Youth Trapper Camp

How It Began

With the date and place decided on, the next obstacle was how to notify as many youth in the state as possible about the camp.  After a few phone calls, the decision was made to form a tri-agency partnership which would consist of the Montana Trappers Association, Montana 4-H MSU, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  All organizations are involved in educating the public about wildlife and all have statewide publicity capabilities.  When contacted, Montana 4-H and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks were interested in the project and would become part of the project.  Jim and Fran designed a logo for the camp, through meetings and phone conferences, the part each agency would play in the project was discussed and decided upon, and finally in January 2000, the first press release was printed and sent out to newspapers, 4-H newsletters and the MTA newsletter.

What began as a question and an idea, may preserve the heritage of trapping Montana.  Jim Buell, Treasurer of the MTA asked the question of the MTA Board of Directors, "There are youth camps for bow hunters, 4-H'ers, fishing enthusiasts and other groups.  Why not have a youth camp for trappers?"

With that, Jim and his wife Fran, took the tiger by the tail, and started the process to further educate the public about the importance of trapping as a tool in the conservation of a renewable resource.

Their first task was to set the date for the camp and find a location which would accommodate a large group of people and provide the right kind of terrain in which the instructors could conduct their classes.  After checking out different areas, and finding no sites available, they decided that their cabin site in the Bears Paw Mountains, south of Havre, Montana had everything needed to conduct the camp.  The date selected for the 1st Annual Youth Trapper Camp was June 23, 24 and 25, 2000.

Little did Jim and Fran realize how quickly or how many Emails, letters and phone calls would start coming into their home.  They were now busy with sending out registration, health and medical release forms and receiving the fees for the camp.

While all of this was happening, the two of them were busy coming up with ideas for classes, who would teach the classes, and how to divide the campers into groups to attend the classes.  The instructors were recruited from the ranks of the MTA/Montana FWP trapper education program instructors.  The instructor list also included Brian Giddings, Montana FWP, Furbearer Coordinator.  They came up with a plan to assign each camp attendee the name of a furbearer, i.e. wolverine, bobcat, beaver, otter, etc.  This designation divided them into family groups.  Each family could then have an adult chaperon who would keep them together as they attended the nine different one hour classes, with two families attending each class session.  The classes taught would be land sets, water sets, predator calling, snaring, skinning, trapping ethics and conservation, furbearer identification, trapping regulations, and equipment, safety and health.  Jim drew up a schedule which included classes, snack breaks and meals.

Now came the task of getting a camp staff together.  Since they had started the project, Jim and Fran were designated as Camp Coordinators.  The Montana FWP staff representative was Thomas Baumeister, Hunting, Bowhunting and Trapping Education Coordinator, with Mike Cavey, 4-H Specialist representing the state 4-H.  The camp would also require cooks and a nurse.  When contacted, Jim's brother Tom and brother-in-law Bob Vosen accepted the request to help Jim cook for 80 to 100 people.  Fran's sister, Judy Vosen who is a Registered Nurse, accepted the position of Camp Nurse.  Things were now really getting into high gear.

The Montana FWP offered scholarships of $20 to each of the first 60 youth who applied to attend the camp.

Several members of the MTA donated money to insure the success of the camp.  The date for final registration was set at May 15th.

With all the logistics figured out, the Buell's concentrated on getting their cabin site ready for the camp, deciding on the menu and snacks which would be offered, processing the registrations as they were returned, preparing a portfolio of information which would be used by each camper, making name tags with names, hometown and camp family name on them, lists of medical information for easy access, if needed by the camp nurse, contacting and confirming all the instructors needed and last but not least, securing all the educational material to be used during the camp and that which would be handed out during the camp and that which would be handed out at the completion of the camp.

How quickly the time would fly by, when at last, after ten months of planning, phone calls, Emails, and shopping, RV's, campers, and pick ups loaded down with tents started rolling into the campsite on Friday afternoon.  This was the beginning of the 1st Annual Youth Trapper Camp.  Families and individuals were arriving from the four corners of Montana and places in between.

People from Libby, Twin Bridges, billings, Bonner, Kalispell, Havre, Zurich, Butte, Turner, Coffee Creek and Wisdom, to name a few, would be making Beaver Creek Park, in the Bears Paw Mountains, their temporary home for the next few days.

When all were settled in, there were 11 camper trailers, 6 small tents, 2 large wall tents and an army mess tent, to accommodate the 47 youth and 35 adults who were eager to learn what trapping is all about and why it's important.  By 6:00pm there was a hungry group of campers waiting for the evening meal.  They were treated to a supper of BBQ ribs and chicken with all the trimmings.  At 7:30pm a beaver skinning demonstration was given by Jim Halseth of Zurich and Ed Hebbe III of Deer Lodge.

Youngsters who had never seen a beaver, let alone watched one being skinned, sat in complete concentration as Jim and Ed showed how to take care of the furbearer properly, to insure the fur would be used and not wasted.  There was a lot of questions asked by both the youth and adults.  Some campers stayed around the campfire to get acquainted, some of the more adventuresome youngsters decided to climb Mount Otis, located on the east side of the campsite, whose elevation is 4,650 feet (By the tend of the camp, Mount Otis would be climbed five times by some of the campers.), others just walked around enjoying the evening.  By 10:00pm darkness started to overtake the campsite and with the promise of a very busy day on Saturday, the campers began to retire to their bedrolls.

Saturday the sun rose on a perfect day.  The cooks had coffee going by 5:00am for those early risers.  The camp awoke to the smell of link sausage, eggs and pancakes cooking.  A rise and shine flag ceremony was held to officially start the camp.

The breakfast bell rang and everyone rushed to the cook cabin to check out the menu of fruit, sausage, eggs, pancakes, muffins, milk and juice.  Shortly after breakfast, a brief assembly was held to introduce Thomas Baumeister - FWP, Helena; the instructors: Jim Halseth - Zurich; Ed Hebbe III - Deer Lodge; John Hughes - Roundup; Dan Bolster - Drummond; Dave Vidrich - Butte; Brian Giddings - FWP, Helena; Gary Wilson - Kalispell; bob Sheppard - Ovando; and Fran Buell.  The cooking staff was introduced and received an appreciative round of applause, and last but not least, the camp nurse was introduced.  She stated she really didn't want to have to work this weekend and hoped everyone had a good time and were careful.

 It seemed as though time flew as each class was held and different camp families attend them.  Everyone sat or stood around the instructor, listening and watching intently as they learned the proper way to set traps, the importance of knowing the regulations, how to identify different animals, what equipment was needed, how to be safe on the trapline, and most importantly, how to respect the animal you trap and the land you trap on.  It's a privilege to trap, not a right.  You must earn that privilege through proper education.

All too soon the lunch bell rang, but from the rush to the lunch line, it was evident that everyone was ready to eat.  They were not disappointed, as the lunch of sloppy-joes, salads and desserts proved to be just as good as the breakfast was.  When the campers had finished lunch, Stan Meyer, Chairman of the Montana FWP Commission spoke to the group on the importance trapping plays in the conservation of the renewable natural resources of Montana and the role the FWP Commission plays in making sure regulations are made to insure the continuation of this part of Montana's heritage.  Classes continued into late afternoon; then the weather decided to change, and showers started.  This group of trappers would not be deterred.  After a hearty evening meal of meatloaf, potato salad, baked beans and many other good things, some of the campers stood outside in the rain as Gary Wilson showed them the proper way to boil, dye and wax traps in preparation for the trapping season.

When his demo was done, a lot of the campers migrated to the campfire to tell tales, ask questions and visit in the light drizzle.

By Sunday morning, some of the more energetic campers had slowed down as they trickled into the cabin to enjoy a breakfast of ham, eggs, pancakes, juice, milk, coffee and fruit.  There would be only two classes this day, followed by an awards assembly.

At the assembly, each attendee received a certificate of completion from the Department of FWP, the NTA Trapper Handbook, a free membership for youth to the MTA, and other information.  A free raffle was held for the youth in which they could receive a trap, bottle of lure or bait.  A 24-inch pack basket was won by Mike Liese of Turner, the 1999 MTA Youth Trapper of the Year.  With a huge grin on his face Mike was already dreaming of the miles he would be walking this upcoming season, while using his newly acquired pack basket.  The raffle items were donated by members of the MTA.  To make sure each youth who attended received a trap, Gary Wilson took the names of those who did not win a trap in the raffle and donated traps to them.

With the assembly over by 11:30am, several of the young attendees used this time before lunch to make a  final assent of Mount Otis.  Lunch was served at noon, followed by the attendees thanking their hosts, packing up their belongings and departing for home.  A word of praise must be inserted to compliment all who attended this youth trapper camp.  When the last camper had departed at 3:30pm and we looked over the campsite, there was not one piece of litter to betray the fact that 82 people had used this site for three days.  Thank you for your attention during the classes and thank you for taking care of the campsite.

The main purpose of the camp was to give youth up to the age of 18 years old an opportunity to learn about trapping, what role regulated trapping plays in conservation, and the need for trappers to relate to the general public, the laws of the land in respect to the consumptive use of a renewable resource.  But in watching how intently the youth attending listened and learned, how many of the people there commented on how they enjoyed the camp with its family atmosphere and attendance, and more importantly, that they heard the other side of what trapping is about, we knew it was much more.  Many of the campers remarked that they hoped they would be contacted for next year.  This camp was a true testament, that trapping is a part of Montana's heritage and the future lies in the youth who attended.  From their comments, enthusiasm, and knowledge gained, this group of young people will go back to their communities from the four corners of Montana and places in between, and tell their neighbors and friends that trapping is alive and well in Montana, that it's important for the continuing balance of nature of the fragile ecosystems we live in and they will hold their head high as they say, "I'm a trapper!"