Case: Muskrat and magazine were life-changers

I once met a muskrat who probably changed my life.

Whether whom we meet and what we do shapes our destiny is hard to say. With many events in life, we do not understand the significance of the moment at the time. We see it later, years down the trail.

There is no doubt, though, that muskrat was a game-changer for me.

This chance encounter with a fur-bearing rodent happened on the banks of the Coal River way back in my misspent youth. That the muskrat was dead at the time didn't take away from the moment one bit.

I stumbled down the steep riverbank in the dark that cold morning to check a steel trap I had set in the water the evening before. Oddly enough, I had set the trap for a muskrat, and that is exactly what I caught.

As this was the first trap I had ever set, it furthered my notion that I was a natural - born to be a trapper and follow in the footsteps of Jim Bridger, Jeremiah Johnson and others. I probably even had some Indian blood my parents had failed to tell me about.

As usual, the cold, gray dawn of reality set in, and I began to realize after a while that maybe I was not going to catch several thousand dollars' worth of fur that first year. I needed help. I needed some instruction on trapping.

Somehow, thankfully, I came across Fur-Fish-Game magazine. I'd been studying other outdoor magazines for years: Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Sports Afield. These publications were great, and I read them religiously, but they almost never dealt with my new passion of trapping. Fur-Fish-Game was the answer to fervent prayers about my lack of knowledge in the trapping world.

Fur-Fish-Game is an outdoor magazine like no other and has an interesting history to go with it. It was started by a backwoods entrepreneur by the name of A. R. Harding who began trapping fur at the tender age of 9; by 14, he was riding a circuit on horseback and buying fur from fellow schoolboy trappers. By age 20, Harding was buying fur in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

He loved trapping and the fur business, but he also had a keen interest in writing and publishing. In 1898, he started a small newspaper in southern Ohio, The Gallia Times. Two years later, he founded a trapping and outdoor magazine, Hunter-Trader-Trapper.

Anyone who had spent years in the fur business and made money at it was nobody's fool. Harding knew this new magazine was the only link being printed for trappers, fur buyers and exporters. Once it was established, the fur companies felt they had to advertise in his magazine.

Harding was not content with just the magazine, though, and in 1906 he started writing and publishing a series of outdoors books through the A. R. Harding Publishing Company. Many of these books are instructional in nature, and many are still being produced and sold today, covering subjects such as trapping, training hunting dogs, digging medical roots, tanning hides and making buckskin.

Health concerns led Harding to sell Hunter-Trader-Trapper. When he had regained his health in 1925 and tried to buy the magazine back, the owners would not sell. Undaunted, he purchased a similar publication and changed the name to Fur-Fish-Game.

I found this quote from Harding - taken from the magazine's website ( - interesting because in many ways it reflects what the magazine is about today: "Fur Fish Game wants articles from subscribers telling of their actual experiences - whether hunting, trapping, fur buying; fishing, camping, fur farming, medicinal root growing, etc. The editor believes that such material is often of more interest and value than much that is written in flowing language by those who follow writing as a business. F-F-G will be of practical pleasure and profit - edited and published for those who wish to read in plain, everyday language about fur, fish, game and allied interests."

At the top of the cover on each issue are these words: "The Magazine for Practical Outdoorsmen." More than anything, this probably explains the essence of the publication. I doubt you'll ever see a story for an expensive African safari in its pages, but if there is a way to do it yourself, it will be in there. Deer hunting, small game, bow hunting and predator hunting stories are common, but always with the average guy in mind - the average hunter who can make a hunt happen with a little sweat, shoe leather and ingenuity. This is the Fur-Fish-Game way.

Of course, trapping is a staple, and many beginning trappers have learned much in these pages. (Just like I did, what, 50 years ago?)

Every issue is full of informative articles on different kinds of trap sets for everything from mink, foxes and bobcats to the lowly muskrat. You may also see an article about catching live bait or snapping turtles, how to tan your own furs at home or harvesting edible mushrooms.

Often there will be a feature article about some trapper and his family who are truly "living the life." These people reside somewhere in the far North - Alaska or Canada - and make their living off the land and trapping for their income. Many trappers and outdoorsmen in the "lower 48" can do some heavy-duty dreaming when reading these stories.

As for me, I never left home and hearth for the frozen north. I did make it into a wildlife-related field and did just a little trapping over the years. I still think pulling that muskrat out of the river that morning had something to do with it.

Maybe it was that and reading an issue of Fur-Fish-Game when I should have been doing algebra or geometry.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for the Times Free Press. You can write to him at