August 5, 2013

Kyle (left) and Dan Lay. Two of the hardest working wolf trappers in North America.

Kyle (left) and Dan Lay. Two of the hardest working wolf trappers in North America.

Wolf Trappers

Many of my friends (including me), tend to mark the months, not by their usual names, but by the events that best mark the period.  For me, for the last few years, mid-August to the end of September is Wolf Month.  This is when I get the most calls from ranchers, outfitters, and trappers who suddenly discover that in one way or another, wolves are an issue for them and they don’t like it.  Like most things on this planet, over the course of a year, wolves follow a cycle.  Born in late May or early June, by mid to late August the wolf pups are large enough to begin following their parents on hunting trips.  These pups’ futures lie in their ability to become successful hunters and by early fall they are on a pretty steep learning curve.  In regions where wolves have a history of killing livestock, pups may end up getting a lot of easy training; chasing, chewing on, or pulling down cattle or other livestock.

From year to year, it’s always hard to predict how Wolf Month is going to shake out.  Some years, producers can take staggering hits and other years things can be relatively quiet.  When a producer has been hit by wolves, they do have some options.  They can and should always contact their local Game Warden first.  This may allow a Game Warden to match complaints with other reports of predation in the area.  They will quite often be able to mitigate the problem through the use of a variety of tools at their disposal.  Many municipalities also have designated wildlife control personnel who quite often are very good at what they do.  Then there are the professional animal damage control specialists such as Bill Abercrombie’s company, Animal Damage Control, out of Edmonton.  The better animal control specialists are extremely skilled and very efficient at dealing with predators.  Finally, livestock producers can very often deal with the predation problem themselves.

Hiring an animal damage control specialist to come in and take care of a problem can get expensive very quickly.  We live in a society where people are used to laying their money down with the expectation that they will be receiving nearly immediate results. But wolves are wolves and although they easily adapt to changing environments, they are still wolves who live by their own code and timetable.  When the expectations are unrealistic and relief doesn’t happen overnight, it can get pretty frustrating for everyone involved.  For quite a few years now, I have been doing workshops and showing people who are directly affected by predation how to deal with these issues on their own.

The Lay 76 is an extremely powerful wolf trap with unique features that allows it to work without a lot of the kind of babying that goes with other wolf trap designs.

The Lay 76 is an extremely powerful wolf trap with unique features that allows it to work without a lot of the kind of babying that goes with other wolf trap designs.

The premise of these workshops is that nobody knows their own ground better than the rancher.  With some basic training, good tools, and a better understanding of what they are up against, many producers can deal with all but the most complicated cases. Even then, their new abilities help provide an edge to a game warden or ADC specialist fresh on the scene.  Trapping is a lifelong learning experience and the single most important reason that I and most other trappers have stayed in the game.  Every time I hold a workshop, I’m certain that I learn as much as I teach, and for me that’s the real payoff.  Recently, I took a three day wolf course in Williams Lake from two of the best wolf trappers in the world.
I’m not saying this lightly.  I’ve either taken or given wolf management presentations in nearly every wolf producing jurisdiction in North America.  I’ve met dozens of trappers whose skills and experience vastly exceed my own.  What sets Kyle and Dan Lay apart is their single focus on predating wolves.  To be sure, they know how to trap furbearers.   Their animal damage control business also includes Grizzlies, Black Bears and Cougars, but their ability to deal with specific wolves under any condition is amazing.  To this end, they have developed a specific strategy, methods, and tools that involve the highest level of detail.

The Lays never miss a detail. Even a straw is replaced as it was found.

The Lays never miss a detail. Even a straw is replaced as it was found.

The Lays’ strategy is to go after only the wolves that kill livestock.  Experience has shown that once a pack turns to killing cows, that pack needs to be eliminated.  In a nutshell, Dan and Kyle’s method is to do careful reconnaissance and learn as much about the wolves they are targeting as possible.  Time of year, pack size, and travel patterns are all critical information.  Kyle says that the hardest thing to do during this period is to leave their traps in their truck.   Ranchers who have just suffered a loss want results and the easiest way in the world to mollify them would be to take a quick look around, pick a few likely spots and get some steel into the ground.  Generally speaking, trapping wolves is easy enough to do and this will work.  The problem is that wolves mostly travel in packs and they learn as a unit.  If any old wolf is randomly caught out of the pack, it could well mean that a rancher’s problem isn’t being solved.  Instead, it is just going from bad to worse.
Once the Lays have their “recon” down, they begin setting.  On the first go, they never set more than two traps at a site, although they may choose more than one site on a ranch to set.  They are targeting the Alpha male and female only.  The basis of the Lays’ strategy is founded on a wolf packs’ total loyalty to the leaders of the pack.  If they can successfully remove those two animals, cleaning up the rest of the pack is a done deal and just a matter of time.  The sets they use are beautiful in their simplicity.  Because of this, many trappers who know of their legendary ability to catch wolves would rather believe that Dan and Kyle have somehow stumbled on the ultimate bait or lure, rather than admit that the Lays have devoted a lifetime to studying the minute details of a wolf’s behaviour.

Dan Lay finishing off a set.

Dan Lay finishing off a set.

This leads to another fascinating aspect of the Lays’ ability.  Catching an aggressive alpha is one part of the business.  Holding it is totally another.  Dan and Kyle are craftsmen and their Lay 76 wolf trap is a work of art.  It’s big, fast, and has unique features that won’t be found on any other trap out there.  It’s capable of lifting through a foot of snow to take a wolf’s foot and has seen hard use from -40 to +40 Celsius. It’s the most powerful trap with phenomenal clamping force that I have ever seen on any trap anywhere. And yet it is also the safest.  If a trapper was accidentally caught in it, he could easily release himself with a single half inch wrench.  It’s that kind of attention to detail that makes them such outstanding trappers and just what you would expect from guys who have trapped nearly a hundred wolves in a single month.