Today, he’s not so sure.
“It’s definitely on the rise again,” said Eaton, a host for the Georgia Trappers Association’s 2013 convention in Columbia County next month.
Fur prices, he said, have improved – and demand for nuisance trapping has increased rapidly.
Georgia’s resurgent trapping industry can be documented by a gradual but sustainable increase in the number of licenses sold each year by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Though license sales peaked at nearly 3,500 in the 1970s, the number declined to just 440 by 1998 because of declining interest and low fur prices.
Since then, the number of licenses has increased almost every year, totaling 1,129 last year, according to state officials.
Greg Waters, a senior wildlife biologist and coordinator of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s furbearer and trapping program, said several factors are responsible for the growing interest.
“One is that trapping is a new hobby for some people that have heard or read about it and want to try it,” he said. “For the past several years we have around 20 to 22 percent new, first-time trappers buying a trapping license.”
Georgia’s legalization of hunting deer over bait in some areas might also play a role.
“Now that it is legal to put out bait for deer for hunting purposes, they realize that raccoons and opossums may be eating a good bit of the bait and they want to reduce their loss,” Waters said.
Eaton, who owns CSRA Trapping Service, said part of the increase is also tied to licenses for nuisance animal trappers. Traditional trapping, which involves running trap lines during the state’s December-through-February furbearer season, is also on the rise.
“That would be our busiest time,” he said. “We trap fox, coyote, otter, muskrat – all the furbearers.”
Much of the rest of the year is spent maintaining traps and handling nuisance calls – everything from attic squirrels to problem alligators.
Coyotes, which have
gained new notoriety after studies documenting their impact on whitetail fawn mortality, have also spurred new interest in trapping.
“The thing with coyotes is that a lot of folks are trying to trap them on their own,” Eaton said. “Sometimes they are doing more educating than trapping.”
As a species, coyotes are among the most challenging to trap because of their wariness, intelligence and keen sense of smell.
Coyotes don’t have particularly valuable fur, but they can be a revenue source for trappers who are often paid to remove them.
Eaton learned his craft as a child growing up in southern Illinois, where his uncle was an expert trapper who shared his expertise – and his secrets.
“That’s where I got the formulas for a lot of my lures,” he said, showing rows of jars containing varied mixtures of animal glands, droppings and other smelly concoctions used to entice his quarry.
This year’s Georgia Trappers Association convention, to be held Sept. 14-15 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds, will be the group’s 32nd annual event – and attendance is expected to be between 350 and 500.
“So far we know we’ll have people from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky,” Eaton said.
Activities include workshops and demonstrations, auctions and raffles, vendors with traps, lures and equipment and many other activities suitable for all ages. The event is open to the public, with an admission charge of $5.
Though it is unlikely trapping will ever return to its heyday, Eaton is delighted to see a tradition kept alive.
The key, he said, is to share knowledge with the younger generation and encourage their interest in the outdoors.
“Kids are the future for hunting, trapping, fishing,” he said. “If you don’t get them involved, trapping is going to die.”