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Trapping Techniques of the Mountain Man

By: Kent Klein

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     Kent is an avid re-enactor and trapper, who has for some time now been experimenting with the techniques of Beaver trapping used by the Mountain Men. He is also a first-rate hide tanner, and author of the book Tan Your Hide the Alum Way.- Jason W. Gatliff

Of the varied aspects pertaining to the fur trade in the Rocky Mountains, One area which has perhaps not received much attention, is the tools and methods used by the Mountain Men in pursuit of beaver pelts.

Those who ventured west in pursuit of beaver learned to trap in the east or learned by trial and error along the way. Soldiers in the Lewis and Clark Expedition were allowed to trap for beaver for their own personal gain.

Lewis and Clark in their journal entries noted the abundance of beaver along the Corps of Discovery: "There was a remarkably large beaver caught by one of the party last night. These animals are now very abundant".(1) Indeed, members of the expedition were allowed to trap beaver for their pelts and as for food.:

"There were three beaver taken this morning by the party. The men prefer the flesh of this animal to that of any other which we have. . . .I eat very heartily of the beaver myself and think it excellent; particularly the tale and the liver."(2)

The basic methods used to trap beaver, using the steel jawed foot hold trap, did not appear to change much throughout the mountain man era.

Beaver castor and castorium, contained in the oil sacs, were saved and used to entice the beaver into the trap sets. The liquid castorium was usually carried in a hollowed out piece of wood or horn with a stopper in it, suspended around the neck of the trapper with a leather thong.

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