WIDE SPREADING JAWS
Occasionally I see in H-T-T, trappers advocating a large spreading trap, writes an experienced Canadian trapper, and some even go so far as to invite the trap manufacturers to make still wider ones than are now on the market. My experience in trapping, which was varied and extended over a number of years, is that it's a mistake to have a trap that catches the animals too high up.
The best and most enduring hold a trap can have on an animal is the paw or just above where it joins the bottom of the leg. I have found this with beaver, foxes, marten, lynx, bear, and in fact all animals I have caught. Just above and the paw itself is a mass of sinews and muscle enveloped with a stronger skin than any part of the leg, and therefore must give more resistance. I have found a fox that was caught in a No. 2 Newhouse after three nights' struggle as secure as if newly seized. The jaws having closed securely across the thick part of the forepaw.
Again from a shortness of a proper sized trap I once set a No. 4, for a fox. The fox was caught between midnight and daylight, and when I visited the trap at the latter limit (six o'clock), it was high time, for another half hour of struggling and the fox would have been clear and away. The jaws had caught him half way up the foreleg and snapped the bone like a pipe shank. With his twisting and leaping there only remained a strip of skin and one tendon that kept him prisoner.
For mink I have found a No. 0 trap, if carefully set with proper precaution, is as good and lucky as a No. 1 or 1 1/2 trap, as some trappers advocate. I used a bunch on a considerable sized lake last fall. The lake had numerous small creeks and rivers falling into it. At the junction of these with the lake I set my traps. They were all No. 0 selected on account of their lightness. As there was a long carry to get to the lake from a traveled route and added to the canoe, my gun, blanket and provisions, the traps were somewhat of a consideration, and I therefore took the one of less weight. I made two visits to the lake before it froze and got twenty mink, one marten and a female fisher.
When I made a water set I saw that the bank outside went down pretty bold and I always tied a stone to the trap and thus insured the animal drowning. Where I set on land without fail I attached the chain to a tossing pole, thereby preventing the fur being damaged by mice or the animal being eaten by some other. Some may question the possibility of such small traps being for any length of time in order as a water set, but I must explain. The lake was of considerable size and the season the latter part of October. Such a lake at that season of the year is not subject to any fluctuations in the height of water.
I may say in conclusion about this particular sized trap that on that trapping tour I only lost one mink, I found the trap sprung with a single toe in the jaws. The trap had been a dry set one, and by reading the signs I found some snow had melted and dripped from an overhanging branch on to the junctions of the jaws. This had frozen (the trap being in the shade) and prevented its usual activity. As a consequence It only caught on as the mink was in the act of lifting his foot, so I was satisfied it was the circumstances and not the fault of the trap that caused the missing of this mink.
Another undesirable point about any trap is to have the springs too powerful for its intended use. One only wants a trap's jaws to close up sudden enough and to hold what it catches secure against any possibility of the animal withdrawing its foot. Once you have this it's all that's required or necessary. A trap with springs with a strength out of reason is awkward and vexatious to open, and when the animal is caught goes on with its continued pressure until the jaws of their own action almost sever the paw or leg, and the animal with very little struggling finishing the amputation.
I knew an Indian once who had a bear trap which was not much larger in spread than a No. 4 trap. An ordinary man by placing a foot on each spring could set it, and yet that trap was his most reliable one. He had others too, but he took his "Davy" on that. It acted like that celebrated motto, "What we have, we hold."
This trap was made from his own directions, and he had the jaws at their inner edge three-quarters of an inch thick and bevelled off to a quarter of an inch at the outer sides. As he aptly put it — "I want the trap to hold the bear until I go there and shoot it, not to chop off its foot."
Another point about a bear trap that I consider could be remedied with advantage to the trapper, is to have the ordinary chains lengthened by a few links. It is not always possible to place the drag stick close up to the open trap, but where the chain is longer no difficulty would be found. A few more links would add very little to the weight or cost.
To a lone trapper setting bear traps miles away from any human beings, it's a tricky and dangerous job. I consider a man so situated should, as a precaution, carry one of those patent clamps for depressing the springs, in his pocket. I am aware some do not use them, as they consider them too slow, preferring a couple of short levers jammed under a root and pressed down with the knees while the hands open the jaws and place the trigger. Others use a piece of stout cord to tie down one spring, while with their weight on the other the jaws fall apart.
But accidents will happen to the most careful persons; by some inadvertence he might get caught by the hand or thoughtlessly step into it, and if he did not perish would have considerable difficulty in getting out, while with a cool head and a clamp within reach he could promptly free himself. I knew one man who lost his life in a bear trap and another who had almost succumbed to his suffering when found and released. There are three things with a trapper's life that I was always extremely polite and careful with — a bark canoe, a bear trap, and a gun. I handled these for forty years but never fooled with them.
Had the Indian mentioned used the celebrated Newhouse traps, we feel sure that he would have found no cause to complain. While to some trappers the springs may sometimes appear to be too stiff, yet the face of the jaws are wide and as the manufacturers are always in correspondence with bear and other trappers, there is no question but that they know and are now manufacturing what meets the views of the majority of trappers.
We believe that of some sizes they are making the face of the jaws even wider than formerly.
The Newhouse bear traps are furnished with bear chain, clevis and bolt, illustrated and described under Newhouse Traps, but briefly described here. This chain is five feet long and with clevis can be fastened around any log which the trapper will want to use.
One thing must be born in mind, viz: That when traps are set, they are covered, and should severe weather follow, freezing this covering, it requires a stiff spring to throw the jaws together quickly. Our belief is that more large animals escape from traps too weak than from the too strong ones. Yet there are times, no doubt, when had the spring been weaker and the face of the jaws wider, the results would have been fully as satisfactory.
Harding, A. R. Steel Traps. Columbus, OH: A.R. Harding Pub., 1907. Print.
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