The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

June 29, 2013

Cross: Gopher paw caper provided more than pocket change

Anyone who has engaged in the spring ritual of trapping pocket gophers probably found the following news item that appeared on the Free Press website a week ago a bit intriguing:

PRESTON (AP) — A mother and her 18-year-old son from southeastern Minnesota are accused of stealing nearly $5,000 in frozen gopher feet and selling them for a bounty.

Now, I'm old enough to remember when a nickle would buy a candy bar or a $20 bill in your pocket was more than just walk-around money.

Admittedly, a dollar just isn't what it once was.

But even today, $5,000 still qualifies as a bit more than pocket change for most of us.

Certainly, it represents a whole lot of dead gophers.

The most intriguing question about the story of the purloined pocket gopher paws, it seemed to this former trapper, was how someone managed to gather up that many paws in the first place.

Either the trapper had found the mother lode of gopher habitat, was very, very good at capturing the critters or had been accumulated the paw collection over the years, making it a very strange savings account indeed.

For readers not members of the hook-and-bullet choir, perhaps an explanation of bounties is in order.

Once upon a time, most Minnesota counties and townships paid a bounties -- cash rewards ---  for encouraging its citizens to rid the countryside of certain critters deemed, rightly or wrongly, as public enemies.

To collect the bounty, the hunter/trapper/landowner was required to offer some kind of proof of the pest's demise-- key animal parts like a tail, the ears, paws, etc.

Years ago, species such as coyotes, foxes, and other predators with an inclination to dine on farmyard fowl or game birds like pheasants carried a bounty on their heads.

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