WARNING: If you are squeamish and/or do not prefer the thought of shooting and skinning an animal, this post is not recommended for you.
This past Friday, we had an unwelcome visitor too close to our chicken pen for comfort; a young opossum hissing from a pile of rotting leaves. Since opossums are numerous in this area and have been eating the eggs from our coop, the young critter was dispatched. As a learning experience, our grandfather skinned it – there is always something interesting being used as a teaching tool when you homeschool.
We had been having a problem with a certain den on the east side of our property, where we knew a critter was coming from each night to haunt the barnyard, so I used the carcass from the young opossum and baited a live trap next to the entrance of the den. When I awoke Saturday morning, I was surprised to see that nothing had touched my bait, and by that evening remained disappointed. Sunday morning came with the same results, and I was beginning to question my choice of bait; our cats seemed disgusted by the smell of it. Perhaps opossum was just too offensive, but I had been sure that -like mice and rats- opossums would eat their own, and I was sure that our mystery den-dweller was an opossum.
Finally on Sunday afternoon when I got home from church, I was excited to see something in my trap and was hoping it was not a cat, as that had been the extent of my “trapping success” in the past. When I got a little closer I could tell that it was an opossum of decent size, and later investigation revealed that it was a female. Yes! That meant less chicken-and-egg-eating babies in the future. The carcass of the young opossum had been entirely consumed; including the bones.
My grandfather was out of town until Monday morning, so the now-very-angry critter with it’s full belly had a tarp thrown over the trap until the next step could be taken. I was the one who trapped it, so it was my responsibility to dispatch it, but Grandpa wanted to be there to see how I did. Quite honestly, I wanted him there with his experience, and so the offensive little creature had to wait impatiently.
Monday morning came cold and windy, and so the project was put off until 3pm when we finally gave up hope of the weather turning a bit nicer. Grandpa handed me a .22 pistol with directions on where to shoot and, nervously but steadily, I squeezed the trigger. I had never shot to kill before, and it is not as simple as walking up and harvesting your prey. There is a responsibility that goes along with it; a responsibility to know what you are doing and to put the animal out of it’s misery as quickly and painlessly as possible.
My bullet grazed the top of the skull, causing internal damage through-out the body and exiting by way of the right back leg. Opossums are known for their thick skulls and have a reputation as a difficult animal to dispatch. I quickly learned this when my shot did not have the effect that I wanted, and the opossum did not even flinch, though it had been hit. I was given the choice to shoot again, or hand the gun to my grandfather and let him finish it. I opted for the latter option, though I still cannot explain even to myself why I did so. I had shot it, and it would have died from my bullet, but I did not want it to suffer. Grandpa aimed, shot, and the opossum was successfully put down.
This is the first post in a short series telling (and showing) the story of a new adventure; trapping! This is my first successful trap, and I wanted to share it with all of you, and show you a new trade that I am learning. Trapping is not for everyone, but for those who pursue it, it can be a decent hobby that sometimes pays in cash when you choose to sell furs. It also pays in experience, by the trapper learning conservation and skills of the outdoors.
Keep watching for the rest of the adventure. Meanwhile, why don’t you pursue a new hobby of your own!