Trapper Interview: Alan Probst, from Professional Baseball Player to Professional Trapper
Alan Probst was the first to get a national trapping TV show off the ground, and he now hosts North American Trapper. You can view many of these episodes on You Tube for free, or visit him online at www.northamericantrapper.com, where you’ll find a plethora of information about the show and where you can view it. According to the Probst, the goal of North American Trapper is to help everyone interested in trapping accomplish their goals and be successful. Probst accomplishes this goal and much more.
(Note: This article first appeared in the column I write for American Trapper magazine called "Interviewing the Experts.)
Ralph Scherder: How did you get involved in trapping? How old were you and who were your mentors?
Alan Probst: I had a father, grandfather and uncles who all trapped, and who also made their own lures and baits for as long as I can remember. I would ride with my dad and grandfather to check traps from about the age of 5, and I was probably more excited than they were when they caught something.
I actually caught my first muskrat through the ice with the help of my father at age 7, and I’ve pretty much had the trapping fever since that very day. Here we are, almost 5 decades later, and I still get that same feeling coming around every corner or over every hilltop in anticipation of what’s waiting for me in any of my sets.
As far as mentors, my dad showed me this path, and I am very grateful for him and his methods. I’m incredibly thankful that he showed me the outdoors and got me involved.
RS: Along with you catching your first muskrat at age 7, what are some of your earliest experiences on the trapline? What was the most memorable moment of your early traplines?
Probst: That’s a tough one. I was so into it with a couple other kids in the area, but I would say that my first coon at about 9 or 10 years old was pretty awesome. I remember my friends Matt and Corey and I coming down the trail to a small creek where I had tucked a set up in under a root patch the day before. They were both telling me when I made the set that I wasn’t going to catch anything, but that very next day we jump down the bank and I had my very first raccoon. That was pretty awesome, especially because the only thing we had ever caught together was a couple opossums and a rabbit. That coon took it to a whole new level.
I also remember, at about age 12, I found a couple muskrats down in the river bottom, and I took a couple of my dad’s 110’s down one day and made two sets. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and ride my bike down there. I had two ‘rats, one in each set. I was pretty proud of that and rode that bike back through the small town with one ‘rat in each hand held down on my handle bars, smiling with young pride.
My dad came home, and I was so excited to show him my catch. He asked where in the hell did I catch those, and I told him where I caught them. Next day, I rode my bike down to check the traps again and saw a ‘rat in a trap, but it wasn’t my trap. It was right next to mine.
I walked down the bank and then heard someone coming. I looked up and it was my dad. He walked down in and retrieved the muskrat from the trap that he had set to block me off. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Never tell anyone where you catch animals or you could be risking having someone move in on you. We still laugh about that to this day, and how can I blame him? I stole his traps to use and ‘rats were bringing about 10 gallons worth of gas in that era, so dad gets a free pass.
RS: You were a professional baseball player, drafted by the Houston Astros in 1992. At what point in your baseball career did you decide that you wanted to get into the hunting industry once you retired?
Probst: That’s an unreal story as I actually never really entertained it. When I was playing baseball, I had another roommate named Mark Corey who was a pitcher with the Mets. He and I would go to Walmart and buy every hunting video they had and watch them over and over when we were playing in AAA with the Mets in Norfolk.
My last year of baseball was 2001, and I moved back to Orlando, Florida, where I started an eBay business selling distressed merchandise from Academy sports by the truckload. I would list auctions and had anywhere from 500 to 1,500 auctions going at any one time. Then in early 2003, I was driving down the road and heard a commercial for the NRA Convention that week. I decided to go down and check it out, and while there I met Chris Chaffin from the Outdoor Channel. I mentioned that I would love to do a trapping television show. He said that would be awesome as nobody’s doing that, but I quickly learned that it would take more than just wanting to do it to achieve that. You need equipment, sponsors, and business relationships, all of which I didn’t have at that time. I did, however, call my dad that very night to tell him I was moving back to Pennsylvania to do outdoor trapping instruction videos.
Over the next two months, I did my research and learned the best camera available, plus started the process of moving back to Pennsylvania. I literally dropped everything and started this process from ground zero. Almost 20 years later now, I have hosted, produced or filmed over 600 television episodes and over 40 instructional DVDs including all of the North American Trapper, Johnny Thorpe, Lesel Reuwsaat, Bob Wendt and various other Trapper productions in the industry. I had no idea how to do it at the time, but I just pushed through and persevered to accomplish what I have.
The one other thing that I would say I owe to this process would be that TA and Bill Duke at Duke Traps, who sponsored me from the very beginning, deserve credit for my success as well. On nothing more than faith and trust in me, they sponsored me from day one, and that is just one of the reasons that I will always be 100% loyal to the Duke brand as long as I’m in this genre.
RS: What was that transition like for you?
Probst: It really wasn’t as tough as you might think. I had watched enough hunting videos and what little trapping videos were available at the time, so I had an idea of what I wanted to emulate and what I also wanted to do differently. I knew that I wanted a camera that not only had top picture quality, but also great sound quality, which was something I felt was lacking in many trapping videos on the market. I had no formal training, but just from a consumer standpoint, I felt that having a great picture and sound quality, and having steady camera work using a tripod, was of the utmost value to any production. From there I just filmed what I have done in the field for years and tried to explain it to the best of my abilities to someone who’s looking to get into trapping.
Most all of my earlier stuff was totally geared for a novice or intermediate trapper who was just looking to pick up some information to help them get started. At the time, I was nothing more than intermediate level trapper myself who just wanted to help someone who was looking to get into trapping. I was fully aware that I would take some slack from people who had more experience, but that didn’t matter to me because I just wanted to give someone new to the sport the ability to enjoy it as much as I did.
RS: You used to host the TV show All Outdoors, which was sort of a springboard for North American Trapper.
Probst: All Outdoors was designed to allow me to start the process of getting some trapping on the national television scale along with the hunting and fishing episodes. I truly didn’t know enough about the industry at that time and was kind of green to the whole process. I just kept moving forward and trying to capture as much of an audience as I could, which did lead to other avenues.
I got that opportunity with North American Trapper in 2010, and Fur Harvester’s Trading Post (F&T) was the title sponsor. I reused footage from mostly previously filmed DVD’s with various guests that first year and it went well enough to where they wanted to continue the sponsorship the following year. I didn't know if I could make it work on my end from a financial standpoint, so they offered to take over the executive duties and kept me on as the producer of that program, which then changed names to Freedom Outdoors, which still airs today.
As time has gone by, I’ve wanted to do some things outside the industry and take a more universal approach to trapping for all. And here I am today with another trapping show.
I am very proud of the product that we are putting out with our North American Trapper, not only for trappers but also farmers, ranchers, and homeowners alike. I like the fact that we are educating people on the value of trapping and controlling predators in regards to damage control, nest raiding, predation and beyond. I have always said that every homeowner needs a cage trap or a couple Duke DP’s for those problem animals.
RS: Since you’ve created the TV show North American Trapper, what’s the difference in hunting and fishing with the camera always running versus the trapping filming process? Does it impact the overall experience or cause you to do things differently than you normally might?
Probst: Actually, the trapping stuff is probably the easiest of the three. The hardest is definitely hunting because any movement or sound, or any mistake, is amplified when a deer or a turkey or a bear is in the frame. You really have to be alert at all times when hunting, especially when cameras are involved. Any mistake can ruin that one opportunity during a hunt that you may never get again. With fishing, it’s pretty much cut and dried where you are fishing and you get your footage of you throwing in your line, talking about what you’re using, and just fish until you hook one up. When it comes to trapping, if you don’t like the way you made a set, then you can redo it to make it much more presentable to the viewer.
So I guess the easy answer is that trapping and fishing is pretty easy to film with hunting being the hardest. I definitely enjoy hunting big game – moose are my favorite animal to hunt – but trapping is overall my favorite outdoor sport, with or without a video camera.
RS: I really enjoyed your early DVDs, and I’ve watched the 4-Hour Watercourse countless times over the years. You do a great job in those DVDs of simplifying the trapping process. How much do you think trappers complicate or overthink things?
Probst: I appreciate that, and as I stated earlier, I am very happy with what I put together for those first DVDs, especially when it comes to simplifying things that can help the beginning trapper have success from the start. I wholeheartedly think many trappers overthink scent, sets, baits, lures and many other things.
With scent, I think you could wear a hazmat suit and a coyote would still know that a human was there. Your whole job as a trapper is to pique the animal’s curiosity enough to make it want to work the set. If you have something down the hole that piques their interest, then you’ve achieved what is necessary to overcome that human element. I’m not saying this is cut and dried, but in my experience, improper trap bedding causes more issues than human scent at a set. If you have your trap bedded rock solid and something down the hole to draw the curiosity, then you’re going to catch fur.
RS: What does a typical trapping season look like for you? You travel quite a bit for various shows. Does that change your approach to trapping at all?
Probst: With the filming aspect of what I do for the television stuff, my schedule is pretty full for most of the trapping season. This year alone I travelled for filming purposes to SD, NY, MT, IL, MO, MS and all over in my home state of PA. I started the process in early October in SD targeting canines and skunks with Mark Steck of Dakotaline Snares and Red O’Hearn. I then returned to PA to do some raccoon trapping on some farms. I then travelled to the Adirondacks in NY with Ed Dakin (Johnny Thorpe’s trapping partner) for fisher and coyote. I then came back to PA to concentrate on coyotes there before heading to Montana to chase coyote and wolves with Paul Antczak for three weeks until Christmas.
I then drove back to PA to spend a week with my son, and then left on January 1st for over a week in Illinois chasing predators, and then onward to MO with Brad Harris for a week of predation control work in his property. I finished up with over a week in MS with Cuz Strickland and Mossy Oak doing filming and predation stuff until the end of the month. From October through January, about 21,000 driving miles and countless hours of footage were captured, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love that that the outdoors is my office, and I don’t take it for granted.
RS: What advice would you give someone new to trapping to help them get started on the right foot?
Probst: Just use common sense. Listen to everyone and take all advice to heart, then use that knowledge to create your own plan of attack. We all have our own outdoor toolbox, per se, which is our brain and the experiences that we carry. Don’t make it harder than what it is, and try to find a mentor to take you afield. If you can’t find a mentor, research responsible methods, ask questions, watch videos and get out there and try it. You’ll learn more from your mistakes over time that will make you a better trapper, so just have fun and stay the course.
RS: Where do you see the future of trapping?
Probst: That is a great question. Trapping is such a hot button topic in many social circles that it’s almost up there with politics and religion. People have been misinformed by many in the mainstream media and various organizations that show half-truths that truly do not represent what trapping is in today’s world.
The traps of today are not the barbaric devices that some would have you believe. There have been many studies, including the BMPs, that have been done to create the traps that are used in today’s society. Most all traps on the market now are heavily swiveled and very animal friendly. They are set up to hold the animal until we come to either dispatch it or let it go. That is one of the biggest misconceptions out there from anti trappers.
It is an uphill battle I’m trying to combat with my television show, but these type of innuendos without context damage not only the sport of trapping but the environmental and ecological benefits of such activities. We definitely need to stay diligent and educate as many as we can to the benefits to all animals through our efforts, but I believe there will always be a need for trapping on more than just a basic level when it comes to the conservation of all species for the remainder of time.
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