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Beaver Trapping – 18th century style

In my last blog post, I showed a trap that Allen Harrison recently made for me. My main reason for getting this trap (and another of a different style that he is currently finishing up) is/was to have it for demonstration and teaching events, where I will display it with other historic and trapping equipment. Although it is supposed to be a prop (as are most items, clothing, and gear in reenacting), I can’t help but want to use them for their original purpose. Perhaps this is because my interest in reenacting started not only with a love of history but a love of historic skills and I have a skills focus OR… perhaps it is because I dislike the “acting” part of the word reenACTING. I want to “portray” me when I reenact and teach what I know and do. Conversly… I also like to live in the 21st century much of what I reenact

Anyway, last week, with warmer than usual temps and the fact that around us, the beavers tend to stay in the creeks (our hilly terrain has few ponds and mainly creeks/rivers and marsh), I had a chance to do some open water trapping. I found one good spot that had a somewhat shallower area near the bank where beavers had come on land and where I could put the trap. I took a pealed stick and dipped it in my lure bottle (1806 Lewis and Clark recipe with castors from the beavers I snared this fall). The chain was staked out in the deeper middle of the creek (at this spot, the creek is hardly 6 feet wide but is 5 feet deep, starting at almost the bank). This method of setting trap for beaver is seen in a variety of historical records.

From “Account of Beaver” by Jeremy Belknap in the British Review Vol. XII from 1774
“… the hunter sets his steel spring trap, which is previosuly scented with beaver oil. Sometimes he raises a heap of mud, or peels little sticks, and having scented them, sets them up at the edge of the pond, placing the trap underwater, near the mud or sticks.”

From The Adventures of Captain Bonneville by Washington Irving, 1837
“He now goes to work to set his trap; planting it upon the shore, in some chosen place, two or three inches below the surface of the water, and secures it by a chain to a pole set deep in the mud. A small twig is then stripped of its bark, and one end is dipped in the “medicine,” as the trappers term the peculiar bait which they employ. This end of the stick rises about four inches above the surface of the water, the other end is planted between the jaws of the trap. The beaver, possessing an acute sense of smell, is soon attracted by the odor of the bait. As he raises his nose toward it, his foot is caught in the trap. In his fright he throws a somerset into the deep water. The trap, being fastened to the pole, resists all his efforts to drag it to the shore; the chain by which it is fastened defies his teeth; he struggles for a time, and at length sinks to the bottom and is drowned.”
Next morning I hiked in and checked. The trap was gone! I felt around the stake a little with my ice chisel but could not feel the trap. I pulled the stake and could feel the chain connected to the bottom. I pulled in the stake and chain and with it a medium to smaller (24″ from nose to base of tail) female beaver.
I reset the trap and two days later had caught another beaver. This one was slightly smaller (about 22″ from nose to base of tail) and a male.
Anyway, my compliments to Allen Harrison on making a historic trap that isn’t just a wallhanger but actually works for its intended purpose. I can not wait to see the double longspring he is making and I am sure it will also get put to good use.

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