Watching him at work on the trapline, it's apparent he's been at it for a while. He reads the land and makes his plan. He never hurries, but his moves are careful and calculated, with no wasted motion.
Already, he's written two stories for Fur-Fish-Game magazine, the venerable outdoor publication. Dave Zeug, a retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation warden who lives in Shell Lake and Brule, helped Rankila by editing those stories.
Rankila acknowledges the help and advice he has received from others along the way.
"I look up to the old trappers," he said. "They have taught me things that would have taken me decades to learn."
Rankila peppers those mentors with queries, his mind open to learning all he can.
"He's not at all shy," Zeug said. "He takes the bull by the horns. When he wants to learn more about something, he'll ask somebody.
"I remember he wanted to catch an otter and didn't have any idea how to do it. He called me on his cell phone one day. He's standing in a tributary of the Brule. I can hear the water flowing. I was talking him through it, how to make an otter set. He had no idea how to catch one -- and he caught one."
Mark Lundgren, a taxidermist and a neighbor in Lake Nebagamon, also has taken Rankila under his tutelage.
"He opened his shop to me," Rankila said. "He taught me how to skin a fox and leave the paws on."
Lundgren once helped Rankila and his dad release a bobcat from a trap, which can be a dicey proposition.
"It's fun to help him," said Lundgren, who owns Lundgren's Taxidermy. "He's a good trapper. He's done real well on coyotes right off the bat. He's released I don't know how many bobcats."
Rankila already sees the big picture here.
"Hopefully, when I'm older someone will come to me for help," he said.
Then he was off to set a couple more beaver traps.
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