Trapping the Otter
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Trapping the Otter

Trapping the Otter


Trapping the Otter

Undoubtedly the otter is the hardest water animal to trap that we faithful trappers have to contend with, for in addition to a sagacity and cunning second to no other animal, he is of a roving habit.

The male otter, in particular, has no fixed home except for a short time in the breeding season, but meanders aimlessly from one lake, swamp or stream to another, pausing for a short time whenever he finds comfortable quarters and ample diet, then pushing on again at his pleasure for "pastures new;" always idle and inconsiderate of the rights of others—in a word, he is the veritable "tramp" of the fur bearing kingdom. The female is less of a wandering disposition, usually remaining with the young until the arrival of another mating season; the trapper who chances upon a domestic circle of this kind has a good thing in store if he but manages rightly. But he must be cautious, for the otter's eye is sharp and his nose surprisingly quick to catch the dreaded man scent. Its head is broad and flat, with very small ears set far apart. Its legs are hard, short with feet webbed, and are apparently set upon its side, which gives it an awkward and waddling appearance when travelling on land, which they do very little except when travelling from one water system to another. When there is a good tracking snow, these land trips afford the trapper a good opportunity to learn their crossings, and to know just which lakes or streams they are using. Watch close to see where they leave one stream and where they enter another for there is a good place for your trap. Although a great rover, an otter will seem to have a certain beat, miles in extent, which he covers with more or less regularity, returning time after time to the same spot unless trapped.

It would be useless to try to give all the successful ways of trapping the otter, for they are as many as the different circumstances under which they are met.

A good method of setting for otter, whether there be one about or a dozen, is to find an old log crosswise a narrow stream about four or five inches under water, then drive old stakes and brush, taken from the bottom of the stream, along beside it so as to completely barricade the stream except for a space of about six inches at the center, where a No. 3 or 4 Newhouse trap should be placed, the log having been flattened sufficiently to afford it a secure resting place. Swamp grass or moss caught among the stakes and brush and allowed to float over the trap will usually be a sufficient covering. It would be well to prepare the places several months before the trapping season. Whenever possible make your sets by deep, dark pools, and arrange by means of the sliding pole to usher your victim under water immediately. If you have left a few stubs along the pole, so that the ring cannot slip back after passing over them, and firmly secure it to the bottom or under some rock or root, he will soon drown, causing very little disturbance.

If your set is so situated that it is inconvenient to use the sliding pole, drive a good solid stake beneath the surface of the water, and loop your chain around the stake. Last, but not least, get an old water-soaked pole from the bottom of the stream, and lay across the trap chain, between the stake and trap. He will get the trap chain entangled around the pole and stake, which will be a great help in preventing him from digging or pulling out the stake.

If you have used a good heavy trap, and-have plenty of water he will drown, which is always desirable, for one animal spending several hours struggling to escape from a trap will do more to create alarm among its brethren, whether it free itself or not, than will half a dozen properly disposed of. The great difficulty in trapping otter arises from the fact that he is so long in body and so short in the legs, and travels by sliding much of the time, instead of walking, that he is likely to spring the trap with his body, or else slide over without springing the trap. A very good set for the otter is where they leave the stream to go around an obstruction, such as a mill-dam or bridge, or where they leave one stream to cross over to another. A trap properly set at a place of this kind is about sure to catch, as an otter always lands feet first. In winter, they will be found around falls, rapids, airholes, and spring water where the open water affords them a chance to fish. If you know of such places to be much used, place several traps around it, just when a storm is coming up, and if the otter does not get along until the} are covered with snow, you stand a good chance of getting one. A few of the young and less cunning may be taken at airholes by putting a trap in the holes, resting it on stakes driven into the bottom; but very few of the old fellows will be fooled in this way. Every one knows their habit of making slides. If you attempt to trap them on these, find where they leave the water. Fish is the best bait but get along without bait if possible, and in every and case use the utmost caution.

A good size otter will weigh twenty pounds or a little better; will be all of four feet in length from tip to tip, will stretch six inches in width at the neck and about nine at the root of the tail, and will stretch about five feet five inches in length. They are cased about the same as a mink with the exception of the tail, which is split the entire length, and is stretched out in the shape of the letter V, being about two-thirds of the width of the body at the root of the tail, which will be a little better than a foot and a half in length when stretched. . A good prime northern otter of the above description is worth in the neighborhood of twenty dollars, so you see, brother trappers, the otter is a valuable piece of fur, but do not be in a hurry to count your money. Better wait until you have caught your game. Ever remember the word "caution" and success will crown your efforts.

H. E. Dille

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