Bill Applegate, Trapper

Photograph by Erin Trieb

Applegate was raised near El Paso. He is a full-time predator-control trapper on ranches in Big Bend. For the past ten years, he has served as the president of the Texas Trappers and Fur Hunters Association. He lives in Marfa.

When I was eight years old, I was in my grandpa’s barn, and I found this thing. And I said, “Grandpa, what’s this?” And he says, “That’s a trap. Don’t mess with it.” And ever since then I’ve never put them down. I started on skunks. I had a lot of skunk adventures in my younger years. Once, I had got a skunk and buried him for three days, which is supposed to remove the odor. That’s a wives’ tale. I had this skunk hanging up by the hind legs and I had the pelt completely off, and I pulled on the tail and it squirted skunk essence right in my face. I ran to the house, about a quarter mile away, and my mother started opening up cans of tomato juice, which is supposed to be the skunk-smell eliminator. That’s another wives’ tale. Everything in the house that was plastic got that smell. And for the next couple months, whenever I was outside and it would rain a little bit, my hair would get wet and my friends would disappear.

I was about fifteen when I caught my first coyote, and oh, man, I was on top of the world. I caught it on my uncle’s ranch next to a cow carcass. And I remember I yelled at him, “That’s a coyote.” And he said, “A blind man could catch a coyote at a carcass.” But I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me. I just learned as I went. In high school I joined a trapping association and got a couple of books. Then I went to college, at Sul Ross, and got an agricultural degree. I got a job working for the Western Federal Land Bank Association of Marfa. I would trap after work and on weekends. I was with the land bank for about fourteen years and served the last ten years as president. But that was a ruthless business, so I finally quit the corporate world to try and make a living in the hills.

I got enough trapping contracts where I could make a modest living. I’m working for about six different landowners right now, and I get paid on a monthly basis to run traps on their places year-round. But trapping’s not a high-paid deal. The truth is, a wife with a good job is a requirement for a full-time trapper.

Most people that are trapping are fur trapping for the pelts. In my case, since I trap year-round, I have most of the predators knocked out by the time the furs get good, in the winter. So my fur take for sale is not as high as guys that are trapping for the fur. Their deal is more like fur farming. They allow the populations to grow in the summer and then, in the winter, harvest them.

The landowners that I work for, they want to protect their calves, their sheep, and their goats, and they want to see their deer and antelope populations coming up. So my main quarry is coyotes, bobcats, and panthers. If a panther moves into an area, many of the deer will move out, and that could be disaster for a landowner who relies on hunting income for expenses or a mortgage.

I try to reach my first trap by daylight every day. Sometimes it’s a thirty-minute travel; sometimes it’s more. The smallest property I’m working is about 20,000 acres. When I reach the first trap, I will normally put out some fresh lure, make sure the trap is still covered well. About noon each day I stop for a tuna fish sandwich and a can of peaches. That takes about ten minutes, and then I go on to the next trap. Since gas went up, I carry a bedroll in my truck. I’ll stop when it gets dark and stay the night, after a can of Wolf Brand Chili dipped out with crackers.

If I’m setting a new trap, I get out and look for tracks, droppings, scratch marks. A lot of traps are set right along the dirt roads. Other good places are along trails and stock tanks and places where habitat changes, like from trees to an open field, since that provides two different sources of food. It’s an edge. Some prey species like to be out in the open, and some like the heavy cover. Predators like to work those edges.

I use foothold traps so that a nontarget animal can be released. You bury the trap and use fresh meat, rotten meat, animal skin, or some commercial lure, food type or gland-scented type. Droppings and urine from coyotes

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