The Dryden Observer

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Community Corner: Trapper Danny

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
Dryden resident Danny Van Koughnet poses with his traps in a backyard shed on Pitt Ave. Photo by Chris Marchand
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest…

From ‘The Men That Don’t Fit In — by Robert W. Service

By Chris Marchand

About this time every year, Danny Van Koughnet thinks a lot about being in the bush working a trap line.

Opening up a shed on his mother’s property, Danny starts taking me through some of the 400 traps stored here, their brand names, model numbers, what animals each one is best for and what can happen if you get your hand caught in one of them.

He fills the air with rich tales that bring to mind the poetry of Robert Service — a love and fascination with the beauty and cruelty of a Canadian winter.

There are epic struggles with bears, one Danny says he felled with a single shot from a 22-calibre rifle in the doorway of his shack, another dispatched when he stuck his pistol into another invading bear’s ear and ‘pulled the trigger four times’.

You can pick and choose the parts you want to believe from Danny’s quiver of stories — all delivered with unerring conviction and the suffix ‘dontcha know?’. Formed around plausible scenarios the stories sometimes veer into the mystical and sublime.

He relates a blood-chilling story of a prospector who had fallen through the ice and how he found the drowned man’s hands frozen in place sticking up through the hole he’d fallen through.

Now 55, Danny has trouble getting out of town these days since his father died. His mother sold the family truck and Danny himself developed a limp in one leg that slows him down.

“I couldn’t walk in the bush anymore, so I had to quit,” says Danny.

He misses the quiet, the independence and the challenge of being alone in the bush — a part of his life he’d enjoyed since he was a young boy.

“In some ways, it’s a lonely life,” he says. “But I find as long as you keep busy, work at it and keep your mind occupied, you don’t get lonely. When you sit around and do nothing, that’s when it starts to get to you.”

A bit of a traditionalist, Danny says he believes the best way to move through the bush is on foot, or on snowshoes. He says the noise of ATVs or snowmobiles can push animals out of the area.

Over the years, Danny says he’s encountered people in the places you’d least imagine to find them and helped more than one injured or inebriated hunter back to their truck.

Danny also says he’s met hermit-like characters in the deep woods that have left him in awe of their instincts and connection to their environment as well as the difficulty they have interacting with others.

“They’re survival experts,” says Danny. “A lot of them have developed techniques that work for them. I met a guy who had been in the bush for nine years by himself. This guy could survive with almost nothing, where other men would have to take half a grocery store with them. If you’d put him in a city, he’d end up in a nuthouse y’know. I think there’s guys out there in the bush that nobody knows about. They just never learned to be around other people.”

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