For the postmaster of Milroy, everyday life is generally a predictable routine. But every year Tom Marks takes about a month off in the fall and pursues his passion, trapping.
Trapping was the first industry in the West and today is still a way of life for a few hardy souls who love the outdoors.
"When I figure out the gas and the time, it's more of a hobby," Marks said. "Some years it pays for itself, but it's more being out in the wind and the rain, and when you catch an animal in a trap and you can't wait to get to the next one."
Photo by Steve Browne
Trapper Tom Marks shows some of his skunk hides. Marks sometimes traps for townspeople who have skunk problems. Marks said skunks were once marketed as “Russian sable” until buyers caught on.
Marks was introduced to trapping as a boy and figures he's been at it for 55 years, except for two years in the Army. Consequently, his garage is a veritable museum of trapping, containing pelts, taxidermy and a collection of traps, both modern and antique.
"There's a big market out there for antique traps," Marks said. "I used to have a ton of bear traps. Old ones are rare and valuable. They're not legal anymore, and old ones go for $2,000-$3,000."
Marks traps for pelts to sell to fur dealers in-state and in Canada - raccoon, beaver, muskrat, mink, coyote and red fox mostly.
"China and Russia are the biggest buyers for fur," Marks said. "I mostly ship them to Canada for the big fur auctions."
Prices for pelts vary according to demand, condition of the pelt and what season they are trapped in. Fall is best because the animals fur is thickening for winter. A raccoon might fetch $6, bobcat $80-$120, and otter $60-$130.
And every year's catch varies. Marks used to trap as many as 500 red fox a year and the occasional grey fox but hasn't seen many lately since an epidemic of mange reduced fox numbers.
"Everything runs in a cycle," Marks said. "Every seven years they reach a peak and then decline to nothing."
And so Marks continues to follow the cycle of nature, running his trap lines every fall.
"What I love the most is being outdoors," Marks said. "You get to see so much you don't usually see."