Rich Faler of Greenville, PA, has been involved in the trapping industry for over 40 years as a writer and editor. He is the author of numerous books about everything from catching turtles to trapping fishers. He is currently the editor of American Trapper, the official publication of the National Trappers Association, as well as Buckeye Trapper, Wisconsin Trapper, and Texas Fur Trails.
Ralph Scherder: How did you get involved in trapping?
Faler: I grew up on a farm. My dad was a gardener for an orphan’s home and one of his friends gave me an old, Pennsylvania Game Commission rabbit trap. It was a wooden box trap. When I was 5, I started messing around with that, catching rabbits, possum, and barn rats around the edge of the yard. When I was about 7, I ran a short ‘line with my dad after work, strictly longsprings set for muskrats in little runs, and that’s pretty much how I started. My dad trapped muskrats and some raccoons, but he was mostly a hunter and fisherman. I enjoyed everything and pursued them all as much as I could.
RS: What do you like most about trapping?
Faler: Trapping is a puzzle. You’ve got all the real estate out there, the many square inches of land, and you’ve got different animals, each with their own personalities. You must come up with the right combination that makes the animal step in the precise spot where you want it to step. That can be a challenge.
RS: How did that lead you into the writing and editing side of the industry?
Faler: In 1970, I was a junior in high school, and I read books and articles constantly. I wrote a short article about catching raccoons in culverts. I had two or three Instamatic-type photos of sets and ‘coon catches. I sent it to Rich Harding, the editor of Fur-Fish-Game at the time, and he gave me $20 for it. Two years later, I was going to Thiel College, and I had to write a paper about my special interest. My special interest was mink. I sent that to Rich Harding, as well, and he gave me $25. So I figured I got a raise, which was a pretty good deal. It progressed from there.
My wife Kris and I got married in 1975. A couple years later, I came home from my job at a railroad freight car manufacturer and told her I wanted to start writing. It was no great revelation or anything like that. The thought just came that I wanted to start writing. So we went to Sears, and on a revolving account we bought an electric typewriter and a 35mm camera. My first big sales were a four-part raccoon trapping series to Rich Harding, once again, and a piece about fly fishing for carp to Field & Stream.
(Photo: Rich Faler with his first gray fox, caught Christmas Day 1970.)
RS: How are things different for you as an editor and a trapper as opposed to being just a trapper?
Faler: The first thing that comes to mind, even from back when I was the editor of The Trapper & Predator Caller in the 1980s, is that I have access to so much information, and some of it can be really cutting-edge stuff. New ideas and techniques, new ways of doing things. And that’s neat. Sometimes I read articles that change my whole perspective of trapping for certain animals, and I enjoy bringing that to the readers.
Also, being involved with the National Trappers Association, I can honestly say that everyone involved in the organization is fighting for our trapping rights and has our best interests at heart. They’re not here because they have to be. They’re here because they truly care about the future of trapping. Trappers are a special group of people. They’re some of the most honest, hard-working folks I’ve ever met.
RS: You’ve written many books on a variety of outdoor topics.
Faler: I just write about what I like to do. Any time I write a book, I endeavor to write one that I would’ve wanted to read when I’d started that particular pursuit.
RS: Your first book was The Fox Caller’s Guide. How did the things you learned from calling fox translate into success on the trapline?
Faler: Every discipline has its own unique challenges, but one thing I learned was that there are more critters out there than most people think. At one location, three fox might come into a field. I’ve called in as many as six fox in one location in five minutes. Most of the time, only one or two fox came in, but it really reinforced the idea of gang setting.
RS: What’s your favorite animal to trap?
Faler: Usually whatever animal I’m targeting at the moment. Except for skunks. Not a big fan of skunks. But I enjoy the rest, fox, coyotes, mink, raccoons, muskrats, bobcat, fisher. I enjoy them all because each one offers a different experience. The most memorable catches are usually the first time catching each species. Because they’re the first, they’re burned into your memory a little better. Those are the victories.
(Photo: Rich Faler putting up a catch of gray fox in the early 1980s.)
RS: What are some of your best trapping memories?
Faler: I was able to trap on some sanctuaries in Hawaii for mongoose as part of a damage control program. The Department of Interior had invited me to look at their operation and give suggestions. They were trying to eradicate mongoose as best they could to eliminate predation on two endangered birds, the dark-rumped petrel and the Hawaiian goose. Believe me, they don’t pay anything for that fur, but it was very interesting. My wife and I camped in a shelter on Maui at 7,000 feet and had ice some mornings.
Trips to the Adirondacks were memorable. That’s where I caught my first coyotes.
We were in the Adirondacks once, in snow that was over shoulder deep, and snowshoeing to bodies of open water. The lakes were iced over, but the creeks were open, so we were planning to set for otter and beaver. I was crossing this one little brook that was iced over on my way to an otter set. I had no idea how deep it was until I broke through and it was two inches deeper than my chest waders. The other trapper I was with, Dick Osborne, filmed it all on video, laughing like crazy. If I’d been swept under the ice, at least my wife would’ve had a record of what happened!
I foot-snared a black bear in Maine. The best part of that was being able to take my wife and three boys and in-laws to the set location to see it before the dispatch. Nowadays I’m taking grandkids out and they’re seeing what they call “red wolves,” which are actually red fox. But they go home and tell everybody we got a “red wolf” today. It’s all so much fun. The whole trapping experience is awesome.
RS: You seem to really enjoy experimenting on the trapline.
Faler: You never know it all, but you can get to where you’re proficient at catching certain animals. Every time I go out, I try new sets, new locations, new lures and methods. It’s not always the way to make the biggest catch because the best way to be successful is through repetition. When you’re experimenting, many of those experiments will fail, but to me, that’s learning. That’s what helps me get on top of different types of trapping. You keep after it, keep trying new things, and soon you get pretty good at what you’re doing.
I do the same thing with fishing and hunting. I seldom go out and do the same thing over and over again for many years. For instance, I’ll speed-troll for muskies for 4 or 5 years, and then I’ll focus on calling fox at night for a few years, and then I’ll shift gears and try something else, and I’ll do that until I feel like I’ve mastered it.
RS: Your latest trapping endeavor has been using cable restraints. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Faler: New law changes provide new opportunities. When they legalized the use of snares for beaver in Pennsylvania, I started using them. I’d already snared beaver, otter, bobcats, and raccoons in Florida, so I had some experience with it. I always wished I could use snares when trapping in the snow in Pennsylvania just because of the logistics involved with keeping foot-grippers working properly, so when they legalized cable restraints, I finally had that opportunity.
My first year using cable restraints, I failed miserably, but I only had a few out and didn’t know what I was doing. I kept at it, started picking up a few fox, and now I feel very comfortable using them. I feel I could go out, hang a cable restraint in less than a minute, and expect to catch something. They’re very quick and easy to use, with very little maintenance. About the only thing you have to do is set them back up if a deer knocks them down.
One thing that is different about cable restraints than virtually anything else for furbearers is that the physical aspects of the restraint, as well as how you use it and where you set it, all have to be done right, or else it’s not technically a cable restraint. A foot-gripper is a foot-gripper no matter how you use it, but a cable restraint set near an entanglement becomes a lethal snare.
RS: Any time new methods become legal, there are bound to be a plethora of regulations and restrictions surrounding them.
Faler: I’ve heard people say that cable restraints are ridiculous because there are so many regs you have to follow. But, in my opinion, they’re a doorway to more opportunity. Here in Pennsylvania, snaring was illegal until they allowed it just for beaver, and all snares had to be in the water. The success of that has opened the door for cable restraints, and now we have a beautiful option for winter trapping. Yes, there are regulations involved, but it’s also those regulations that allow us to do it, which could lead to new opportunities in the future.
Make sure you follow the state regs when it comes to constructing and setting up your restraints. If you don’t, you’ll be looking over your shoulder the whole time, and it won’t be fun.
RS: Where do you see the future of trapping?
Faler: I’m an optimist, first of all. I think trapping will always be here. That being said, the political climate in this country right now is crazy, and in that respect, you never know what’s going to happen. It is possible that, as time goes, we will shift from recreational trapping to more nuisance and control-type trapping that would require more licensing and be more restrictive. Somehow, there’s always going to be trapping because we’ll need a way to control certain animal populations, such as coyotes. Trapping is still the most effective way to do that.
I think we’ll always have fur trapping. The states agencies and trapper associations have done so much as far as trying to regulate trapping so that it’s presented to the general public in the best possible light. That can only help us.
RS: Any advice for new trappers?
Faler: This is the information age, so it’s a good time to get into trapping. There’s nothing like hands-on experience, but the amount of information that’s available gives new trappers the best possible chance to be successful. The learning curve is much shorter than it used to be.
Several of Rich Faler's books are available for purchase in the First Fork Bookstore, including Perfect Sets, Cable Restraints: The Art of Live-Catch Snares, and Fly Fishing for Carp: Techniques Developed and Used for Over 50 Years. You can visit Rich online at www.RichFaler.com.
Rich and Ralph have co-produced two trapping DVDs, Boat 'Line Bandits and Late Season Mountain Trapping, and co-authored the book Fisher Trapping. All of these titles are available in the bookstore as well as through many trapping supply dealers online.