CLARK COUNTY — For the past seven decades, Clarksville resident Charles “Chick” Anders has been a trapper — a person who traps wild animals for their fur and to help with population control.
“Well, I’ve trapped all my life,” he said, adding that his catches include muskrats, minks, foxes, raccoons, coyotes and possums. “It’s in my blood and I can’t get it out.
On Wednesday morning, Anders was at the Clark County 4-H Fairgrounds as vendors from across the U.S. set up shop at the Fur Takers of America 2021 convention Thursday through Saturday. It was a scene familiar to him, as he served as the group’s national president for 22 years before stepping down a few years ago. But it’s the first time since being in Salem in 2000 it’s been this close to home.
There are more than 3,000 people expected to visit the three-day convention, a bigger punch than what organizers expected before last year’s event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event will feature booths for trappers to stock up on equipment before the fall season, skinning demonstrations, workshops for kids to learn how to make trapping tools and much more.
“It’s all different things that’s easily made, yet you have to have a little training to do it,” event Chair Charles Davis, who serves as secretary in a local chapter of the Fur Takers of America said of the kids’ workshops. “That’s why we’re trying to get any kids that are interested and teach them how to do it, because it’s a dying art.”
“This whole convention is based on kids,” Anders added.
Davis said that overall trappers as a group are people who love the outdoors and care deeply about nature. That’s why, he said, people like them are more likely to get in an accident trying to avoid hitting an animal in a vehicle.
Their hobby or profession as trappers also helps manage the animal populations.
“If we don’t do what we do, nature is going to do it,” he said. “Right now raccoons are worth nothing but if we don’t continue to catch them they overpopulate; rabies, distemper and other diseases will actually wipe out the population. And it will take more than 10 years to repopulate that area when they die out.
“So by managing the number out in the wild, then we have a healthy population that won’t get the diseases and all that.”
One of the attendees in town for the weekend is Colbert Sturgeon, a former financial adviser who in the 1990s, left his job and took up a one-room cabin in Georgia with no power, plumbing or electricity — what he calls “a higher quality of life.”
Sturgeon was later featured in the National Geographic documentary “Live Free or Die.”
On Wednesday, he talked of his choice to leave the world he had been in before.
“I noticed that more money you make in the business world, the more stress you have,” he said. “The more stress you have, the more pills you take. The more pills you take, the sicker you get.”
But in his situation, “On a good day when the sun shines, I feel like I might be the richest man in the world.”
Tracy Polaski, owner of Shootergirl, jewelry made of different types of ammunition, was setting up with her husband, Steve.
Polaski did medical transcription for 26 years, but has now grown the business so much it’s her full-time gig. It started when Steve, a now-retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major, was away on deployments. Polaski started making the jewelry to pass the time. Both are hunters, so she already had spent shell casings she could start with.
“Some of them I like to disguise so you really don’t know what it is unless someone points it out,” she said. “Because a lot more women are carrying, women love to hunt. We use their own casings if they had a successful hunt, first-time hunters even if they missed we make something special for them.”
And the business has allowed the Pinconning, Mich., couple to spend more time together, travel more and meet cool new friends.
“The people we meet, it’s nice hearing their stories about a hunt or who they hunted with,” she said.
“Another of the indoor exhibits includes rows and rows of tanned fur, brought by Trevor Barnes, owner of Barnes Hide and Fur in Burlington, Mich.
“I’m a fur buyer so we do buy quite a few,” Barnes said “Some of the specialty animals like wolves and wolverines I actually buy off the North Bay Auction and we do send everything out. It’s all professionally garment-tanned.”
At the large U-shaped table setup, Barnes was preparing to set out the other items he brought, including new and used trapping supplies and equipment. While he used to trap, the business, which includes seven or eight conventions like this one a year, takes a lot of his time.
He still loves to be able to see all the like-minded folks who come from all over to share.
“The people, the customer relations...trappers are just a very peaceful breed,” he said. “Nobody really keeps it to themselves; it’s just a very good traditional function that everybody seems to enjoy talking about and being part of.”