It is the month of July and mid winter is ski season in Wanaka, if you don’t need to play with the white stuff and believe me as a hunting guide I’m no fan of snow, then you have a couple of options:
- Get stuck into the marketing and the follow up work that is all important for any guiding business by filling the books for next season.
- OR go bush, I’m better suited to the bush and with plenty of encouragement from those nearest and dearest I’m fortunate to have a trap line I can run.
In New Zealand the only target species is the Brush Tailed Possum. Our possum was introduced from Australia in the 1920-30’s to establish a fur trade opportunity, the possum was protected for a time before commercial trapping was allowed. Today the possum is “public enemy number one.” A sad reflection on the lack of science that went into the introduction of many new species into our uniquely isolated island environment.
With an appetite for our native fauna and flora, a predictor free habitat and the final nail – a major vector of Bovine Tuberculosis, the possum has limited appeal to the majority of people, as a trapper I have a somewhat contra opinion.
Any decisions to run my trap line are purely economic, I need to have an area that has a population of possums that allows for a catch rate and fur price to make the effort involved financially rewarding.
I have two options with all possums caught, we use leg hold traps mostly but laying poison baits is an option if the correct licenses are held. I trap, all possums caught are visually assessed for pelt quality. Once the possum is dispatched, a well aimed whack with a hammer, I’ll either pluck the fur from the still warm carcass or leave it hanging to cool enough so I can skin it without damage to the pelt, often this is the next day, weather permitting.
The loose fur is blended with fine merino wool for the use in gloves hats and other high value clothing items. It’s sold by the kilogram (kg) and at $120-$140/kg and needing 15-18 possums for a kg of fur, catch rates of at least 35 possums a day (night)are required. Possums are totally nocturnal animals.
Top skins sell for $20-22, my average is closer to $14 and reflects the environment in which I operate, it’s good possum country but not great.
Any trip into the back country is extremely weather dependent. I need good cold dry weather for the trap line to be effective, possums do not like the rain nor do the flour based baits I make up to attract the possums to my traps. Attraction is a 3 way deal, firstly it’s visual, flours white and easily seen, then it’s smell and by adding cinnamon to the flour that covers the smell part, finally taste and icing sugar is the final attraction. Then its a matter of knowing how and where to set the traps for best effect.
So all day you are laying traps and dealing to your catch, it takes me 3 days to get fully operational with 100 traps set, I can’t physically handle any more on a short winters day, it’s daylight at 7.15am and dark by 5.30pm, makes for long nights. Nights that are spent smuggled into a sleeping bag in a hut or tent dreaming of your line and expectations for the next day. Every trap is like a present under a Christmas tree.
It’s hard work but great fun and if you catching 250 -300 possums over a 7-8 day cycle the maths adds up to a tidy payment once the fur and skin are sold.
It’s not every bodies idea of fun, I enjoy the challenge and time with my dog
s. But it’s always great to get home into a hot shower and bed after a few days of no running water, electricity and living very basically.
For those of you outside of NZ and Australia that have no idea what our possums look like (cute compared to a North American possum) I always have skins for sale at the conventions I attend in the USA.
I hope the photos don’t offend, as I said there is nothing pretty about a trap line, we do what we have to do as humanely as we can.