“Well, that’s a &^%*ing game changer,” I said, looking down at the broken trap in my hand.
For her part, Teresa kept her own counsel and remained uncharacteristically quiet as I ranted at the bug-filled darkness outside the cabin. The disgust finally subsided and I sat down at the indoor picnic table that serves as our desk, kitchen and map-reading locale.
“I’ll have to talk to Yolanda (my major professor) about this,” I growled to no one in particular as I scribbled this simple little phrase in my field notebook: ‘situation is worrisome’.
Worrisome, indeed. On the first night of one particular trap set, it was raided by a black bear sow and her widdle COY. That was not unexpected; as most of my friends and everyone else should know, hang some some meat in the woods and bears will eventually show up. I should say that when you’re trying to trap bears, they sometimes refuse to cooperate. Because I was after coyotes, I’m sure this particular ursid felt no compunctions about stomping all around my 6-trap set.
Her arrival, then, was not a big surprise at that point. I was mostly disappointed to lose bait (a tiny little moose calf quarter) in a place where dead animal parts are ridiculously hard to come by. To wit: 700 moose struck by vehicles a year and I can’t even frikking buy dead meat. I got lucky with a sympathetic Parks Canada biologist and a young Conservation Officer – thanks, guys – who took pity on me, allowing me to create a grand total of about 10 hunks of meat (little moose, big moose, and one bear) for the entire summer. Not much to work with, especially with bears stealing it.
Back to the trapping. Given the structure of a bear’s foot, I thought the most that my 3.0 soft-catch foothold traps would do to an adult bear is grab a few toes. The dexterity and strength of an irritated bear would quickly take care of the rest: they’d growl, bite the trap and generally throw a fit, in the process quickly pulling their toes free – they still have three other hands, mind you. This is, in fact, exactly what happened. The toe-catch did so little to bother her that she thoroughly explored the area and found the rest of the satellite baits I’d spread around the site.
I should mention that the possibility of catching a cub was also there, for which I had already arranged a release plan involving two very watchful people, two cans of bear spray and hopefully no more than a bluff charge. Luckily I didn’t mention this to anyone, being later assured that such a plan would have apparently caused a meltdown in university Risk Management circles.
If some yummy critter had stumbled into these traps, I would have reset them. A trap site smelling of hare, rabbit, or some such would have been a gift from heaven. A trap site stinking of angry bear does not promote visits by a wary canid. So I dug the traps out, annoyed and a little amused. Bears 1, TD 0. As big game hunter Robert Muldoon famously said of that lethal and oversized species of Velociraptor in Jurassic Park, she was a clever girl.
I threw the traps in the truck and moved on. It was not until later that I picked up that particular trap, only have the 'butterfly' (a kind of anchor so named for its shape) fall free from the chain. The butterfly and the chain are, of course, what keeps the trap anchored to stakes. These are driven into the ground, the combined effect of this arrangement being that the theoretical trapped coyote is unable to leave. Ideally.
I stared at the trap for a long time. One of the chain links had been broken – instead of forming an O, it now looked more like a C. The stakes and anchor had held while she pulled, but the chain came within a hair’s breadth of completely failing. If luck had not intervened, that sow would have walked away with a trap on her foot.
I remain fairly confident that an adult bear would still get a trap off fairly soon, yanking on the trap until his or her toes popped out. However, any number of other things could happen in the interim: this bear could get shot raiding a cabin, or hit by a car, or just run out in front of some guy on an ATV. In each case, the image presented to the pubic is a bear walking around with a trap on its foot. My trap. That’s not cool.
Upon presenting these ugly scenarios to my major professor, I indicated that I would fall on my dull sword – pack my bags and leave today – rather than have a critter loose out there with one of my traps on it.
To be uncomfortably and abrasively honest, I’ve had more than few dark thoughts about how I sacrificed my career, not a few belongings, all of my savings and much of my life to end up as a foreigner at the edge of the continent, while so many friends seem to have found projects that allow them to work, retain their house, and keep their significant other, the aforementioned boy- or girlfriend feeding the dogs and visiting every few months. That was not meant to be my path; so be it. Things are not any easier for those folks than for me and I suspect that Newfoundland has things to teach me yet. But even with all the sacrifices I’ve made, including those yet to come, a degree just isn’t worth putting an animal through that.
Being much wiser than I and less pre-disposed to self-sacrifice, Yolanda agreed that – with me leading the way – we’ve collectively reached The End of Trapping. The coyotes of the Newfoundland boreal forest have ignored scent lures, visual lures and dug up trail sets. And though I still maintain we could catch ‘em on carcasses, a) I can’t find a carcass to save my life and b) all the meat is moot if the bears get there first.
So with her blessing and guidance, I’ll just have to come up with a new project, that’s all. As a favor, please don’t ask me what that will be, for I have absolutely no ___________________________ ing clue.
Well, there it is. I’ve been here six months. And in less than a month of actual fieldwork, I officially ended our lab’s multi-year and multi-student attempt to catch Newfoundland coyotes in the boreal forest. I'm off to the woods for the next two weeks, but when I get back I think I'll hang up one of those ‘Mission Accomplished’ banners.