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OUTDOORS: Couple’s gift of love to selves: A week and a half of trapping
A 50th wedding anniversary is a momentous occasion. Many couples celebrate with a sumptuous gathering with family and friends. A new adventure to a spectacular mountain or seaside resort, or a return to a special place where love’s first fires were kindled is often on the “golden” anniversary
Or, you could drive a couple of thousand miles to live in a tent for 10 days and trap coyotes.
That’s how Darrell and Nona Schwartz of Caroline County spent their 50th anniversary late last summer, working 12 hours or more a day in the high desert country near Dulce, N.M., participating in a coyote-trapping competition on the Jicarilla Apache Nation’s nearly million acres of tribal land.
This was Darrell Schwartz’s third year competing in the grueling event. He partnered with his son, Dave, the first two years. They finished in fifth place each year. The 2012 competition ran from Aug. 22–Sept. 1, coinciding with the Schwartzes’ 50th anniversary, so she traveled to New Mexico as his partner trapper.
“She’s been trapping with me for years, but this was our first time traveling out west to do this. We made a vacation out of it,” Darrell said.
Oh, by the way, they won.
Eight to 12 teams usually enter the North American Championship of Coyote Trapping, according to Charles Davis, who runs the contest as the trapping and predator control official for the Jicarilla Nation’s Game and Fish Department. Each team pays an entry fee. The top three teams win plaques and cash prizes.
Davis explained that the competition attracts some of the best trappers to the reservation as a means of managing the coyote population. The goal is increased survival of mule deer fawns. Trophy mule deer hunting brings considerable revenue to the tribe.
Prior to the 24-year-old coyote trapping competition (along with independent efforts to also control mountain lions), Davis said surveys of migrating mule deer in the winter showed an unhealthy number of mature does with no fawns. Now, he added, it’s not unusual to see 60–65 fawns for every 100 does.
Trapping teams set up a small, primitive tent village on the reservation and spend two days scouting the massive landscape and seven days of intensive trapping.
The tribal lands sit up in the rarefied air, some 7,700 to 9,000 feet above sea level. Weather extremes can make life challenging in such environments. Davis said daybreak temperatures during last year’s competition were about 38 degrees, but the afternoon sun pushed the mercury up into the 90s. Three days of scattered rains also made things interesting.
“You’re allowed 100 traps, but we set up to 97,” Darrell said. “I caught nine coyotes one day. That was a record for this year. That’s a lot of coyotes. I’ve fox-trapped in Virginia all my life and I guess I picked up quite a bit of knowledge. If you can catch foxes, you can catch coyotes.”
Darrell and Nona routinely logged hundreds of miles a day traversing the reservation, checking and setting traps. All locations are fair game—even places just a few feet from where a competitor has placed a trap, Darrell said.
Prairie dog towns are favored trapping sites, since the diminutive rodent “dogs” are favored meals for the canine coyotes. Badgers, bobcats, foxes, raccoons and even bears are sometimes caught in the trap.
“Nobody likes to catch a bear because you have to notify the reservation game agency and the bear has to be tranquilized to be released. This can take up a lot of time during your trapping day,” Darrell said. “For smaller animals that must be released, such as bobcats and foxes, we’re able to release the trap ourselves to free the animal.”
Darrell and Nona are the first Virginians to win the competition. Pennsylvania trapper Phil Brown won multiple times in recent years, but the Schwartz team bested his team by two coyotes over the seven-day trapping period. Contestants are prohibited by contest rules from sharing exactly how many coyotes were caught.
DINING UNDER THE STARS
Darrell said that, outside of the trapping world, the competition “doesn’t mean a thing. Inside the trapping community, though, some say it is like the Olympics.
“One thing is for sure, it’s pretty tough—the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” he continued. “You leave in early morning and have to be back at 7 p.m. that night.”
Dinner usually comes after the teams have driven to a nearby town to fill their fuel tanks and to take showers.
Davis said he shoots a cow elk 10 days before the competition begins, ages the meat and serves it as camp fare throughout the competition. Traditional Native American fare, such as fry bread, also accompanies many meals.
As anniversary dinners go, sitting beside a campfire underneath the northern New Mexico stars while enjoying aged, exceptionally prepared elk steaks has to rival any restaurant candlelight dinner—especially for a couple who loves the outdoors as much as Darrell and Nona.
“The stars are so brilliant out there, it’s almost like you’re sitting in them,” Darrell shared. “Everyone should get a chance to experience something like this.”
Davis called Darrell and Nona “a great couple, very nature-oriented, respecting and loving Mother Nature to the fullest. I looked forward to seeing them pull in from the trail each evening. They’d be grinning from ear to ear, talking about all the elk and deer they had seen,” he said.
Then, again, it was their anniversary. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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