Or the 11 chest freezers he keeps on the ranch, filled with frozen squirrels, otters, a two-legged beaver and a lone white rabbit his five-year-old grandson and three-year-old granddaughter snared themselves. A stuffed grizzly and black bear keep crowded company with a black wildebeest Klassen shot while consulting in South Africa, a zebra rug, antelopes from Montana and a muskox from the Arctic.
Some animals are roadkill; others arrive as gifts from friends. He also trains people on trapping and skinning techniques, travelling across Canada and beyond, but also hosting hundreds of wardens, trappers, researchers and others each year in cabins on his ranch. Too many, he adds, are quick to condemn. Trapper Gord drives his snowmobile with one hand, his face upturned in a smile, his left arm thrown up to embrace the wide blue sky above. This is his paradise: the frozen expanse of Sardine Lake in northern Alberta where his tiny wood cabin, lit up by Christmas lights at night, is nestled on the south bank.
Who needs Mexico? About years ago, they did the same things he does, drying the wiggly sticklebacks and selling them for dog food in Grande Prairie or farther afield. But that life was cut short as the Spanish flu swept through between and , killing the mother, father and three children. Klassen points out the five unmarked graves; mounds of dirt beneath the snow and trees. The family cooking stove still sits in the bush, a bowl and empty tin of Dominion tobacco balanced on top. Klassen dusts off a horse skull. A hub from a wagon awaits another spring thaw.
Klassen treats this land as sacred, part of Trapline 72 that is about kilometres southeast of his Debolt ranch. Klassen has been a trapper since he was 10 years old, the first in a family of ranchers and hunters near Grande Prairie. He considered himself an animal-rights activist as a kid and would examine rabbit turds in spring puddles and take feathers home for study.
He even attempted to save a muskrat from marauding classmates, and still bears the scar from its bite on his hand. Yet when he got the hang of shooting a. Back then, the trapping business was competitive and secretive, with few in the industry wanting to share the tricks of the trade.
It takes a lot of skills. It takes a certain mindset. Young Klassen loved the independence in the bush and spent weekends snowshoeing 27 kilometres in, then back, sometimes hunkering down in only a sleeping bag. He chats up a storm about his right-wing politics and jokes he has nightmares about being knocked out and waking up a dreaded Liberal. Klassen is an open man. Miskosky says Klassen is the go-to wolf guy in Alberta and will often howl onstage at conferences.
And he teaches the importance of chewing gum and wearing clean boots to camouflage human scent while doing wolf reconnaissance, which can take several weeks. Even clean thoughts are vital. Klassen sees himself more as a coyote, like the one he sketches in the snow with a stick and behind every paper signature. Snowmobiling through frigid temperatures, Klassen points out the pussy willows, coaxed into early bloom by unseasonably warm January weather.
He believes one mound of snow and rocks is a bear den, with an air vent frosted over with icicles from warm escaping breath. A tree, near the entrance to his three-by-four metre pine cabin, is a rubbing post for a grizzly which left bits of hair stuck to the sap and bark. For the past dozen years, Klassen has made trapping his focus, once spending 43 days straight on a trapline without a break back to civilization.
He melts snow for shaving water. He feeds leftover pancakes to his feathery Canadian Jay neighbours. He sleeps in his bunk as frozen animals hang to thaw in the midnight warmth of the woodfire stove. Curry and turmeric are on hand for cooking, as are tins of Spam, Tang, chicken Oxo, ketchup and Tetley tea. A book, Mountain Masculinity, sits on a corner shelf in his cabin. A razor and shaving lotion — aerosol shaving cream would freeze — sits on the plain wash basin. In the outhouse, a toilet seat made out of hard pink insulation keeps the cheeks warm. Most years, the supplies cover basic living for 30 to 45 days spent on three traplines.
This year, because of snow dumps and bad weather, Klassen made it into the bush for fewer than 20 days. After accidentally trapping a cougar in in a snare meant for a wolf, Ali, 48, rarely heads out with her husband. The cat was huge, and terrified her. Wolves, she knows.
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Few make a full-time living trapping the 18 fur-bearers in Alberta, says Klassen. In the air at the old location, the distinctive smell of skunk hovers in the air, one of many gag-inducing, putrid lures trappers use to draw into traps curious wolves, lynx and other furry critters. Store shelves are full of metal killing traps, cable snares, old-fashioned snow shoes, beaded moccasins, wolf urine and pelts from skunks, fox and coyote.
He plans to spend his profits on promoting the trapping industry and sharing his love of the bush. One lynx lies on its side, frozen solid, its fur and feline face dusted with snow. Their last moments in life are written in their snowy prints padding down the machine track, their noses sniffing a frozen chunk of Canada goose in the air, their curiosity raised by the smelly catmint-laced lure smeared on a branch in the lynx pen. Goose feathers dangle in the breeze for a toy.
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Klassen estimates it takes less than five minutes for the lynx to die, but no one knows exactly what happens in the last moments of struggle out here in the cold. Animal rights groups say larger animals can suffer for days in snares. Klassen says technology has vastly improved. He yanks one snare around his forearm to test its strength. He sometimes leaves green bruises when he conducts training sessions for trappers. Canadian traps and snares are tested in a Vegreville facility operated under contract by Alberta Innovates and Technologies, in part, Klassen says, from pressure from trappers to know the traps work well, quickly.
But on this trip, Klassen has left some unchecked for more than three days. All remain empty so Klassen springs them. He has never had his licence checked by a warden.
Klassen also finds a Northern Goshawk killed accidentally in a lynx snare. He picks up the bird, distressed and puzzled why the beautiful raptor was flying over his trapline in early February. On this trip, he nabs seven marten before pulling all the metal traps from wood boxes nailed into tree trunks, tucked under red willow bushes or balanced on fallen logs.
January 31 is the end of the sable season. The sharp teeth of one marten are still clamped onto a mesh screen in front of the bait. They died fast, Klassen says, in killing traps similar but more complex than mouse traps that snap shut across the animals necks and soft abdomens.
Trapping and Trapline Life
These traps must render martens unconscious immediately and dead in two minutes, according to the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards signed by Canada, Russia and the European Union in He skins one of the little creatures, thawed overnight. Klassen pulls into the parking lot of the inn at Red Earth Creek, about kilometres north of Slave Lake, and jumps out to meet Hermas Houle, a year-old trapper from nearby Loon Lake who wants to sell his furs.
Several weeks later, Paul drops his nets. Life-long experiences have taught him which currents and which eddies are apt to funnel fish on their way to small tributaries upstream. When the fish are moving, the Williamses work 18 to 20 hours a day. Some salmon exceed 50 pounds, and the work of extracting them from nets and slicing the meat to a size appropriate for hanging and drying is exhausting.
Trapping and Trapline Life | Our Legacy
But the venture also represents a time of social activity to which relatives and friends travel, often from great distances. In the evening, friends gather around campfires to watch as the Yukon briefly swallows the summer sun. And they cut fish. Around the clock, they slice long strips of salmon, which they drape over branches and willow sticks cut to support the masses of rich, succulent meat the river usually provides.
Beneath the sun-dried salmon, smudge fires drive flies away.
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About miles downriver, much the same pattern of life occurs for the Paul Evans family, which operates a fish wheel near Rampart, a village of about The powerful Yukon rotates the fish wheel, and with each revolution the two huge baskets alternately dip into the water, often scooping up migrating salmon. For the Evanses, the annual run of salmon is one of the year's highlights. In the winter, they pass out jarred fish and chunks of dried meat to friends and family. And they remember the long summer days when salmon choked the river. Perhaps because of the closure, the intensity of the anger, and the perceived need, Governor Hickel attempted to assist a number of villages by distributing fish.
Some, however, refused his help, saying they didn't want handouts.
With mixed emotions, residents of Beaver population about 75 decided to accept the fish.