Few others like George Michaud keep alive the ancient skills of outdoor survival
By Christopher Nyerges 09/30/2010
For years I had heard of George Michaud, a trapper who lived in the mountains and drove a dog team to get to his traps. I finally met Michaud (pronounced “Mi-show”) and had a chance to sit down with him in his tipi to chat about his life.
Michaud, who grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., tells me, “I’ve always wanted to live in the mountains.” He explains that his mother sparked his interest in survival. “She taught me to how to find water by looking at the mountains to see if there are a lot of green trees at the base. She taught me that if I was lost, I should follow the river downstream. And she taught me to stay on a ridge at night.”
Michaud’s mother came to Colorado in a covered wagon in the early 1900s. She was living with her grandparents. His great-grandfather was in the Oklahoma land rush and met his great-grandmother on a reservation there. They eventually sold the land and moved to Colorado.
“In 1961, at age 13, I was living in Fort Collins,” says Michaud. “My uncle Felix and my great-uncle Kit were trappers at the time. I met a kid in junior high who said let’s go trapping, and we went on bicycles to set traps, and then we went back at 4 a.m. to check on them. There on a beaver dam set was the first muskrat I had ever seen up close,” says Michaud, explaining how that event fed his interest in a life of trapping in the mountains.
“I got to go trapping in North Park with a friend and his dad one spring break, and that was it for me. I wanted to move to North Park and trap beaver. The area is wild and rugged. It was everything I wanted in a place to trap. After high school, I started trapping in the wilderness a little at a time. At first it was scary being out there by myself, but the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. If I made a mistake, I would die because no one knew exactly where I was — not even the game warden who issued my beaver permits. The warden’s parting words were ‘I’ll see you in the spring,’ which meant they wouldn’t even come looking for me until spring.”
As a full-time trapper, Michaud currently resides in Idaho, trapping mostly beaver and pine martin in the winter and driving his dog team to check his trap lines in the Tetons.
In the summer, he tans the hides of the deer and antelope that he trapped during the winter.
In the winter of 1987, Michaud was doing dog sled tours out of Jackson, Wyo. While driving down the main road, Dave Wescott saw him and asked Michaud about doing some classes with BOSS (Boulder Outdoor Survival School). Wescott came to visit Michaud when a game warden dropped off a moose killed on the road. “It wasn’t moose season, but yet there was a dead moose in the driveway,” explains Michaud. “David came in and I showed him a video that Channel 9 news had shot while I lived in Colorado. We talked for a bit and later I went to work with David in Idaho, teaching trapping, winter survival and dog sledding.
“Wescott told me to attend an annual event called Rabbit Stick,” explains Michaud. Rabbit Stick was originally started by Larry Dean Olsen, author of “Outdoor Survival Skills.” Michaud went to the event, loved it and has never missed one since. He teaches brain-tanning, leatherworking, winter survival skills and dog sledding.
As a trapper, Michaud makes his living by selling furs at auctions. When he shares the skills of trapping, he teaches how to kill the animal quickly and humanely using both modern and primitive methods. He will also teach how to set up traps and snares, where to find animals and how to track.
One year at Rabbit Stick, Michaud says he and other instructors were discussing what started their interest in primitive skills. Almost all of them became interested as children in primitive skills after reading “Indian Crafts and Lore” by Ben W. Hunt.
“His books showed us how to do projects using easily obtainable items that looked like the real thing, including tipis. In fact, I used the pattern in Hunt’s book for the first tipi I ever made,” Michaud says.
Christopher Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” “Enter the Forest,” “How to Survive Anywhere” and “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills.” He has been leading wild food outings since 1974. A schedule of his classes is available from the School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, Calif., 90041, or online at christophernyerges.com.