Following in their Footsteps
by Shelton Boggess
As I stepped out of the airport on January 25th, 2018, the coldest city in America greeted me with the coldest air I had ever felt. It was negative 26 degrees Fahrenheit. While I’ve been in Fairbanks, AK for over half a year by now, we had an extremely mild early winter. Along with that, I had just spent the last month enjoying the pleasant winter weather of the Arizona desert chasing Coues deer and quail, where we complained if it dropped into the 20’s—that’s above zero!
Alaska is the life my wife and I chose to pursue last year, so it was time to man up, find some real winter gear, and do the most Alaskan thing I could think of. Trapping! Less than two weeks after getting back to Alaska, I was following behind a gracious local trapper who allowed me to tag along as he checked his 35-mile line, deep in the Alaskan Interior.
For the first hour, every time I heard the RPMs decelerate on Don’s snow machine, my heart would jump, hopeful that the incredibly well-hidden set (trap) we were pulling up on would be holding what we were pursuing. But again, and again, we would find his set’s exactly how he left them days before. There were four different sets out for four different animals: Lynx (in the Birch and Spruce lowlands), wolverine (on the exposed ridgelines), marten (in the sub-alpine black Spruce), and wolf (wherever we found a track).
At about five miles in, and after 20+ untouched Lynx traps, we reached Don’s cabin. We still had all our marten, wolverine and wolf traps to check, but these guys are rare in this area, and I was bummed we hadn’t caught a Lynx yet. We didn’t venture 200 yards past the cabin, when my intense concentration to stay upright on the snow machine was broken by Don suddenly jumping off his rig. Thumbs up meant only one thing; we were bringing home a fur! One of the last Lynx sets of his line held our prize, a beautiful Alaskan Lynx. The next six hours of unfruitful checking didn’t hurt our feelings one bit because we were going home with a delicious meal for the crockpot, and a stunning fur for the trophy room.
Its funny, being from Arizona, I think I’ve talked about trapping two or three times in my entire life, but up here, it is the talk of the town. Everyone has something to say or a story to tell. The exploding hare population is helping fuel the fire in these hardy Alaskan trappers these days, and the word on the street is that its only going to get better. Some guys are catching over 100 lynx a year, and while Don’s area isn’t the best in the state, it’s close to town and he can still hang half a dozen or so in a season. As for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever catch enough lynx on my own to make any king size comforters, rather I just hope I get invited again to experience this incredibly unique industry of the North.