfortunately, if you compare the Boy Scout handbook of today to the first several editions, you will see stark differences. The early editions were not only guides on how to become a man, but they taught how-to skills that are completely politically incorrect now. How-to skills like tracking, trapping, skinning rabbits, etc.
Times change and people change with the times, but now there are very few basic how-to skills in the handbooks. The organization sold its soul to “Wokeness”, years ago. I still love the idea of what Boy Scouts should represent and have nothing but fond memories about the organization. When my son is old enough, he will be enrolled in a local troop, and he will learn the skills that should be taught. We need young men and women who have basic, how-to skills and we need adults who care about something greater than themselves, their phones and their social media status. We need adults who have not only basic skills, but the ability and desire to teach the next generation how to manage things.
The Dude Ranch
Shortly after completing college, I worked at a dude ranch. Most of the clientele that visited were from the big cities. Every night, my job was starting a campfire for the guests to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. One night, a family of four came to the campfire ring as I was lighting the fire. The father was extremely excited for his kids to see the campfire. He said, “They have never seen real fire before.” I stopped what I was doing, looked at him, and thought about his comment. How could they have never seen a fire? As I thought about this, I realized how many people in society, specifically in the United States, take the comfort and ease of their electric/gas heaters for granted. They don’t know, nor do they care, where their energy comes from. Fires have been an integral part of human existence for millennia until about the mid-20th century. Now, we see politicians trying to ban and/or overregulate the usage of woodstoves. Most skills that create self-sufficiency are now looked down upon, forgotten and/or are not taught, especially outdoors skills. Skills like building a fire, gardening, hunting, and trapping.
After working for the dude ranch, I became a federal trapper. My trapping skills were limited, but what I lacked in trapping, I made up in marksmanship. I learned animal patterns, habitats, and different trapping methods. I ran a larger trapline than most of my coworkers and in a short time, I became one of the top-producing trappers my boss had worked with. I was thirsty for knowledge and hungry for success. Any time there was an opportunity to learn something new, or to trap in a different area, I jumped on it. I wanted to accomplish as many skills as possible so I could someday take those skills and fur trap during the winter months as a side income during retirement, or to procure food in rough times. I knew a day might come where I would be more adept at trapping to survive.
The pandemic, as well as the riots, started during my time as a federal trapper. Trapping did not change much as the world around me shut down; in fact, it made my job easier. There were fewer people, less traffic, and I felt safe knowing I always had a fresh meat supply if the trucks truly stopped running. Where I saw and experienced a difference, was during the summer when the riots, sorry, “peaceful protests”, started. One day in June, I was working in a big city when my supervisor called me and told me to leave immediately. He said rioters were planning on shutting down the interstate; the only way for me to get home. I turned my federally marked truck around and was one of the last cars to get out before the roads were blocked and shutdown. Before I got through, I called my wife and told her I loved her, just in case. The image of drivers being pulled from their trucks and beaten during the Rodney King riots was going through my head.
After some time, I finally made it home to my wife and son. We turned the television on and watched as the nearby shopping mall was being looted. The news was telling residents within a certain distance of the mall, to lock their doors and turn out the lights. There was a fear the “peaceful protestors” would be going door to door once they were finished at the mall. Fortunately, that did not happen. After the first night of looting and rioting, I learned from a friend in the Sheriff’s department that the department was not prepared for another night of riots. They had run out of non-lethal munitions and were dispatching volunteer pilots all over the country to smaller population precincts that were not having any issues, places in and around the American Redoubt. At this moment, I learned how ill-prepared our local government agencies were.
As we watched the country descend into chaos, and as we witnessed, firsthand, the supply chains weakening, my wife and I decided to move. It was a difficult decision with nothing but the unknown ahead of us. I felt like the pioneers heading West into a land they had only heard and dreamt of. Like those people, we were leaving everything we knew for a chance at a better life. The famous painting of Manifest Destiny was a constant image in my head. I left my adventurous dream job as a trapper. We bought a small house with a little land. Right away, we planted a fruit orchard, built a predator-proof chicken coop and pen, installed a woodstove, and planted a huge vegetable garden. In a short period of time, we had a working, producing “homestead.” I use that term loosely, because true homesteading in the historical context is not doable any longer. I prefer the term farmsteading.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)