Joe Bambenek


Joe Bambenek


Hometown: Winona, MN

Joe was born in Winona, MN around the time of the Great Depression on the lakeshore of Lake Winona. Joe jokes and often says he actually grew up “on” the lake as he would spend 12-15 hours a day out on the lake itself during his early years. In the summer it was fishing and swimming, in the fall it was fishing and trapping, finally followed by the winter with more fishing and playing hockey.

Joe got his start trapping after watching his brothers come home from a large marsh on the lake with muskrats they had caught. He immediately fell in love with the furs his brothers brought home. Joe soon realized he could make a few dollars plus put some meat on the table and that was all it took to completely hook him. At the age of 8, he started trapping and has been doing it ever since.

His brothers helped him get started and influenced him as a beginning trapper. Soon, however, Joe had heard about fox trapping and yearned to catch a fox. After many struggles of trying to catch a fox, he managed to get one. Not knowing how to kill it, he took it to the lake and drowned it! He continued to catch a fox now and then, but really did not catch onto it until a local trapper by the name of Frank Breza offered to take Joe on his fox trap line with him for a day. Joe jumped at the chance and kept his eyes and ears open, taking in everything Mr. Breza said like a sponge. To say he was influenced by Mr. Breza would be an understatement as Joe went on to catch 157 foxes that season after riding along that day on the fox line.

Joe has many memories of the trap line, but the one that stands out to him is of himself as a young boy trapping muskrats. At that time, shoulder gauntlets weren’t heard of and even if they were Joe would not have been able to afford to get a pair. Due to this, when setting and checking muskrat traps, Joe was forced to do it the old-fashioned way by pulling up his sleeve and plunging his bare arm into the cold water to set or check his traps. He still remembers how his arm would burn and sting from the cold as he would pull it cherry red from the cold water!

Joe has always enjoyed trapping canines as he consistently took 200-300 foxes a season after learning from Frank Breza how to trap them. This continued until the mange and the coyotes moved into his area and cut the fox population down to nothing. Of course, this did not stop Joe and he made the switch to coyotes, becoming very proficient at catching them. In fact, after fighting the cold and snow got to be too much for Joe to put up with anymore, he started migrating south to Texas every winter to trap coyotes down there where the weather didn’t play the role it did up here in Minnesota. He says he will continue to go south and catch dry coyotes as long as he is able.

When Joe wasn’t busy trapping, fishing, or doing other outdoor things, he managed to contribute and give back to trapping which has been so good to him. A member of the MTA since the early 60s, he has helped over the years at countless conventions and other MTA functions. Along with this, he started setting up a trapper’s booth at the Winona Co. fair, organized a highway pick-up in the area, talked to local school kids about the importance of trapping, and volunteered his time however he could. Joe also has another title that many know him as and that is the “Popcorn Man” from his years of running a popcorn stand at the MTA conventions every year.

Joe states he has always thought trapping and being involved in the MTA have been a positive experience and he will continue to be involved with both as long as he is able.

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