Definition: A woman who hunts
We want to take a minute to celebrate the awesome shEHUNTRs we have in our community. This week we are talking with Shelly who is a hunter and trapper from New Mexico. While always loving the outdoors, she didn’t take up her passion for trapping until she was in her 30s. Now, she traps professionally.
Check out Shelly’s story.
My name is Shelly Thedford. I was raised in Elephant Butte, NM and moved to Las Cruces, NM after I got married in 2007. I drove a school bus for 15 years. I’m now a stay at home mom and wife. I have a wonderful 15-year boy, named Bo. I’m happily married to a professional welder who’s a retired bareback rider. My dad lives next door to us and we spend a lot of time together also. It’s hard for me to be a girly girl in this family when I’m constantly surrounded by men. I have always been an outdoor girl.
I was raised with my dad and my two uncles who always took me to elk camp with them. All of us kids would stay in camp with our grandma while they hunted. There were 4 of us kids my brother and the other 2 were my cousins. Boys of course. We loved exploring together. But, this didn’t make me want to hunt. One of my uncles was a hunting guide and a trapper. I always thought that him being a Trapper was so cool. He would tell me stories all the time and I was fascinated. Part of the fascination with trapping was, as I thought, an old mountain man thing. I didn’t think many people did it anymore and for me to have an uncle that was such a rare breed was always so cool. Still, I didn’t start trapping.
Then in 2006, I met my husband Chance. Getting to know each other I found out that he too had family that trapped. He actually remembers trapping as a boy with his dad and grandpa. “Yes!!”, I thought. Finally, a person who understood my crazy, outdoors obsessed, hunting, fishing, trapping family. In 2007 we tied the knot and our outdoor adventures together started.
We started talking to my uncle and he started teaching us the basics of the equipment we would need.
He gave us our first traps to use. We learned what lures to buy and how to stake the traps to the ground. We had to buy wooden stretchers to stretch our fur, and learn the basics on how to make a set. So all summer we collected what we needed. We bought what we couldn’t make ourselves. My husband is a very handy welder and that helped us very much. We were going the distance on this. Together.
Our son was in school and we both had full-time jobs. We staked out public land and when the season started we were ready. Or so we thought. Trapping is a winter activity so we had to do everything in the dark. Get off work and go check out traps in the wind — sometimes rain — to find that they were empty. All the work and we weren’t catching anything.
It takes a lot of practice to be a successful trapper, just like hunting or fishing.
The three of us eventually caught a few coyotes. We skinned, fleshed and put them on the board to stretch. We were so proud and took 5 coyotes to our first fur auction. Now we hadn’t practiced the stretching of the fur. There’s no way to practice until you have them in hand. We did it all wrong. They looked terrible compared to the professionals. We didn’t give up and we got better and better every year.
I had given up my career and I didn’t know what to do with myself. That’s when I decided to concentrate on being a great trapper. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband and he was all for it. So I went off on my own and started small, but was successful. I trapped around our house on some small parcels of public land and I started to actually catch my target animals. I was learning and I was getting good! My husband also threw himself into learning. He read, watched videos, and talked with other trappers. Chance was always there for me to ask questions. He is my best trapping teacher and my biggest supporter. My son is also an amazing trapper. He is a natural. He also helps me more than words can say.
Now, all these years later I successful trap on my own.
A local rancher asked us to trap his two ranches. My husband and son trap one and I trap the other. This was my second season there and I did amazing. In two and a half months I caught 30 coyotes, a few foxes, and 2 bobcats.
My favorite species to trap is the coyote. They are incredibly smart creatures that I have a ton of respect for. Their success as a species comes from pure caution. They are skeptical of absolutely everything. The coyote is amazing.
What I love about trapping is, well, all of it.
Being a trapper I don’t get to walk into a blind and sit and wait to shoot a coyote or bobcat at so many yards, with a scope. I do hunt and hunting is great and I respect hunting in all ways, but trapping is different. I look for sign, I stake down a trap, I choose a lure, that I hope will interest them at that certain time of year, and I wait till the next day to see if all my choices, my time and my knowledge was able to get a wild animal to step on one two-inch circle in the middle of nowhere. It’s a rush each and every day.
Trapping is so important to me because it’s who I am. I’m a third generation Trapper. My son is the fourth generation. It’s important to me that the tradition goes on. I thought that as a trapper I was one of few, but have learned I’m not. Trappers are out there. There are a lot of us, we just tend to be introverts.
Trapping is a huge part of conservation.
While trapping on the ranch I have learned that I am able to keep the numbers of coyotes at a healthy amount. In doing so the rabbit population has soared. With healthy numbers of coyotes and high numbers of food sources for them, coyotes will eat what they are intended to eat and not prey on newborn calves. This makes for a successful year for a rancher. The number of quail in the area has also grown tremendously. These are facts that I’ve learned and these are the facts that I try to pass along.
My friend, Hellen Butt, and my husband have pushed and pulled me into sharing my knowledge. As a family, we are very involved in the New Mexico Trappers Association (NMTA). I am my District Director and my husband is the Vice President. I now travel around my district setting up our NMTA booth educating the public on how exactly trapping works and destroying many myths on how Trappers are cruel. Every year NMTA sets up a booth at an event sponsored by NWTF called Women in the Outdoors (WITO). It’s hosted by my wonderful friend Helen Butt (Las Cruces Longbeards).
It is so rewarding interacting with woman, educating, encouraging and empowering woman to go out and trap. I have learned that as a trapper my skills are very important to wildlife conservation and I love teaching any woman who wants to jump in my rig and start learning.