by Shaun Tilghman
Bill Haywood and his 17-year-old son Canaan spent the last weekend in July doing what they do most weekends: hunting and trapping snapping turtles. The weekend went a little differently, however, as Nate “Coyote” Peterson, host of the online nature series “Breaking Trail,” joined the father-son turtle-trapping duo from Laketon.
According to Bill, he developed a fascination with snapping turtles when he was 10 years old, and at that time he started hunting them as well. “I had heard the story about the giant turtle they had in a lake up in Churubusco, and I wanted to catch the biggest one anybody had ever heard of,” said Bill.
“After hunting and searching, and feeling through the mud and rivers, and catching them by hand, I knew I had to catch a lot more to ever find one that big,” he continued. “So, my dad and I came up with a trap that would catch turtles safely and not harm them – it was very effective. Since then, Canaan and I have modified the traps to make them even better.”
Canaan added, “I’ve been around it ever since I can remember, but I actually started trapping with my dad last year. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about trap location and how important that is, but knowing how to handle the turtles is definitely something you have to learn because I actually got bit this year. I kind of lost my concentration for a minute and that’s all it takes – you take your eyes off of them for a second and you’re going to get bit.”
Bill and Canaan have been gaining notoriety based on the unbelievable size of the snappers they’ve caught in the area. In fact, last July, an author named Ben Romans, from Utah, wrote an article about them for “Field & Stream.”
After the article came out, Bill received an email from Coyote, who is the host of three nature series – “The Reptile Show”, “Swamp Monsters”, and “Breaking Trail”. Like Bill, Coyote became fascinated with animals and nature at an early age, and he actually captured his first 40-pound snapping turtle when he was eight years old.
Coyote, who is from Newbury, Ohio, earned a degree in filmmaking from Ohio State University, then combined that with his love for animals and his desire for adventure. He and his crew spent years promoting his motto, “Education through Adventure”, with independent films, and this spring they signed with Discovery Digital Networks (DDN), which is the online video equivalent of the Discovery Channel. “Breaking Trail” will begin airing this fall on the DDN channel called Animalist, and Coyote says they plan to do a different snapping turtle adventure each season, which is why he thought this area was a natural fit for the show.
Once Coyote contacted Bill, they setup the weekend that the crew would come visit the area and hunt. “Discovery asked us to have an assortment of turtles for them to look at and to take pictures of for educational purposes,” Bill explained.
“So, we caught nearly 80 snapping turtles over three weekends, and we sorted them out and released them as went. We caught some giants that we knew they’d really like to see, and we kept those in our habitat pool. I would like to thank the landowners that let us hunt their properties – Kent French, Ed French, Dan Hatfield, Greg Hobbs, Dave Williams, and others – especially since we’ve been allowed to hunt Lost Lake.”
According to Bill, the folklore associated with Lost Lake is that the Indians named it that because it has a soft, peat bottom that makes it a very dangerous place. “I heard about it when I was a kid, but I didn’t know where it was,” he added. “It’s only been in the last couple years that I discovered where it was at, who owned it, and how to get in there. It’s over one-half mile from the road and it’s a really scenic drive on an old, unused trail.”
“Discovery really liked hearing about Lost Lake and the Indian folklore, which was that they would send hunters in there and they wouldn’t come back,” Bill continued. “They were really excited about coming to hunt that lake with us, so we saved it until they got here. Our technique is trapping turtles, so we set a few traps just before they arrived and we caught quite a few to show them. Those turtles were going to be used for educational purposes, but they did a lot of filming around the lake trying to record Coyote during a ‘capture scene’.
“Between the cloud cover and the foliage and the lily pads, he was unsuccessful in finding a turtle to capture while they were here. So, they plan to return in the spring to try again before the lily pads are up. They’re very truthful in their filming in that they only want a capture scene where Coyote actually caught the turtle in the scene. They didn’t want to use one that we caught and act like he caught it or anything like that – they were going to do it right or not do it at all. So, it goes to show how honest ‘Breaking Trail’ is as a show, and we thought that was very cool.”
Coyote said he was intrigued when he heard that they were catching “monster snapping turtles” in the area and he had to come check it out. “It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed learning about Bill and Canaan’s technique while watching them check their traps,” Coyote added.
“I was impressed with the turtles they caught in their traps, but unfortunately I was not as successful using my method,” he explained. “I prefer to catch the turtles naturally – with my bare hands – but I don’t have any problems with the way they catch and release the turtles because it was all done in a very safe manner. Coming during this time of year was somewhat of an experiment for us, but I’m determined to come back in the spring and catch a monster snapper with my bare hands so we can feature it on the show.”
Both Bill and Canaan had nothing but positive things to say about their guests, which included Coyote’s crew: Mark Laivins, producer and cameraman; Melissa Feldner, producer and photographer; and Chance Ross, director of photography.
“For them to want to come here and hunt snapping turtles with us was just an unreal experience,” Canaan said.
“When we found out Discovery wanted to come here and do this, I thought it was something the whole community could be excited about,” Bill added. “We were pretty much behind-the-scenes guys; we took them to the lake, we guided them through the area, and we showed them our technique. They were very nice people, very down-to-earth type people. It’s pretty cool that they came to hunt with us, and even more so that they want to come back again in the spring.”
Coyote echoed the positivity with many kind words of his own regarding his hosts, the community, and the hunting area. “The size of the turtles that they are catching there is proof that the ecosystem is awesome for producing turtles of epic proportions,” he said. “Lost Lake is basically the perfect habitat because it is virtually free of pollution – it’s one of the purest locations I’ve ever been to.”
“Overall, it was great being there, and the entire community was very welcoming,” Coyote concluded. “I really enjoyed getting to work with Bill and Canaan, and I know my entire team enjoyed it as well. It’s really great to be able to form a friendship with people that share your interests, who not long ago you were just contacting for the first time. We’re all really looking forward to getting together in the spring and trying this again.”