features articles I have published over the years in various
trapping magazines. The articles have been updated with "Fast
Forward" information as different perspectives
have emerged since the material was published. Articles previously
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Archives -- Hal
GETTING THE EDGE
by Hal Sullivan
(This article was first published in The
Trapper, September 1995)
My home in
southern Ohio, is nestled within the confines of the Shawnee State Forest, a
64,000 acre tract of timber land that is managed by the state of Ohio. When
people hear this they say, "Gosh, I bet you catch a lot of fox in the
forest." I catch some fox in the forest, but not a lot of them. I'll explain
Most of the
acreage in this forest is covered with mature and maturing stands of
hardwood timber. The canopy formed by the tree tops, shields out most of the
sunlight, and very few plants grow on the forest floor. Some have termed
this type of mature forest a "hardwood desert", but instead of sand covering
the ground, the predominant ground cover is layer upon layer of dead and
rotting leaves. This habitat provides very little cover, or food, for the
small ground dwelling animals that make up a large part of a fox's diet.
Most of the fox trapping in this forest, is confined along the roads or near
a regenerating clear-cut.
Why do these
places produce most of the fox? Because the roads and the clear cuts provide
a break in the forest canopy admitting sunlight and encouraging a growth of
brush, briars, grasses, and other seed or fruit producing plants. This
habitat attracts small species of prey, which in turn attract fox.
I can't claim to
have made any startling discoveries. Wildlife managers have known for quite
some time that "edge" cover, the type that exists with varying patterns of
land use, is attractive to many forms of wildlife including furbearers. A
road or clear-cut in a forest is a prime example of edge habitat, but a good
deal of this habit is created in conjunction with agricultural practices
especially where forest and field meet.
These edges are
important to a trapper as a general location where the potential for
catching critters is usually high. The more closely they fulfill the food
and shelter needs of a target species, the greater their potential. But a
trapper should also be concerned with more subtle situations that create an
edge that will be attractive to and funnel the movements of animals.
A lane, road, or
trail represents a classic example of an edge that will funnel the movements
of animals. By its very nature, such a pathway "cuts" through the
surrounding habitat and this cut provides the edge a trapper is looking for.
In some cases, like a trail, the animals may have created the pathway
themselves. Animals will also follow manmade trails, especially dirt roads
and farm lanes that are not subject to a great deal of vehicular traffic.
Sets made in proximity to such a pathway are likely to attract the attention
of a passing animal.
Bodies of water
such as streams and lakes also represent a break in the landscape and offer
an edge that the trapper can utilize. In fact, these aquatic edges are
extremely valuable to the trapper. Wetland habitat provides a food source
for many animals, and they can be found hunting these edges. Larger expanses
of water also act as a barrier to many land dwelling animals. Those that are
not adept at swimming follow these edges to seek out a shallow or dry place
where they can cross.
The previous two
examples are rather obvious forms of edges that can provide good locations
for sets. There are many others. In farm country, fences provide an edge
that will funnel the movements of animals. Also, crop change lines, where
the edge of one field butts against another are often scenes of animal
activity. Fences, especially if they are made of woven wire, often act as a
physical barrier to the movements of the animals. But this aside, fences
usually show some weedy or brushy growth along their extent. This may
directly provide food for an animal in the form of berries or fruits, but it
also provides a haven for many small prey species. The same is true of a
crop change line. There is often a small boarder of weeds along the edge of
a field that attracts the attention of an animal.
The edges where
farmland meets woodland are prime locations for constructing sets. The most
important feature of these locations is the change in plant diversity. The
cropland is of course devoid of brush and trees. On the other extreme, the
wooded areas may be densely packed with mature timber and have very little
plant growth at ground level. But, along the edge of the woods, where light
shines in under the canopy, a great diversity of bush, weeds and other low
growing plants proliferate providing food and cover for many animals.
of this type of edge are the denning and resting sites offered in the wooded
habitat. Indeed some animals may commute from forest to field in their daily
routines. Find a corn field adjacent to a woodlot with suitable den trees,
and you are almost sure to find some coons.
I spoke of lakes
and streams providing an edge in the general sense. But in water trapping,
they provide an edge with a much narrower definition. The shoreline, or the
point at which land meets water, is the most important edge in a water
Again, the rules
of food and shelter apply, but in a slightly altered sense. Some animals,
like the beaver and the muskrat, depend on water for providing a safe haven.
But, with the exception of muskrats in a marsh environment, both of these
animals depend on food that grows on or within a few feet of dry land. In
addition to this, both of these animals will often dig into the bank to make
their dens. Although both of these animals can be caught in their runs, some
distance from shore, many if not most of the sets for them will be at or
near the shoreline.
Mink and coon
follow a reversed pattern. Quite often, these animals can find shelter
higher up on the bank. But when they are seeking food in this habitat, they
look in the shallow water just off the shoreline. Frogs, crayfish, small
fish, and minnows all can be found just offshore.
In either case,
be it beaver and muskrat or coon and mink, some of the most productive sets,
like a pocket set, can be constructed right at the shoreline, half in and
half out of the water, with the water's edge acting as a guide for the
animal. This does not discount the natural sets which might be found where
the animals enter or exit the water either through design or necessity.
Here, the edge does not provide so much of a guide as it does a pinpoint
location where your trap is most likely to be successful.
Edges, as they
appear on the landscape, should attract the attention of any trapper. They
certainly invite investigation because in some way, shape, or form they will
probably attract the attention of the resident furbearers. With the entire
country side over which a critter can roam, a trapper needs all the help he
can muster to put his traps in front of them. You can get an edge on the
critters, if you can get an edge.
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