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Trapping Techniques of the Mountain Man (Page 3)

By: Kent Klein

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According to Osborne Russell, six traps were typically carried by a trapper in a sack: "A trappers equipment in such cases is generally one animal upon which is places one or two ephshemores a riding saddle and a bridle a sack containing six beaver traps..."(6)

According to Captain Bonneville, trappers became proficient at locating beaver and places to set: "Practice has given such a quickness of eye to the experienced trapper in all that relates to his pursuit, that he can detect the slightest sign of beaver, however wild; and although the lodge may be concealed by close thickets and over hanging willows, he can generally, at a single glance, make an accurate guess at the number of its inmates."(7)

Two firsthand accounts left by mountainmen Joseph L. Meek and Osborne Russell explain how traps were used;

"The trapper extracts this substance (castorum) from the gland and carries it in a wooden box he sets his trap in the water near the bank about 6 inces below the surfaces throws a handful of mud on the bank about one foot from it and puts a small portion of the castorum thereon after night the beaver comes out of his lodge smells the fatal bait 2 or 300 yards distant and steers his course directly for it he hastens to ascend the bank but the trap grasps his foot and soon drowns him in his struggle to escape..."(8)

Also: The trapper has an ordinary steel trap weighing five pounds, attached to a chain five feet long, with a swivel and ring at the end, which plays round what is called a float. A dry stick of wood, about six feet long. The trapper wades out into the stream, which is shallow, and cuts with his knife a bed for the trap, five or six inches under water. He then takes the float out the hole length of the chain in the direction of centre of the stream, and drives it into the mud, so fast that the beaver cannot draw it out; at the same time tying the other end by a thong to the bank. A small stick or twig, dipped in musk or caster (taken from the long glands just beneath a beavers skin in front of the genital organs) serves for bait, and is placed so as to hang directly above the trap, which is now set. The trapper then throws water plentifully over the adjacent bank to conceal any foot prints or scent by which the beaver would be alarmed and going to some distance wades out of the stream. In setting the trap, several things are to be observed with care:- First, that the trap is firmly fixed, and the proper distance from the bank- for if the beaver can get on shore with the trap, he will cut off his foot to escape: Secondly, that the float is of dry wood, for should it not be, the little animal will cut it off at a stroke and swimming with the trap to the middle of the dam, be drowned by its weight. In the latter case, when the hunter visits his traps in the morning, he is under the necessity of plunging into the water and swimming out to dive for the missing trap, and his game."(9)

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