Monday, March 15, 2010

Living Off of the Land: How one family has become conservationists

Returning from a morning of boiling and carrying sap from seventeen maple trees they tapped on their property in the Pocono mountains to their make shift sugar shack, is just one of the many outdoor activities that the Grimm children have engaged in. Whether they’re feeding the animals, checking their traps or sitting out in the woods waiting for a deer, the Grimm family is always outside doing something. Hunting has always been a significant part of the Grimm family’s life. The father, John Grimm’s love of the sport was birthed at a young age. He recalls waiting excitedly as a child for his Dad to return home from the family hunting camp. As his Grandfather’s old station wagon pulled into the driveway, Grimm vividly remembers what he saw laying in the back. “I can remember looking into the back of the station wagon and seeing anywhere from one to six or seven deer laying head first towards the tail gate, all bucks as my Father’s hunting crew only hunted bucks. I would dream of the day that I would be able to accompany my Father, Grandfather, uncles, cousins and my big brother on trips to the woods in search of deer.”

The Grimm family takes hunting seriously. When John was a child, he remembers their family hiring a cook for the week while they hunted at the camp. “We would return exhausted at days end from a very physically demanding hunt,” says John. Someone who had a hot meal prepared and waiting for them was a necessity.
The game that was shot by his family members was used to provide food for their family, hunting was never “just” a sport. “Hunting is a sport in every sense of the word,” says John. “But it never was ‘just’ a sport to me. I played sports growing up and had success at them, but hunting goes further than chasing a ball or challenging your body and mind. I hope that hunting will be a life long sport for me… and the exhilaration is multi-dimensional.” John loves the challenge of varied and unpredictable weather conditions, and game densities changing from year to year. “The only way to be successful is to know the game, the habits they practice and the weaknesses in their survival instincts and abilities,” says John. This love and passion for the outdoor sport is something Grimm has sought to pass along to his children and weave into the fabric of their family life. The Grimm family are conservationists, living on a 53-acre property in the Poconos, Pa. Growing their own vegetables, raising livestock and hunting and trapping on their property are just a few of the ways the Grimm’s are working to save money, improve their quality of life, and also enjoy the things and resources that have been given to them.

(John with a buck, Photo credit: Grimm family)

Hunting has provided a major source of food for the Grimm family. “We dress and butcher all of our own game,” says Zane, a solid, sturdy 15-year-old standing at well over 6’. Zane has learned the tricks of the trade by his Dad’s side from a very young age. “We cut or grind the meat and then wrap and store it in three outdoor freezers. We’ve also canned venison which is a delight mid-winter,” says Zane. Grimm’s wife Peg has learned to become creative and innovative with her cooking for the family. “When we don’t have beef grown on our own property, we exchange venison for any beef in a recipe,” says Peg. “One of our favorites is venison chipsteaks, which is made like Philadelphia cheesesteaks. Men especially seem to like jerky from the venison steaks, and I really like venison steaks on the grill.” Venison is a low fat meat as compared to beef, which is another benefit to cooking with it more often. Peg works hard to supply the family with hearty, healthy meals, though their menu may not reflect the cuisine of the average American. “We have made rabbit stew as well as squirrel pot pie before,” says Peg as 13-year-old daughter Meg chimes in, “the strangest dish we have made was turtle stew!”

(Zane with a turkey, Photo credit: Grimm family)

Hunting and trapping has also served as an educational experience for the Grimm family. Homeschooling all three of their children, John and Peg seek to find the lessons in life experiences for the kids. “This is an excellent way to learn observation skills of wildlife habits,” says Peg. “The details of what each of the kids experience and observe while being in the woods of plant life, wild life, fungi and tree growth, tracks etc always amazes me.” Peg admits she struggled early on with the amount of time, effort and attention that John and the kids’ hobby (now turned business venture) was eating up. Around this time, Peg decided to join her son Zane on one of his trips to check traps. A trip had to be made on the back of a four-wheeler every 24-hours out into a swamp. The Grimm’s neighbor had asked them to remove a troublesome beaver from the swamp. “My mind was boggled at how Zane knew where exactly to place the trap and then how to remember where he had put it the next day, in such an enormous swamp,” says Peg. “It was the study of the animal habits both in the outdoors and much research from books and magazines and men of good reputation in furbearer trapping that determined his work.”

The Grimm family has also learned valuable life lessons and skills as a result from their conservationist lifestyle. “Hunting and trapping has taught me a lot on the importance of patience, perseverance observation, learning from my mistakes and not giving up,” says John. The rest of the family echo that hunting and trapping has taught them patience overall.

As an additional source of income, the Grimm family has spent a significant amount of time trapping in order to sell animal pelts and other animal body parts. “You have to find a fur buyer who is the middle man for a fur auction,” says Zane. “My pelts have gone to Canada for Fur Harvesters Auction which has international buyers of furs. Your income impact depends on the fur market and economy and personal harvest numbers and fur quality.” These may seem like big statements from a fifteen-year-old, but this boy knows what he’s talking about. “My best year was sixty-eight muskrat, forty-eight beaver, and three otter which brought me about $800. The fur market and my pelt quality was really good that year,” says Zane. From a parent’s perspective, Peg loves to see success for her son and husband. “I loved seeing the completion of a successful furbearing season for Zane and John,” she says. “First, the reward of completion of a great work taste was a sense of pride and then to be compensated financially especially for a young man [Zane] for the great investment of time, effort, physical strength and study was really great.”

The Grimm’s initially became involved in the business when they were asked to do animal nuisance removal for neighbors and other landowners. Zane excitedly recalls one of his most exciting trapping experiences. “I caught two very large beaver in a neighbors’ swamp in foothold traps.” A foothold trap is designed to catch an animal by the foot. Used to restrain the animal, foothold traps are ideal because they are easy to disguise both on land and under water.

“The beaver had been putting sticks through our Conibear body gripping traps to intentionally trip the trap and avoid getting caught. It was really exciting to finally catch the beaver in footholds after so many failed attempts. Beavers are really powerful and smart animals and our traps were successful in catching and holding the beavers,” says Zane. Most of the time the Grimm’s do animal nuisance removal because the land owner has land management goals that need to be met, or some other similar reason. Zane has also trapped muskrat in the past. “At one time when fur prices were high I was averaging nine muskrats a day. That’s a personal milestone for me,” says Zane.

One of the potentially most smelly jobs that the Grimm family has been involved in was skunk removal. Before moving to the Poconos, the Grimm’s lived on a 29-acre piece of property in upstate New York, along the St. Lawrence river. Living just down the road from the Grimm’s was the Vincent family. The Vincent’s had a large variety of animals just like the Grimm’s, and were having trouble with a skunk raiding their compost pile and visitng the family cat food dish on the back porch. The Grimm’s were called in to take care of the problem. “Seven skunks later we finished the job,” says Zane. “The skunk essence [spray] was removed from the skunk and used to make a long distance call lure to bring other fur bearing animals long distance to a trap set.” So basically in non-hunting language, the skunk spray was used to attract other animals to traps that had been set. Animals such as raccoons, fox and coyote are attracted to the smell of the skunk. “Many archers use the skunk essence for a cover cent for archery hunting for deer,” says Zane. “But we do not.”

Zane takes his trapping seriously. When he lived in New York state, Zane moved a little 10x12’ shed from a camp near his home that was getting rid of them, onto his property. Zane built a functioning woodstove and working benches into the shed to use to store his furs and pelts as he got them. “We’re hopeful to build on here in Pa this summer too,” says Zane. “I’m designing the plans for a 12x12’ building with a loft for storing furs until I can sell them to the fur buyer for auction.” This 15-year-old is ambitious and has big plans that he’s not afraid to make happen.
But despite all this talk about how much they love hunting, there are elements of hunting and trapping that even outdoor conservational enthusiasts like the Grimm’s find challenging and rather un-enjoyable. “The time it takes to do it well is probably the worst part about hunting for me,” says John. “I would really like to hunt in Alaska and other states for moose and elk but the financial resources to do so are unreachable at this point.” For Evan, waking up so early in the morning and then waiting to get a shot at the animal is the worst part, while Meg thinks the boys coming home smelling like a skunk is rather miserable. Zane, the ever positive hunting and trapping enthusiast boldly claims, “I do not think there is a worst part about hunting! And I enjoy the entire process of trapping from preparing traps, scanning territory and planning, setting traps, harvesting, skinning and fleshing, preparing pelts for sale.” Quite a remarkable claim from such a young man, yet his attitude and smile when he talks about the things he loves are undeniably convincing.

(L-R: Evan and Zane pose with some recent trappings. Photo credit: Grimm family)
This lifestyle that the Grimm family has chosen to live is a way of spending special time together as a family as well as being directly reflective of many of their personal beliefs. “Time spent in close comradery with family and friends while hunting is really important to me. I’ve been able to spend a significant amount of time with my children while we do this, and I have been able to see them become very successful,” says John. “The sport of hunting is very culturally misunderstood and obviously a big target for the so-called politically correct. However, I enjoy the traditions associated with hunting and the rights that are given in the second amendment to the citizen to bear arms.” Closely tied to this is the Grimm family’s belief in God and Him as the Creator of the universe. “What I’ve learned most of all from hunting is that creation makes plain to me the greatness of the Creator, and I am so blessed to enjoy it,” says John. “Our lives exist to prove who or what we will worship. When it comes to hunting as most other forms of environment oriented activity, it is about either the Creator or the creation.” This belief in God is the foundation upon which the Grimm family builds everything else.

The Grimm family loves the outdoors and places great value in the privilege they have been given to enjoy the creation. Using the resources they have been given to provide for themselves, they will continue learning and working hard in order to provide for the family all the while strengthening their bonds between themselves, God, and the world they live in.

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