The Young Trapper


Franklin, one of my students. We are 30 miles north of the village, in the direction of Chalkytsik, running the family trapline. Before the day is over we will have traveled 80 miles in 6 hours on his snow-go. The weather was mild, only eight below as we set out, and overcast. Snow fell much of the day, often very light but at times quite heavy. The portrait of Franklin was made at 1 pm. I rendered the photograph rather subdued to faithfully reflect the brightness and contrast of the moment.

Our trail was blazed years ago and has remained. We wound through countless woods and across as many lakes. Our pace was slow through the forests as we jolted over rough ground, limbs whipping against us. One caught me full in the face and stunned me for a moment.

The wind brandished her own special kind of whip as we flew across the frozen lakes at high speed. My coat and head gear kept me warm but the cold wore through my heavy snow pants at the knees. By the time I arrived home, my knees were beet red and numb, but a warm bath followed by a woolen blanket put them right again.

We startled willow ptarmigan several times. There seems to be a healthier population this year, and many have been seen in the village along the slough. The funny birds are white, a perfect winter camouflage, yet they enjoy roosting in the tops of spindly willows for all to see. They look positively silly and far too heavy to be supported by such little branches. Unfortunately for them, they are practically fearless of humans and Franklin and his brother Derrick quickly picked off five of the birds. They dress down to the size of a game hen, and are often called chickens here.

I’ll post more about the trapline and the catch this week.


9 thoughts on “The Young Trapper

  1. Trapping is interesting if it is done in an old tradition, and to harvest the nature, not sport and entertainment. My father used to trap this bird, and my brother, cousins etc., and I am raised with this kind of hunting dogs, and I still have one in my house. These birds make the best of dinner!! but as I don’t hunt myself, too rare. We have two of them: Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus muta, and, Willow Ptarmigan, Lagopus lagopus, also known as Willow Grouse. The last one is bigger. Their numbers are declining because of too much hunting.

    • I appreciate what you said about the old tradition of harvesting nature. Ours is an old fashioned village like that and the children are taught from an early age to eat what you kill, and kill only what you need for survival. Even when we dissect a squirrel or fish in class, the animal is fresh killed and we try to save the meat for the family that supplied it, or for the elders, so a life is not wasted. There is very little work here, so the moose, caribou & bear, the fish and fowl all help to sustain life here as they have for thousands of years.The trappers also earn cash from the sale of lynx, wolf, fox, wolverine, beaver and muskrat pelts.It is one of the few incomes available in the village.

      The rock ptarmigan is uncommon here. The willow ptarmigan is supposed to be uncommon, too, but depending on the year, we can halve a strong population in our region. Spruce and ruffed grouse are supposed to be common here as well, but I haven’t seen them myself.

      Franklin is wearing the traditional beaver hat of the Athabascan.

      • So interesting to know, Dave, and good to know they are keeping up the traditional life and knowledge. It is also about respect for the nature, and for food. Since most children now live in (big) cities, they don’t know the smallest thing about food and were it comes from. And this goes hand in hands with little or no respect and knowledge of nature.. Enjoy your wild game meals, it is the healthiest of food, and the best, if you ask me.

        • Thank you, Bente. As in all societies, Athabascan culture is fluid and while some young people embrace their Athabascan traditions, others have traded their rifles for electronic games and snack on corn chips and soda pop instead of dry meat.

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