Shannon Cohrs trapped his first fur-bearing animal when he was 9 years old. While the hobby began as a way of earning extra money, trapping soon became his passion, which for most of his life, he has shared with those closest to him - his family.
Stepping into the Cohrs family home in Dovray, it's easy to see where their hearts lie, with two fur coats in the closet, wildlife dcor on the walls and animal mounts filling the family room.
Inside his heated fur shed, Shannon Cohrs inspects one of his coyote pelts, pointing out that buyers pay special attention to the belly area in regards to quality and that buyers prefer white
"It's more of a hobby than anything. You can't put a price on fun and being outdoors," Cohrs said.
Cohrs had his first trapping experiences with his grandfather (Clarence), father (Donald) and brother (Craig). Years later, Shannon brought home a new catch his now wife Angie, who while she was dating Shannon, bravely tagged along to trap muskrats through the ice.
"I'd walk and the ice would crack, but you had to keep going," Shannon said. "But she'd just freeze up and the ice would bellow down where you'd walk. Afterwards, we skinned muskrats and she was holding them for me while I was opening them. My dad said, 'yep, she's a keeper.'"
After more than 20 years of marriage, Angie still takes part in trapping activities with Shannon and their two children Caleb, 19, and Felicia, 17.
"It's the one thing we all do together," Angie said. "And, I love listening to the kids tell stories about the things they did with Grandpa."
While Angie works as a dental assistant, Shannon manages an agronomy place in Dovray called Prairie Grain Partners.
"Agronomy is the wrong business to be in if you like to hunt and fish because you're busy with both of them in the spring and fall," Shannon said. "Years ago, I downsized my job. I went to a lesser-paying job so that I could have more time with the kids. I still work full-time, but I make it work. Now when I look back, I'm glad I did it."
A normal day for Shannon entails getting up at 4 a.m. and hitting the trap sites by 5 a.m. until he has to go to work. After work, Shannon gets right back to checking his traps or snares.
"You end up running pretty long hours in the fall," he said. "I don't get a lot of sleep then."
This upcoming year looks to be a memorable one for the entire family. Caleb will be deployed to Iraq as part of an Army National Guard unit in May and Felicia will be a senior at Westbrook-Walnut Grove in the fall.
"The best part about trapping is being right along side my dad every step of the way," Caleb said. "I enjoy being able to spend time with him 1-on-1, and this year is going to be even more special since I'm deploying in May."
Felicia also likes to spend time outdoors with her family. She's especially looking forward to one last elk hunt in Wyoming before she graduates, with hopes of adding to the family trophy room, which was constructed a few years ago.
"I hunt and trap as much as my dad will let me," Felicia said. "I like to do it as much as I can. I really want to bag a 7x7 (elk) this coming year so I can beat my brother's 6x6. Then we'd have to make room for my elk mount."
Trapping has changed a lot over the years Shannon said, including better equipment availability and more communication between trappers.
"Years ago, you couldn't talk to trappers because it was competition," Shannon said. "Everyone had their own knack and way of doing things. If they were catching furs, people weren't telling each other. But now with VCR tapes, DVDs and the Internet, you can learn how to do almost anything."
But nothing can replicate years of experience, which Shannon recently put to use. On Jan. 8, Shannon was named the 2010 Minnesota Trappers Association Pelt Handling Contest grand champion. He entered 13 of 16 animals to be judged in the competition, receiving first-place with seven of them, second-place with four of them and third-place with the remaining two, for a total of 26 points.
"I'd never won the contest, but I got second last year," Shannon said. "It's all based on how you've prepared the pelt. It's not judged on the quality of the fur."
The animals Shannon entered in the contest were bobcat, coyote, otter, beaver, red fox, raccoon, mink, possum, muskrat, weasel, skunk, red squirrel and badger.
"It was cool to win it because then people were coming up to talk to me," Shannon said. "I've been putting up a lot of furs, like fox and coyote, for a long time, but this was the first time I'd put up a bobcat, otter or badger. I tried to use what I learned from other people at conventions."
The family usually set up traps around the area, but getting a bobcat required a trip to Park Rapids.
"We usually trap around sloughs, creeks or on land like CRP fields or old groves," Shannon said. "We travel to Tracy to Revere to Storden, over to Westbrook and back to Dovray, then almost to Avoca."
Shannon admits that he has some trade secrets in the way he processes certain furs, but he said that the biggest factor is how he combs them out. For the past three years, Shannon has had the luxury of having his own fur shed after purchasing an outbuilding right next door. The cozy "man shed," as Shannon refers to it, is heated and ideal for skinning, washing and hanging the furs.
"Awhile back, we did 51 coons in two hours and 15 minutes," Shannon said. "It's nice."
Shannon ships most of his pelts periodically to North American Fur Auctions in Toronto, Canada, where graders sort the items depending on quality and size. Then, they're auctioned off to buyers, who quickly snatch up the best-quality ones.
"The top lot are the best of the best in the nation," Shannon said. "Of the top 40 coons, I had three of them and my friend from Worthington had five. That's pretty good out 45,000 coons."
The family takes pride in using common sense and an ethical approach to trapping. Shannon, Angie and Caleb are MTA certified trapping instructors. Shannon is also a co-director for District 7, which makes up southwestern Minnesota, and over the years, he's seen an increase in interest.
"The fur trade actually started this nation," Shannon said. "Everything was explored and used. Fur is a renewable resource. But you have to put in the time, and if you don't have time to check the traps, you don't set them."
While this trapping season is coming to a close, there is much to do, including getting ready for the next season and attending upcoming conventions - as a family, of course.