The marten is a shy and wary animal, withdrawing itself as far as possible from the sight of man, and building its habitation in the tops of trees, often seizing on the ready nest of some squirrel or bird, and adapting it to its purposes.
[Page 193] It is a night prowler, and in the dark hours it traverses the trunks and branches of the trees in search of its prey. It moves with wonderful stealth and activity, and is enabled by its rapid and silent approach to steal unnoticed on many an unfortunate bird or squirrel, seizing it in its deadly grip before the startled creature can think to escape. Coming across a bird's nest, it makes sad havoc with the eggs or young, often adding the parent bird to his list of victims. Rabbits, partridges, and mice also fall into the marten's "bill of fare," and the list is often further increased by a visit to a poultry yard, when the animal murders and eats all it can and kills the rest for sport. In pouncing upon its prey, the marten invariably seizes its victim by the throat, often dispatching the luckless creature with a single bite.
The martens generally are said to be very susceptible to human influence when taken young, and are very lively in a state of domestication. They are among the most graceful of animals, and in place of the disagreeable scent which renders many of their tribe offensive, this creature possesses an odor which is quite agreeable, and for this reason is often called the sweet marten in contradistinction to the foul marten or pole cat of Britain, which is like unto our skunk in the disgusting stench which it exhales.
The dead-fall and Garrote traps are very successful in trapping the martin. They should be set several rods apart, in the forest or on the banks of streams, and a trail established by dragging a dead or roasted crow, entrails of a bird, or fresh meat from one trap to another, as described in relation to the mink, page 190. The twitch-up may also be used, and possesses the additional advantage of acting as a spring pole, thus holding the captured victim out of reach of larger animals, to which it might otherwise become a prey. Any of the varieties described under the title of "twitch-up" will answer the purpose, and a little experimenting will soon prove which one will be the most successful for this particular animal. The bait may consist of a bird's or fowl's head, fish, liver, or any fresh meat or entrails.
The common box trap, page 103, or the box snare, page 56, may also be used to good purpose, but the former will need to be carefully watched lest the enclosed prisoner gnaw his way out and thus escape.
When the steel trap is employed, it should be of the size of Newhouse, No. 2-1/2, set on the ground beneath some rock, [Page 194] and covered with leaves, rotten wood, or earth, and the bait fastened or suspended about eighteen inches above it, in such a position that the animal will be obliged to step upon the trap in order to reach it. An enclosure may be constructed of stones piled together, the trap being set and covered in the opening and the bait secured at the back. A staked pen, such as is described on page 143, with the trap and bait arranged as there directed, also works well. Wherever or however the trap is set, the bait should be so placed that the animal cannot possibly climb on any neighboring object to reach it. The hollow of a tree trunk forms an excellent situation for the trap, and the same hollow may also be baited at the back and a dead-fall constructed across its opening. The box or barrel pit-fall, described on page 127, is said to be very successful in trapping the marten, always baiting it with the platform secure for a few days before setting for capture. The same methods directed for the capture of the mink are also useful in trapping the marten. The animal should be skinned as described for the fox.
This animal is classed among the martens, and is principally to be found in Canada and the Northern United States, where it is known as the black cat, or woodshock. In our natural histories it is described under the name of the pekan.
In general habits, this species resembles the other martens, but its body inclines more to the weasel shape. The fur is quite valuable, and much resembles the sable. Its color is generally of a greyish brown, the grey tint being found chiefly on the back, neck, head and shoulders, the legs, tail, and back of the neck being marked with dark brown. Like the marten, the fisher prowls by night, frequenting swampy places in quest of food.
It builds its habitation in hollow trees, and in burrows, which it excavates in the banks of rivers or streams, and its young (generally twins) are produced in early spring. The trapping season for the fisher commences at about the middle of October, and extends to the middle of May, after which time the fur decreases in value.
In trapping the fisher, the same plans may be used as for the marten and mink, as these animals much resemble each other in general habits. The steel trap arranged in an artificial or [Page 195] natural enclosure, or otherwise so set as that the animal will be obliged to step on it in order to reach the bait, will be successful and the use of composition "scent bait," described on page 153 will be found to enhance success. In every case where the steel trap is used the spring pole, page 144, should always be employed, for the reasons already described.
Dead-falls, garrotes, box-traps, twitch-ups, or pit-falls, may all be employed to good advantage. Bait with a fish or bird, or fresh meat of any kind, and connect the various traps by a trail, as described for the mink and marten.
Remove the skin as directed for the fox, and stretch as described on page 273.
This disgusting animal has won the unenviable but deserving reputation of being the most foul-smelling creature on the face of the globe. He belongs to the weasel tribe, and all these animals are noted for certain odors which they possess, but the skunk is pre-eminent in the utter noisomeness of the horrid effluvium which it exhales.
This scent proceeds from a liquid secretion which collects in a gland beneath the insertion of the tail, and the animal has the power to eject or retain it at will.
It must have been given to the creature as a means of defence, for there seems to be no animal that can withstand the influence of its fetid stench. Dogs are trained to hunt the animal, but until they have learned from experience the right method of attacking the fetid game, and have discovered the whereabouts of the animal's magazine of ammunition, they are of little use to the hunter, and are only too glad to plunge into some neighboring brook, or roll in some near earth, in hopes of ridding themselves of the stench which almost distracts them. The offensive propensities of the skunk are only exercised when the animal is alarmed or frightened. There are generally certain "premonitory symptoms" of attack which the creature usually exhibits, and it is well to retire from his "shooting range" as soon as they are observed.
When the animal is ready to discharge his battery, he suddenly elevates his large bushy tail, over his body, and turns his back on his enemy. The result of the discharge fills the air for a great distance around, and man and beast fly from the neighborhood of the indescribable and fetid effluvium, which fairly makes one's nostrils ache.
[Page 196] A single drop of this disgusting secretion on the clothes is enough to scent the whole garment, and it is almost impossible to rid the tainted fabric from the odor.
It is extremely acrid in quality, and if a very small quantity fall upon the eyes, it is very apt to produce permanent blindness.
Dogs, in their first experiences with the skunk, are frequently thus blinded, and there are well authenticated instances of human beings who have been deprived of their sight through their close proximity to an infuriated skunk.
The writer, in his extreme youth, learned, through dear experience, the putrid qualities of this noisome quadruped. It was on one bright Sunday, in New England, and he was out in his Sunday clothing, gathering wild strawberries. He suddenly discovered a pretty little playful animal with bushy tail, romping in the grass near him. The creature was seemingly gentle, and showed no inclination to run away, and the pet-loving nature of the writer prompted an irresistible desire to capture so pretty a creature. Encouraged by its gentle manner, he eagerly ran towards the tempting prize, and grasping it by the bushy tail, which the animal had raised perpendicularly, as if for a handle, the pretty creature was locked [Page 197] in the affectionate embrace of its youthful admirer. But alas! he soon repented his rashness, and the treacherous "pet" was quickly flung away leaving its victim in such a foul state of overwhelming astonishment as can be more easily imagined than described.
Every article of clothing worn on that eventful Sunday had to be buried, and it took weeks of Sundays before the odor could be thoroughly eradicated from the hair and skin of the individual who wore those Sunday garments. After this adventure, the youth became more cautious with respect to pretty little playful animals, with black and white fur and bushy tails.
There is hardly a farmer in the country but what has had some amusing or serious experience with the skunk, and almost every trapper has, at one time or another, served as a target for his shooting propensities. Natural histories are replete with anecdotes of which this animal is the mephitic hero, and volumes might be filled to the glory of his strong-smelling qualities.
Perhaps it is through the prejudice of the writer that he cannot enthusiastically recommend the skunk as a domestic pet; but it is nevertheless asserted, on good authority, that these animals, when reared from the young, become very interesting and playful in the household, and completely shut down on their objectionable faculties.
Our illustration gives a very good idea of the animal, and it is so unlike any other creature that a further description will not be necessary. The prevailing colors are white and black; but these vary much in proportion, the animal sometimes being almost totally white, or altogether black. The fur is long, and comparatively coarse, being intermixed with long, glossy hairs, and is most valuable in the black animal. The body of the creature is about a foot and a half in length, exclusive of the tail, which adds about fourteen inches more.
The skunk is generally nocturnal in its habits, secreting itself during the day in hollow trees, or crevices in rocks, or wood-piles. At night it ventures forth in quest of its food, which consists chiefly of grasshoppers, worms and other insects, wild fruit and such small animals in the shape of frogs, mice and birds as it can capture. The poultry yard often offers an irresistible temptation, and both fowls and eggs often serve to appease his appetite.
The skunk is common throughout the greater part of North America, and in many localities the numbers increase very [Page 198] rapidly unless checked. The young are brought forth in burrows or holes in rocks during April or May, and are from six to nine in number.
"Skunk fur" does not sound well when thought of in connection with a set of fashionable furs; and for this reason the pelt of this animal is dignified by the name of Alaska sable by all dealers in the article. When known by this fancy title it suddenly becomes a very popular addition to fashion's winter wardrobe, and is one of the leading furs which are exported to meet the demand of foreign countries. Foul as the animal is, it seldom soils its own fur with its offensive fluid; and when carefully skinned the fur is as saleable as that of any other animal.
The Skunk is trapped in a variety of ways; and as the animal is not cunning, no great skill is required. The steel trap is most commonly used, as other wooden varieties, box traps or dead-falls, for instance, are apt to absorb and retain the stench of the animal. In using the steel trap the size No. 2 should be taken. It may be set at the entrance to their burrows or in their feeding grounds. It should be covered with loose earth or chaff, or some other light substance, and baited with small bits of meat, dead mice, or eggs placed around it. The enclosure illustrated on page 143 also answers well, and in all cases the spring pole, page 144, should be used. The dead-fall, page 107, is often employed, and the twitch-up, page 43, is a particularly effective contrivance for their capture, often preventing the evil consequences of the odor by causing instant dislocation of the neck, and this without injuring the fur. A stroke upon the backbone near the tail, by producing paralysis of the parts, also prevents the animal from using his offensive powers, and a dead-fall so constructed as to fall upon the animal at this part will accomplish the same effect. To manage this it is only necessary to place the bait far back in the enclosure, so that the skunk on reaching it will bring the rear portion of his body beneath the suspended log. The scent of the skunk is as we have said, almost ineradicable, but we would recommend chloride of lime as the most effectual antidote.
It is also said by some trappers that the odor may be dissipated by packing the garment in fresh hemlock boughs, letting it thus remain for a couple of days. This is certainly a valuable hint if true, and is well worth remembering.
For skinning the skunk, see Beaver, Otter and Fox.
[Page 199] THE WOLVERINE.
This, one of the most ferocious as well as detestable of American animals, is principally found in British America and the upper portion of the United States. It has won a world wide reputation for its fierceness and voracity, and on this account is popularly known as the Glutton. It is not confined to America, but is also found in Siberia and Northern Europe.
The general appearance of this animal, ugly in disposition as in appearance, is truthfully given in our illustration. It is not unlike a small bear in looks, and was formerly classed among that genus.
The general color of the wolverine is dark brown. The muzzle, as far back as the eye-brows, is black, and the immense paws partake of the same hue. The claws of the animal are [Page 200] long and almost white, forming a singular contrast to the jetty fur of the feet. So large are the feet of this animal, and so powerful the claws, that a mere look at them will tell the story of their death dealing qualities, a single stroke from one of them often being sufficient for a mortal wound. Although the wolverine is not as large as the bear, its foot prints in the snow are often mistaken for those of that creature, being nearly of the same size.
The glutton feeds largely on the smaller quadrupeds, and is a most determined foe to the beaver during the summer months; the ice-hardened walls of their houses serving as a perfect protection against his attacks in the winter time.
To the trapper of the north the wolverine is a most detested enemy, following the rounds of the traps and either detaching the baits or tearing away the dead animals which have fallen a prey to them. The trapper's entire circuit will be thus followed in a single night, and where the veritable "glutton" does not care to devour its victim it will satisfy its ferocious instinct by scratching it in pieces, leaving the mutilated remains to tell the story of its nocturnal visit.
The wolverine is a dangerous foe to many animals larger than itself, and by the professional hunter it is looked upon as an ugly and dangerous customer.
There are several methods of trapping this horrid creature, and in many localities successful trapping of other animals will be impossible without first ridding the neighborhood of the wolverines. Dead-falls of large size will be found to work successfully, baiting with the body of some small animal, such as a rat or squirrel. A piece of cat, beaver or muskrat flesh is also excellent, and by slightly scenting with castoreum success will be made sure. Several of these traps may be set at intervals, and a trail made by dragging a piece of smoked beaver meat between them. The gun trap, as described on page 20, will also do good service in exterminating this useless and troublesome animal.
Steel traps of size No. 3 or 4 are commonly used to good purpose. They may be arranged in any of the various methods already described, the plan of the enclosure, page 143, being particularly desirable. In all cases the trap should be covered with leaves, moss or the like, and the bait slightly scented with castoreum. Like all voracious animals, the perpetual greed of the wolverine completely overbalances its caution, and thus renders its capture an easy task.
[Page 201] The home of the animal is generally in a crevice or cave between rocks, and its young, two or three in number, are brought forth in May.
In removing the skin, it may be ripped up the belly, or taken off whole, as described for the fox.
The opossum is found more or less throughout nearly all the United States. In size it equals a large cat, the tail being about fifteen inches long, very flexible and covered with scales. The general color of the fur is grayish-white, slightly tinged with yellow, [Page 202] and the legs are of a brownish hue, which color also surrounds the eyes to some extent.
The fur is comparatively soft and wooly, and thickly sprinkled with long hairs, white at the base and brown at the tips.
The nature and habits of the animal are very interesting. Its nest is made in some sheltered hollow in an old fallen or live tree, or beneath overhanging roots or rocks, and composed of moss and dead leaves. The young are produced in several litters during the year, and when born are transferred by the mother to a pouch situated in the lower front portion of her body. Here they remain and are nourished by the parent until they are five weeks old, at which time they emerge and travel with their mother, and their little ring tails do them good service in holding fast to their guardian. It is an amusing sight to see a family of young 'possums thus linked together, and so "attached to each other."
The opossum is a voracious and destructive animal, prowling about during the hours of darkness and prying into every nook and corner in hope of finding something that may satisfy the cravings of imperious hunger. Rats, mice, nuts, berries, birds, insects and eggs are all devoured by this animal; and when not content with these he does not hesitate to insinuate himself into the poultry yard, and make a meal on the fowls and young chickens. His fondness for fruit and Indian corn often leads him to commit great havoc among plantations and fruit trees, and his appetite for the fruit of the persimmon tree is proverbial. While feeding on these fruits he frequently hangs by his tail, as seen in our illustration, gathering the persimmons with his fore paws and eating them while thus suspended. He is a most agile climber, and his tenacity and terminal resources in this direction are admirably depicted in that well known Methodist sermon, as follows: "An' you may shake one foot loose, but 'tothers thar; an' you may shake all his feet loose, but he laps his tail around the lim' an' he clings forever."
He is an adept at feigning death, "playing 'possum" so skilfully as frequently to deceive an expert.
"'Possums" are hunted in the Southern States much after the manner of coons; and to the negroes a "'possum hunt" signifies most unbounded sport."
Though cunning in many ways, the opossum is singularly simple in others. There is hardly any animal more easily captured; for it will walk into the clumsiest of traps, and permit itself to be ensnared by a device at which an American rat would look with utter contempt.
[Page 203] The dead-fall, garrote, or stout snare may all be employed, being baited with any of the substances already described. The steel trap 2-1/1 or 3 is most commonly used, being set in the haunts of the animal, and slightly scented with musk.
See Fox and Beaver, for directions for skinning, stretching, etc., etc.
The rabbit or "cotton tail," as he is familiarly termed, is too well-known to need any description here. From Maine to Texas our woods abound with these fleet-footed little creatures, of which there are several American species. They are the swiftest of all American quadrupeds, and have been known to clear over twenty feet in a single leap. They are all natural burrowers, although they often forego the trouble of excavating a home when one can be found already made, and which can be easily modified or adapted to their purposes. The common rabbit of New England often makes its home or "form," beneath a pile of brush or logs, or in crevices in rocks. Here it brings forth its young, of which there are often three or four litters a year. The creature becomes a parent at a very early age, and by the time that a rabbit is a year old it may have attained the dignity of a grand parent.
The food of the rabbit consists of grasses, bark, leaves, bulbs, young twigs, buds, berries and the like, and of cultivated vegetables of all kinds, when opportunity favors. When surprised in the woods it manifests its alarm by violently striking the ground with its feet, causing the peculiar sound so often noticed at their first jump. The animal is fond of pursuing a beaten path in the woods, and is often snared at such places. Its enemies, beside man, are the lynx, and other carnivorous animals, hawks, owls, and even the domestic cat.
The rabbit is a favorite game with all amateur sportsmen, and the devices used in its capture are multitudinous. It is by no means a difficult animal to trap, and a glance through the second and fourth sections of our book, will reveal many ingenious snares and other contrivances, commonly and successfully used.
The Box trap, page 103, is perhaps the most universal example of rabbit trap, but the Self-setting trap, page 110, and Double-ender, page 109, are also equally effective where the animal is desired to be taken alive. If this is not an object, the snare is to be recommended as simple in construction and sure in its result.
[Page 204] The above constitute the only devices commonly used for the capture of the rabbit, the steel trap being dispensed with. On page 109 will be found additional remarks concerning the rabbit, and many hints no baiting, etc., are also given under the heads of the various traps above alluded to.
The skin of the rabbit is very thin and tender, and should be carefully removed, either as described for the fox, or in the ordinary method, by incision up the belly. Full directions for curing and tanning the skins will be found under its proper head in a later portion of this work.
This animal also called the marmot, is so well-known to most of our readers, that a detailed description will not be necessary, suffice it to say that the general color is brownish grey above, changing to reddish brown on the under parts. The head, tail and feet partaking of a darker color. The length of the animal is about a foot and a-half, exclusive of the tail, which is four inches long.
The woodchuck is a clumsy looking animal, and anything but active in its movements. It is very unintelligent, and is always too ready to use its powerful teeth on the hand of any one who may attempt to handle it. It is naturally a timid animal, but when cornered or brought to bay, it fights most desperately.
The woodchuck is an expert excavator, and where the animals exist in large numbers great damage is done by their united burrowing. They generally remain in their burrows during the day, only venturing out casually to see what is going on, and keeping near their entrance. Towards evening they start out to feed, devouring certain grasses and weeds, and also pumpkins and green corn with avidity, ever and anon sitting upright on their haunches, to see if the coast is clear. In case they are surprised in their meal, they hurry home in a pell-mell sort of a way, giving as much the appearance of rolling as running, but, nevertheless, getting over the ground with fair speed for such an unwieldy animal. The skin is loose and very tough, and possesses no commercial value, being principally used for whiplashes. Their burrows are generally on the slope of a hill, and often at the foot of a rock or tree. These tunnels vary from ten to thirty feet in length, sloping downward from the opening, afterward taking an upward turn and terminating in a roomy chamber, in which the animal sleeps in [Page 205] winter and where the young from three to eight in number are brought forth. The woodchuck is found throughout nearly the whole of the United States, and is especially abundant in New England, where it is a decided nuisance. It is found as far south as Tennessee, and westward to the Rocky Mountains. The flesh of the woodchuck is by many much esteemed as food, particularly in the Fall. When used for this purpose, the animal should be skinned and carefully cleaned immediately after death, taking especial care to remove the masses of fat which lie inside of the legs, as these, if allowed to remain, are sure to taint the flesh in cooking.
The animals are easily caught by setting the traps at the entrance of their burrows, and carefully covering them with loose earth, no bait being required. They may also be captured by the aid of a spring-pole, with noose attached, the pole being bent down and caught under a notched stick, and the noose being arranged at the opening of the burrow, see page 43, the Woodchuck in passing in or out will become entangled in the noose, and in his efforts to escape the pole will be loosened from the peg, thus lifting the animal in mid-air. Woodchucks are also sometimes drowned out of their holes, and the turtle is often put to good use for the purpose of smoking the animals from their subterranean dwellings. A ball of wicking saturated with kerosene is attached by a wire to the tail of the reptile. When the ball is ignited the creature is introduced into the entrance of the hole, and of course in fleeing from its fiery pursuer it traverses the full length of the burrow, and as another matter of course drives out its other occupants, which are shot or captured as they emerge.
The woodchunk's skin is generally taken off as described for the muskrat, and stretched accordingly.
This remarkable little animal somewhat resembles the Mole in its general appearance and habits. It is also commonly known as the Canada Pouched Rat, and is principally found west of the Mississippi and northward. It is a burrowing animal, and like the Mole drives its subterranean tunnels in all directions, throwing up little hillocks at regular intervals of from five to twenty feet. Its body is thick set and clumsy and about ten inches long, and its Mole-like claws are especially adapted for digging. Its food consists of roots and vegetables, and its [Page 206] long and projecting incisors are powerful agents in cutting the roots which cross its path in making its burrow. The most striking characteristic of the animal, and that from which it takes its name, consists in the large cheek pouches which hang from each side of the mouth and extend back to to shoulders. They are used as receptacles of food which the animal hurriedly gathers when above ground, afterward returning to its burrow to enjoy its feast at its leisure. It was formerly very commonly and erroneously believed that the Gopher used its pouches in conveying the earth from its burrow, and this is generally supposed at the present day, but it is now known that the animal uses these pockets only for the conveyance of its food.
The color of the fur is reddish-brown on the upper parts, fading to ashy-brown on the abdomen, and the feet are white.
In making its tunnels, the dirt is brought to the surface, thus making the little mounds after the manner of the mole. After having dug its tunnel for several feet the distance becomes so great as to render this process impossible, and the old hole is carefully stopped up and a new one made at the newly excavated end of the tunnel, the animal continuing on in its labors and dumping from the fresh orifice. These mounds of earth occur at intervals on the surface of the ground, and although no hole can be discovered beneath them, they nevertheless serve to indicate the track of the burrow, which lies several inches beneath.
The Gopher is a great pest to western cultivators, and by its root feeding and undermining propensities does extensive injury to crops generally. They may be successfully trapped in the following manner: Strike a line between the two most recent earth mounds, and midway between them remove a piece of the sod. By the aid of a trowel or a sharp stick the burrow may now be reached. Insert your hand in the tunnel and enlarge the interior sufficiently to allow the introduction of No. (0) steel trap. Set the trap flatly in the bottom of the burrow, and then laying a piece of shingle or a few sticks across the excavation replace the sod. Several traps may be thus set in the burrows at considerable distances apart, and a number of the animals thus taken. The traps are sometimes inserted in the burrows from the hillocks, by first finding the hole and then enlarging it by inserting the arm and digging with the hand beneath. The former method, however, is preferable.
The skin of the Gopher may be pulled off the body either by cutting up the hind less, as described in reference to the Fox, [Page 207] or by making the incision from the lower jaw down the neck, as decided for the muskrat, a simple board stretcher being used.
Of all the mammalia the Mole is entitled to take the first place in the list of burrowers. This extraordinary creature does not merely dig tunnels in the ground and sit at the end of them, as is the case with many animals, but it forms a complicated subterranean dwelling place with chambers, passages and other arrangements of wonderful completeness. It has regular roads leading to its feeding grounds; establishes a system of communication as elaborate as that of a modern railway, or, to be more correct, as that of the subterranean network of the sewers of a city. It is an animal of varied accomplishments. It can run tolerably fast, it can fight like a bull-dog, it can capture prey under or above ground, it can swim fearlessly, and it can sink wells for the purpose of quenching its thirst. Take the mole out of its proper sphere, and it is awkward and clumsy as the sloth when placed on level ground, or the seal when brought ashore. Replace it in the familiar earth and it becomes a different being, full of life and energy, and actuated by a fiery activity which seems quite inconsistent with its dull aspect and seemingly inert form.
We all know that the mole burrows under the ground, raising at intervals the little hillocks or "mole hills" with which we are so familiar; but most of us little know the extent or variety of its tunnels, or that the animal works on a regular system and does not burrow here and there at random. How it manages to form its burrows in such admirably straight lines, is not an easy problem, because it is always done in black darkness, and we know of nothing which can act as a guide to the animal. As for ourselves and other eye-possessing creatures, the feat of walking in a straight line with closed eyelids is almost an impossibility, and every swimmer knows the difficulty of keeping a straight course under water, even with the use of his eyes.
The ordinary mole hills, so plentiful in our fields, present nothing particularly worthy of notice. They are merely the shafts through which the quadruped miner ejects the material which it has scooped out, as it drives its many tunnels through the soil, and if they be carefully opened after the rain has consolidated the heap of loose material, nothing more will be discovered than a simple hole leading into the tunnel. But let us [Page 208] strike into one of the large tunnels, as any mole catcher will teach us, and follow it up to the real abode of the animal. The hill under which this domicile is hidden, is of considerable size, but is not very conspicuous, being always placed under the shelter of a tree, shrub, or a suitable bank, and would scarcely be discovered but by a practiced eye. The subterranean abode within the hillock is so remarkable that it involuntarily reminds the observer of the well-known "maze," which has puzzled the earliest years of youth throughout many generations. The central apartment, or "keep," if we so term it, is a nearly spherical chamber, the roof of which is almost on a level with the earth around the hill, and therefore situated at a considerable depth from the apex of the heap. Around this keep are driven two circular passages or galleries, one just level with the ceiling and the other at some height above. Five short descending passages connect the galleries with each other, but the only entrance into the keep is from the upper gallery, out of which three passages lead into the ceiling of the keep. It will be seen therefore that when the mole enters the house from one of its tunnels, it has first to get into the lower gallery to ascend thence into the upper gallery, and so descend into the central chamber. There is, however, another entrance into the keep from below. A passage dips downward from the centre of the chamber, and then, taking a curve upwards, opens into one of the larger burrows or high roads, as they may be fitly termed. It is a noteworthy fact that the high roads, of which there are several radiating in different directions, never open into the gallery opposite one of the entrances into the upper gallery. The mole therefore is obliged to go to the right or left as soon as it enters the domicile before it can find a passage to the upper gallery. By the continual pressure of the moles upon the walls of the passages and roof of the central chamber, they become quite smooth, hard, and polished, so that the earth will not fall in, even after the severest storm.
The use of so complicated a series of cells and passages is extremely doubtful, and our total ignorance of the subject affords another reason why the habits of this wonderful animal should be better studied.
About the middle of June the moles begin to fall in love, and are as furious in their attachments as in all other phases of their nature. At that time two male moles cannot meet without mutual jealousy, and they straightway begin to fight, scratching, tearing, and biting with such insane fury that they seem unconscious [Page 209] of anything except the heat of battle. Indeed the whole life of the mole is one of fury, and he eats like a starving tiger, tearing and rending his prey with claws and teeth, and crunching audibly the body of the worm between the sharp points. Magnify the mole to the size of the lion and you will have a beast more terrible than the world has yet seen. Though nearly blind, and therefore incapable of following its prey by sight, it would be active beyond conception, springing this way and that way as it goes along, leaping with lightness and quickness upon any animal which it meets, rending it in pieces in a moment, thrusting its blood-thirsty snout into the body of its victim, eating the still warm and bleeding flesh, and instantly searching for fresh prey. Such a creature would, without the least hesitation, devour a serpent twenty feet in length, and so terrible would be its voracity that it would eat twenty or thirty of such snakes in a day as easily as it devours the same number of worms. With one grasp of its teeth and one stroke of its claws, it could tear an ox asunder; and if it should happen to enter a fold of sheep or enclosure of cattle, it would kill them all for the mere lust of slaughter. Let, then, two of such animals meet in combat, and how terrific would be the battle! Fear is a feeling of which the mole seems to be utterly unconscious, and, when fighting with one of its own species, he gives his whole energies to the destruction of his opponent without seeming to heed the injuries inflicted upon himself. From the foregoing sketch the reader will be able to estimate the extraordinary energies of this animal, as well as the wonderful instincts with which it is endowed.
The fur of the mole is noted for its clean, velvety aspect; and that an animal should be able to pass unsoiled through earth of all textures is a really remarkable phenomenon. It is partly to be explained by the character of the hair, and partly by that of the skin. The hair of the mole is peculiar on account of its want of "set." The tops of the hairs do not point in any particular direction, but may be pressed equally forward or backward or to either side. The microscope reveals the cause of this peculiarity. The hair is extremely fine at its exit from the skin, and gradually increases in thickness until it reaches its full width when it again diminishes. This alternation occurs several times in each hair, and gives the peculiar velvet-like texture with which we are all so familiar. There is scarcely any coloring matter in the slender portion of the hair, and the beautiful changeable coppery [Page 210] hues of the fur is owing to this structure. Another reason for the cleanliness of the fur is the strong, though membranous muscle beneath the skin. While the mole is engaged in travelling, particularly in loose earth, the soil for a time clings to the fur; but at tolerably regular intervals the creature gives the skin a sharp and powerful shake, which throws off at once the whole of the mould that has collected upon the fur. Some amount of dust still remains, for, however clean the fur of a mole may seem to be, if the creature be placed for an hour in water, a considerable quantity of earth will be dissolved away and fall to the bottom of the vessel. The improvement in the fur after being well washed with soft tepid water and soap, is almost incredible. Many persons have been struck with such admiration for the fur of the mole, that they have been desirous of having a number of the skins collected and made into a waist-coat. This certainly can be done, but the garment thus made is so very hot that it can only be worn in winter. Such garments are very expensive, and owing to the tender quality of the skin, possess but little lasting powers. There is also a wonderfully strong smell about the mole; so strong, indeed, that dogs will sometimes point at moles instead of game, to the great disgust of their masters. This odor adheres obstinately to the skin, and even in furs which have been dried for more than ten years, this peculiar savor has been noticed.
We have given much space to the mole, not particularly on account of its particular usefulness to the trapper, but because of its many claims to our notice. If the creature were a rare and costly inhabitant of some distant land, how deep would be the interest which it would incite. But because it is a creature of our country, and to be found in every field, there are but few who care to examine a creature so common, or who experience any feelings save those of disgust when they see a mole making its way over the ground in search of a soft spot in which to burrow.
In many localities this interesting animal exists in such numbers as to become a positive nuisance, and the invention of a trap which would effectually curtail their depredations has been a problem to many a vexed and puzzled farmer.
Mole traps of various kinds have found their way into our agricultural papers, but none has proved more effectual than the one we describe on page 119. An arrangement of the figure four, page 107, is also sometimes employed with good success. In this case the bait stick crosses the upright stick close to the ground, and rests over [Page 211] the burrow of the mole, the earth being previously pressed down to the surrounding level. The stone should be narrow and very heavy, and of course no bait is required.
The pieces should be set carefully, and so adjusted that the lifting of the soil beneath the stick as the mole forces its way through the compressed earth will dislodge the bait stick and let down the stone with its crushing weight.
Another method consists in embedding a deep flower pot in one of the main tunnels of the animal, and carefully replacing the soil above. The mole in traversing his burrow thus falls into the pit and is effectually captured. This is a very ingenious mode of taking the animal, and rewarded its inventor with seven moles on the first night of trial.
There are a number of other devices said to work excellently, but the above we believe to be the most effectual of all.
There are several species of American moles, the star-nosed variety being familiar to most of us. The most common moles are the shrew moles, with pointed noses. The silver mole is a large species, of a changeable silvery color, found on the Western prairies. The Oregon mole is nearly black, with purplish or brownish reflections.
The most beautiful of all the moles is found at the Cape of Good Hope. It is of about the size of the ordinary American species, and its soft fur glistens with brilliant green and golden reflections. The fur of this species is probably the most wonderful and beautiful in the whole animal kingdom.
There are many species of squirrels found in the United States, but their fur is of little value, and of trifling importance in the fur trade; the squirrel fur of our markets being that of a small grey European variety. Squirrels, as a class, possess much the same peculiarities and habits. Their claws are particularly adapted for life among the trees; their tails are long and bushy, covering over the backs of the animals when in a sitting posture. They are all lithe and quick of movement, and their senses of sight and hearing are especially keen. They are constantly on the alert, and are full of artifice when pursued. Their food consists chiefly of nuts, fruits, and grain, but when pushed by hunger, there is no telling what they will not eat. They generally provide for the [Page 212] winter months by laying up a store of the foregoing provisions, either in holes in trees or interstices in the bark, or in cavities under ground. The shag-bark hickory offers an especial inducement to these provident creatures in the numerous crevices and cracks throughout the bark. It is not an uncommon thing to find whole handfuls of nuts carefully packed away in one of these cracks, and a sharp stroke with an ax in the trunk of one of these trees will often dislodge numbers of the nuts. The writer has many a time gone "nutting" in this way in the middle of winter with good success. The nests of squirrels are generally built in trees, either in a crotch between the branches or in some deserted woodpecker's hole. Some species live in burrows in the ground, and those individuals who are lucky enough to be in the neighborhood of a barn often make their abode therein, taking their regular three meals a day from the granary. In many localities these animals thus become a perfect pest to the farmers, and their destruction becomes a matter of urgent necessity.
Squirrels, although resembling each other much as regards [Page 213] their general habits, differ considerably in the size and color of the different species.
The principal varieties found on our continent are:—
The large grey squirrel, which is common in the Eastern and Middle States, and which is about two feet in length, including the tail. The common red squirrel, or chicaree, smaller than the foregoing, and found more or less all through the United States. The black squirrel, which is about the size of the grey, and found in the north-eastern part of the United States, near the great lakes. In the Southern States there is a variety known as the fox squirrel, about the size of the red squirrel, and quite variable in color. The Middle States furnishes a species called the cat squirrel, rather smaller than the preceding. Its tail is very broad, and its color varies from very light to very dark grey.
The ground squirrel, or chipmuck, with its prettily striped sides, is common to most of our readers, its general color being red and the stripes being black and white.
Another burrowing species, known as the Oregon or downy squirrel, is found in the Territory from which it takes its name, and also northward in British America. In size it resembles the chipmuck, and its color is light red above, pure white beneath, and silver grey at the sides.
The beautiful silky variety, known as the flying squirrel, with its grey chinchilla-like fur and loose skin, is found throughout the United States east of the Mississippi.
Louisiana and Texas furnish the golden-bellied squirrel, which is about twenty inches in length, with tail golden yellow beneath, and golden grey above. The sooty squirrel is also found in this locality, being about the same size as the last mentioned, and black above and brownish red beneath.
There are other varieties in California known as the woolly, soft-haired, and weasel squirrels; and in the Western States we find the large red-tailed squirrels, which are about the size of the large grey variety of the Eastern and Middle States.
Squirrels, as a tribe, are much sought for as pets, and most of the species are easily tamed.
Box traps of various kinds are used in taking them alive. The varieties on pages 103, 106 and 110 are especially adapted for this purpose, and should be set either in the trees or on the ground, and baited with an apple, a portion of an ear of corn, or of whatever the animal is particularly fond.
When the animals exist in such numbers as to become a destructive [Page 214] nuisance to the farm, the small-sized steel trap, No. 0, arranged with bait hung above it, will work to good advantage. Twitch-ups are also successful, and we might also recommend the traps on pages 107, 116 and 128 as worthy of trial when the animal is not desired to be captured alive.
Squirrels may be skinned either by ripping up the belly, or in a whole piece, as described in regard to the fox.
We pause before going further into the mysteries of trapping in connection with the animals which we are about to consider, as they are generally exempt from the wiles of the trapper's art, coming more properly in the field of the hunter or sportsman. The idea of trapping a deer, for instance, seems barbarous indeed; but are not all the ways of deceiving and killing these splendid animals equally so? Are not the various strategies and cunning devices of the sportsman, by which these noble creatures are decoyed and murdered, equally open to the same objection? As far as barbarity goes, there is to us but little choice between the two methods; and, generally speaking, we decry them both, and most especially do not wish to be understood as encouraging the trapping of these animals, except where all other means have failed, and in cases where their capture becomes in a measure a matter of necessity. This is often the case in the experience of professional trappers. The life of the trapper during the trapping season is spent almost entirely in the wilderness, often many miles from any human habitation; and at times he is solely dependent upon his gun or trap for his necessary food.
Sometimes in a dry season, when the leaves and twigs crackle under foot, the rifle is as good as useless, for it becomes impossible to approach a deer within shooting range. And there are other times when ammunition is exhausted, and the trapper is thus forced to rely only on his traps for his supply of food. In such circumstances, the necessities of the trapper are paramount, and the trapping of deer, in such straits, as the most desirable food is rather to be recommended than condemned. The same remarks also in a measure apply to the moose and prong-horn antelope, as well as to several other animals hereinafter mentioned, as they are generally considered more in the light of the hunter's than the trapper's game.
[Page 215] THE DEER.
There are upwards of eight varieties of this animal which inhabit North America. The common red or Virginian deer is found throughout the United States. The stag or Wapiti deer is now chiefly confined to the country west of the Mississippi and northward to British America. The moose we shall speak of hereafter. The Rocky Mountain mule deer, and the long-tailed deer of the same locality, are two more species, and there are also the black-tailed deer and the reindeer, the latter of which is a native of British America. The scope of our volume will not of course admit of detailed directions for trapping each variety, but, as the habits of all the species are in a measure similar, our remarks will apply to them in general, and particularly to the red or Virginian deer, which is the most important to American trappers.
The trap for taking deer should be large, strong, and covered with spikes. The Newhouse (No. 4) is particularly adapted, and is especially arranged for this purpose.
When the path of the deer is discovered on the border of a stream or lake, the trap should be set beneath the surface of the water, near the tracks of the animal, and covered by a handful of dried grass thrown upon it. When thus set, it may either be left to run its chances, or success, further insured by the following precaution: In winter the principal food of the deer consists of the twigs, buds, and bark of various forest trees, and particularly those of the basswood and maple. In the season when the traps are set as above described, a most tempting bait is furnished by a large branch of either of those trees, freshly cut, and laid near the trap. The deer in feeding are thus almost sure to be captured. There are certain glands which are located on the inner side of the hind legs of the deer, and which emit a very strong and peculiar odor. The scent of these glands seems to attract the animal, and for this reason are cut out and used by trappers as a scent-bait. In the case already described, it is well to rub the glands on the twigs of the trees, thus serving as an additional attraction to the bait. There is still another method of trapping deer, which is commonly employed in the winter time. The trap is sunk in the snow at the foot of a tree, and the bait, consisting of an ear of corn or a few beards of other grain, is fastened to the tree, above the trap, three or more feet from the ground. The animal, in reaching for the bait, places its foot in the trap and is secured.
[Page 216] When first caught, the deer becomes very wild and violent; so much so that if the trap were chained or retarded by a heavy clog, the chain, or even the trap itself, would most likely be broken. The weight of a trap of this size is generally a sufficient impediment, no clog, or at best a very light one, being required. The first frantic plunge being over, the entrapped creature immediately yields and lies down upon the ground, and is always to be found within a few rods of where the trap was first sprung upon him. During the winter the traps may also be set in the snow, using the same bait already described. It is a common method to fell a small tree for the purpose, setting the traps beneath the snow, around the top branches. The deer, in browsing in the tender twigs or buds, are almost certain to be captured. Dead-falls of different kinds are sometimes used in trapping the deer, with good success; using the scent bait already described, together with the other bait. The food of the deer during the summer consists of nuts, fruits, acorns, grass, berries, and water plants, and when in convenient neighborhood of cultivated lands, they do not hesitate to make a meal from the farmer's turnips, cabbages, and grain.
As we have said, the winter food consists chiefly of the twigs of trees. When the snow is deep the deer form what are called "yards," about such trees as they particularly select for their browsing. These yards are made simply by tramping down the snow, and large numbers of the deer are often thus found together. As the supply of food is consumed, the yard is enlarged, so as to enclose other trees for browsing, and where deep snows abound throughout the winter, these enclosures often become quite extensive in area. Panthers, wolves, and wolverines take especial advantage of these, and easily secure their victims. By wolves especially entire herds of deer are thus destroyed, and whole yards depopulated in a single night. Panthers secrete themselves in the trees above the boughs overhanging the "yards," and, with stealthy movements, approach and pounce upon their unsuspecting prey. The blood-thirsty wolverine secretes himself in the nooks and by-ways to spring upon its tawny victim unawares. These, together with man, form the principal foes of the deer, and we can truthfully assert that the hunter is much more its enemy than the trapper.
As we do not wish to encourage the wanton trapping of this noble creature, it would perhaps be well for us to devote also few words in describing the various modes of hunting the animal, [Page 217] adopted by the "professional sportsmen" throughout the land. The most common method is that called "still hunting," most generally pursued in winter. The hunter is shod with deer-skin or other soft sandals, and starts out with his rifle and ammunition. Finding the fresh track of the deer, he cautiously and noiselessly follows up the trail, keeping a sharp lookout ahead. A practised deer-hunter becomes very skillful and accurate, and the animal is nearly always tracked to discovery, when he is shot. The deer's sense of smell is extremely acute, and, when in shooting range, it is very necessary to approach them in the face of the wind, the direction of which may be easily determined by holding the finger in the mouth for a moment, afterward pointing it upward toward the sky. The cool side of the finger will indicate the direction from which the wind blows, and toward that direction the deer should always be approached, or as far toward that direction as possible. It will sometimes happen that the hunter will surprise the buck, doe, and fawn together. In order to secure the three, shoot the doe first. The buck and fawn will remain near the spot. The buck should next be shot, and then the fawn, the charge being aimed at the breast. Never approach a wounded deer without reloading the gun, as he is often more frightened than hurt, and is likely to start and run away, unless prevented by another shot. During the snow season, deer are always watchful of their back track. They are generally at rest during the day, starting out late in the afternoon on their usual ramblings, which they continue through the night. During the dark hours they love to resort to the water side in quest of aquatic plants, and are here often taken by hunters, many of which consider "night hunting" the favorite and most exciting sport. It is pursued in the following manner: The hunter requires a boat or canoe, page 261, a good rifle, and a lamp. The lamp, with a screen or reflector behind it, is placed at the bow of the boat. One hunter takes the oar, and, with noiseless paddle, propels or sculls the boat from the stem. The armed hunter crouches behind the light, with the muzzle of his rifle projecting beyond the screen sufficiently to easily show the forward sight on the tip of the barrel. A dark lantern is sometimes used as a light. The eyes of the deer shine very perceptibly at night, and his presence on the banks is thus easily detected. If he is noiselessly approached, he will remain transfixed by the effect of the light from the boat, and he may be neared even to a very close range, when he is easily despatched. Hundreds of deer [Page 218] are thus taken during the summer and autumn. Deer are also chased by dogs until they are forced to take refuge in the nearest rivers or lakes, when the hunter in his canoe overtakes and shoots them. Another method is frequently employed in the hunting of the deer. These animals are very fond of salt, and with it they are often decoyed to a spot where the hunter lies in wait for them. These places are called "deer licks," or salting places, and can be made as follows: Select a locality where deer are known to frequent, and place a handful of salt either on a smooth spot of ground or in the hollow of a log. A section of a log is sometimes slightly dug out at one end and the other inserted in the earth, the salt being placed in the hollow. The hunter secretes himself in a neighboring tree, sometimes erecting a bench or scaffolding for comfort, and, provided with gun and ammunition, he awaits the coming of the deer. Hunters say that a deer seldom looks higher than his head, and that a sportsman on one of these scaffoldings, even though he is clumsy in his movements, is seldom noticed by the animal.
The salt lick is also utilized for night hunting. A head-lantern is generally required. This can be made in the following manner: Construct a cylinder of birch bark or paste-board or any like substance, ten inches in height, and of sufficient size to fit closely on the head. A circular partition should next be firmly inserted at about the middle of the cylinder, and the centre of the partition should be provided with a socket for the reception of a candle. On this end of the cylinder a piece should now be cut to admit of the passage of light from the candle on that side. Having this fire-hat at hand wait patiently for the game. When a significant noise is heard light the candle and place the cylinder on the head, with the open cut in front, thus directing the light toward the ground. As the deer approaches, his fiery eyes will easily be seen, and the light from the candle will shine sufficiently on the rifle to clearly reveal the sights and admit of a sure aim. There is still another method of night hunting by the salt lick. The rifle is aimed directly at the salted spot, and thus firmly fixed—this preparation being made in the daytime. When night approaches, the hunter finds a piece of phosphorescent wood or "fox fire," and places it on the ground, at a point which he has previously determined to be on a direct line of the aim of his gun. The "fox fire" is plainly seen from the tree, and as soon as it is darkened he knows that it is obscured by the deer, and he pulls the trigger and kills his game.
Deer are hunted at all seasons of the year, but ought not to [Page 219] be hunted during the summer. The sport legitimately begins in September, when the buck begins to harden his horns, and when his flesh is in its best condition for food. In October the deer is more shy, and during this month and after, the sport is at its height. The deer should be skinned from an incision down the belly, and the hide spread on a hoop stretcher, page 275.
We have already given so much space to the hunting of the deer that we shall be obliged to cut short our remarks on the Moose, particularly as it is a representative of the same family. This animal is the largest of the Deer tribe, being seven or eight feet in height and often weighing over fifteen hundred pounds. It is supplied with immense flat spreading horns, sometimes expanding to the distance of six feet between the tips. It is found in Maine, Oregon and Washington Territories, and in the neighborhood of the great lakes, and inhabits the regions as far [Page 220] north as the Arctic Sea. Its color is yellowish brown. The fur is thicker in winter than summer, and on the neck of the animal the hair is very coarse and hangs in an immense tuft of over a foot in length. The flesh is most excellent food and is much esteemed by trappers. The habits of the moose are in most respects identical with the deer, already described, and like them they form "yards" during the winter season.
In the North the moose is hunted on snow-shoes by the natives, and in summer they are shot like the deer. They are often very dangerous and terrible creatures to hunt, and the utmost care and skill, as described in regard to the deer, is required on the part of the hunter in order to avoid detection through the exquisite sense of smell which the animal possesses. The moose is easily trapped. The Newhouse, No. 6, is especially adapted for the purpose, and it should be chained to a clog of stone or wood of over fifty pounds in weight. Set the trap in the "yard," or beneath the snow where the moose frequents, or in the summer, or fall seasons, as described for the deer, using the same methods in regard to baiting, etc.
Skin after the manner of cattle, and stretch the hide on a hoop-spreader. Page 275.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHEEP.
These creatures are natives of the entire range of the Rocky Mountains, and are especially prized on account of the superior quality of their flesh as food. They are much larger and more powerful than the domestic sheep, and the ram is provided with enormous curved horns. The wool of the animal is intermixed with coarse grey hairs, and the general appearance of the fur is russet grey, with the exception of the rump and under parts, which are of a dirty white color. The animal is generally very wary and retiring, and inhabits the most secluded and inaccessible mountain regions and rocky cliffs.
They are easily captured by the steel trap (No. 5) set in their haunts. The dead-fall is also used in some instances. Remove the skin as described for the deer.
The Buffaloes or Bison of the Western plains is too well known to need description. They travel in migrating herds of thousands, and are found from Texas to British America. Their food [Page 221] consists chiefly of grass, of which the "Buffalo grass" is their great delight. They graze and travel through the day and rest by night. They are more the game of the hunter than the trapper, although the largest side Newhouse would effectually secure one of the animals. The Buffalo is generally hunted on horseback, the usual method being that of stealing into the drove while grazing, always moving against the wind in order to avoid being scented. The flesh is palatable and by many much relished. The Buffalo skins of commerce are furnished by the cows. The bull skins are almost devoid of fur on the hinder parts, the hair being confined to the huge heavy mass on the hump and mane. Skin the animal as described for the Moose.
THE PRONG HORN ANTELOPE.
This sole American representative of the Antelope tribe we believe is seldom trapped; but as it is a well-known animal on the Western plains, a short mention of it is required here. In general shape this creature bears considerable resemblance to the deer, the form of the horn being its chief peculiarity, each one of which is provided with a single prong, from which the animal takes its name, of Prong Horn. The color of the body is brownish-yellow, with the exception of the rump and belly which are almost white. The Antelopes generally travel in herds, and are much hunted by the Indians who surround them and destroy them with heavy clubs. Like the deer, their sense of smell is especially keen and the same caution is required in hunting them. In size they are about the same as the Virginian Deer. They are wonderfully graceful in all their movements, and are even more fleet of foot than the deer. These Antelopes inhabit the Western Prairies and wooded borders from New Mexico northward, and their flesh is much esteemed as an article of diet. They may be caught in their feeding places, as recommended for the deer, using the same sized trap.
The dead fall is also efficacious in their capture, and they are also sometimes taken in large pit-falls covered over with light sticks and leaves, to resemble the natural surroundings. On this false covering, the bait, consisting of green corn or other vegetables, is strewn and a high wall of logs or stones is erected around it, in order that the animal will be obliged to jump slightly in order to reach the bait.
Remove the hide as recommended for the deer.
[Page 222] SHOOTING AND POISONING.
Until the introduction of the steel-trap, shooting was a common method of taking fur bearing animals, and even to the present day it is quite prevalent in some localities. Anyone who has had any experience with the fur trade must have learned that furs which are "shot," are much affected in value. Some furriers will not purchase such skins at any price; and they never meet with any but a very low offer. "Trapped furs" and "shot furs" are terms of considerable significance in the fur trade, and anyone who wishes to realize from a profitable sale of his furs, should use his gun as little as possible. A shot grazing through the fur of an animal cuts the hairs as if with a knife, and a single such furrow is often enough to spoil a skin. It is these oblique grazing shots which particularly damage the fur, and an animal killed with a shot gun is seldom worth skinning for the value of its pelt. If firearms are used, the rifle is preferable. If the animal chances to be hit broadside or by a direct penetrating bullet, the two small holes thus made may not particularly effect the value of its skin, although even then the chances are rather slight.
Trapped furs are of the greatest value.
The use of poison is objectionable as a means of capture in animals especially desired for their fur. Strychnine is the substance generally employed, and unless its victim is skinned immediately after death the pelt becomes considerably injured by the absorption of the poison. It has the effect of loosening the fur and the hair sheds easily.
The poison is principally used in the capture of Wolves and animals considered in the light of vermin. For a wolf or fox, the poison is mixed with lard or tallow and spread on pieces of meat, or a small amount of the powder is inclosed in an incision in the bait. The amount sufficient for a single dose may be easily held on the point of a knife blade, and death ensues in a a very few moments after the bait is taken. For a Bear the dose should be a half thimbleful, and it should be deposited in the centre of a piece of honey comb, the cells being emptied of their honey for that purpose.
Other animals may be taken by proportionate quantities of the poison, but for general purposes we discourage its use.
[Page 225] BOOK VII.
CAMPAIGN LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS.
t has been the author's object in the preparation of this book not simply to content the reader with a mere superficial knowledge of so-called "Amateur trapping," but to carry him further into the art professionally considered, and for this reason we present in the following chapter a full catalogue of the trapper's outfit, containing detailed descriptions of all the necessaries for a most thorough campaign, including boats and canoes, log cabins, shanties and tents, snow shoes and camp furniture of all kinds, together with numerous and valuable hints on trapper's food.
PLAN OF CAMPAIGN.
The first thing to be considered in reference to a campaign is the selection of a trapping ground, and it is always desirable to choose a locality where travel by water can be resorted to as much as possible. Otter, mink, beaver and muskrat are among the most desirable game for the trapper, and as these are all amphibious animals, a watered district is therefore the best on all accounts. Lakes, ponds, and streams, bordered by wild woods, form the best possible grounds for general trapping, and the mountain lakes of the Adirondacks and Alleghenies, and all similar regions are especially desirable on this account. Almost any wild country, intersected with streams, lakes, and rivers, is apt to abound with game, and some trappers confine their labors to the borders of a single lake, and adjoining forest. This plan is especially to be recommended to the amateur, as much of the travelling to and fro can be done by boat, [Page 226] the labor being thus much lightened. Having decided upon the seat of operations, the young trappers should immediately set to work at building their shanties and boats. The home shanty is of the greatest importance, and should be constructed first. Select some flat bit of land near the water and clear it of brush wood, or other rubbish and proceed to work as described on page 242. A good axe is the only tool required by an experienced trapper in the construction of such a shanty. Should the trapping lines be very extensive, additional bark shanties, page 245, will require to be made at intervals along the line, for sleeping stations and shelters in case of storm. The professional trapper generally attends to the building of his shanties and boats before the trapping season commences, and thus has everything in readiness for his campaign. If in a birch bark country the Indian canoe, page 260, is the most desirable craft, on account of its lightness and portability. The dug-out, or bateau, described on page 259, will also do good service.
The trapping season begins in October, and everything should be in readiness at this time, so that the trappers may devote all their time strictly to business.
The route of the professional trapper often extends over fifty miles, and the number and weight of traps and provisions which these rough-and-ready individuals often carry as personal luggage is most astounding. Fifty or sixty pounds apiece is considered a fair burden, and they deem no one a fit physical subject for a campaign who cannot at least manage thirty pounds with comparative ease. The number of the trapping party generally consists of from two to four. A few days prior to the opening of the trapping season, the party start out, laden with their burden of traps and provisions, and deposit them at intervals along the line, the provisions being mainly kept in the "home shanty." Several trips may be necessary to complete these preparations, unless the trapping ground is readily accessible by wagon or boat, in which case the transportation is much easier.
The "home shanty" is generally built only when the trapping grounds are far in the wilderness, miles away from civilization. If the line extends from the outskirts of some town or village, such a hut may be dispensed with. It is used principally as a storehouse for furs, provisions, ammunition, tools, and other valuables, and also serves as a point of rendezvous, or a home, for the trappers, one of the number being generally left in charge to "keep shanty" while his companions are on their tramps in search of game. If desired, a boy may be taken [Page 227] along for this especial purpose. In every case, some such guardian is very necessary, and particularly in wild districts, abounding in wolves and bears, as these animals have an odd trick of breaking into unguarded shanties, and often make sad havoc with its stores. Steel traps are almost exclusively used by the professional trapper, and the supply for a single campaign will often exceed one hundred and fifty. Many of the traps described in the early part of this work are also used, and for the amateur who has not the ready cash to layout in steel traps, are decidedly to be recommended and will be found very efficient. From thirty to fifty traps would be a fair number for an ordinary amateur trapping season, and the probable cost of such a lot would be from $15 to $25. The sizes of the traps will depend upon the game sought, No. 2-1/2 being a good average. With this supply, relying somewhat on dead-falls, twitch-ups, and the various other devices described in our early pages, we can guarantee lively sport, of course, presuming that good judgment has been used in the selection of a trapping ground. In later articles, under the proper headings, we give full details concerning food and cooking utensils, shelter and bedding, as well as many other requisites for the trapper's comfort. To complete the list he should provide himself with a good sharp axe, and hatchet, and if the log canoe is in anticipation he will also require the other tools mentioned on page 259 an oilstone being carried in order to keep the various tools in good repair; an auger, saw, and some large nails are also to be desired, and a small parcel containing needles, thread, pins, scissors, etc., will be found indispensable. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," and there are no more luxurious necessities in camp life than a piece of soap and a clean towel. For light it is advisable to carry a supply of candles, or a lantern with a can of oil. The latter is, of course, more bulky, and for a campaign wholly on foot is hardly to be recommended on this account.
Each trapper should be provided with a stout jack-knife, pocket-compass, and a supply of matches, a number of these being always carried on the person to provide for the emergencies to which the hunter is always subject.
One of the party should carry a double-barrelled shot-gun and another a rifle, or both may be combined in a single weapon. A revolver is also a desirable acquisition. Purified neats-foot oil should be used on the fire-arms, and in lieu of this, some trappers use the melted fat of the grouse for the same purpose. A good supply of fishing tackle is almost indispensable, and [Page 228] with these valuable equipments the young trapper may defy the wilderness with all its hazards. With his traps, gun and rod, together with his store of provisions, he may look forward to a larder well stocked and may calculate on an appetite which will do it justice.
The list of portable provisions and cooking utensils best adapted for a campaign are given under their proper title, and will be found to cover all the wants of the most fastidious. The stove is the most cumbersome article, but trappers generally dispense with its use altogether, looking at it rather in the light of a luxury as well as a nuisance. The open camp fire will answer every purpose, both for cooking and for comfort in cold weather.
For clothing it is desirable to carry at least two suits, in order to have a "change." They should be of woolen, and from the hunter's point of view, should be of a sombre shade, so as to be as inconspicuous as possible. The use of high-top boots is to be deprecated, as they are tiresome and unwieldy. Short boots, with thick, iron-pegged soles, are generally preferred by trappers, and in order to render them soft, pliable, and waterproof they may be soaked or smeared with a hot mixture, composed of one part rosin, two parts beeswax, and three parts tallow. Simple tallow, or even the fat of the deer, is sometimes used for the same purpose.
Calculating on a successful campaign, a supply of board-stretchers, page 273, will be needed for the curing of the skins, and if our adventurous enthusiasts should extend their experience along into the winter, the toboggan and snow-shoes will come into good use for convenient winter travel.
The trapping season properly commences in October and ends in April. The pelts of fur bearing animals are in their best condition during this time, and in the winter are in their prime. The various modes of setting and baiting traps for all our leading animals are clearly set forth in another part of this volume. And in the accompanying engravings will be found life like representations of each species.
In a trapping campaign it is an excellent plan to select a central point for the home shanty, extending the trapping lines in several directions therefrom, following the borders of the lakes or streams for the otter, beaver, mink and muskrat; and setting a few lines inland for the capture of martens, racoons, foxes, etc.
For an amateur campaign this a most excellent and convenient [Page 229] arrangement, the lines may extend all the way from one to five miles each, and connect at their edges, the whole ground plan resembling the form of a wheel, the shanty corresponding to the hub, and the trapping lines the spokes, the tire representing the circuit connecting the various lines. Where the latter extend over many miles it is well to construct bark shanties at the limits. Let each trapper take a certain "spoke," and follow it to its terminus, returning on the adjacent line. On his arrival at the shanty he should immediately set to work skinning the animals taken, and stretching their furs. Full directions for skinning the various game are given under their respective titles, and the curing of skins is treated in detail in another chapter of this work. We also present a table of the comparative values of the various American furs at the present date of publication. Of course these values are constantly varying, but the table will serve at least to gauge the relative values of common and scarce furs. Great care should always be used in removing the skins from the various animals, as the final value of the fur much depends upon this. They should not be removed from the stretchers until perfectly dry, and should then be laid in a cool, airy place. When near a village or settlement it is advisable to send "into town" every few days with a batch of furs for safe keeping, and particularly so when the skins are valuable, and in cases where the home shanty is left unguarded. The value of prime otter or mink pelt is a matter of no small importance, and a good trapping ground furnishes a rare field for light fingered prowlers who are well posted on the market price of raw furs, and who are constantly on the lookout for such prizes, either in the shape of the prepared skin, or on the back of the live animal. These "trap robbers," or poachers, are the pests of trappers, and many have learned from dear experience the advisability of placing their choice furs beyond the reach of the marauders.
The hut in which they are stored is nearly always kept guarded, and, where this is impracticable, the skins are hid in hollow trees, or carried to some near settlement, as we have already mentioned.
If the campaign proves successful and promises well for another season, it is customary to hide the traps beneath rocks, thus saving the labor of a second transportation. In order to keep the traps from rusting, it is well to cover them with oat or buckwheat chaff. The rock should be first rolled from its resting place, and a bed of the chaff made beneath it, in which the traps should be covered, the rock being afterwards replaced. In a few such [Page 230] places all the traps may be effectually stored away, and they will be found in prime order and ready for business on the following season.
In the months of September and October trappers are much annoyed by gnats and mosquitoes, and, as a preventive against the attacks of these pests, we give on page 255 some valuable receipts, which have stood the test of time, and are still the most effective remedies. The "smudge," consisting of a smouldering pile of birch bark is also used where the insects infest the tents or shanties by night. The bark should be dry, and should not be allowed to blaze. The smudge is generally placed at the entrance of the tent, and the trapper may then take his choice between smoke or mosquitoes, both cannot exist together, and a tent infested with the blood-thirsty pests may be effectually cleared in a few minutes by the introduction of smoking brand for a few seconds. If the tent is now closely buttoned and the smudge kept burning directly outside, there will be no further trouble with the mosquitoes, and the odor of the smoke is, after all, but a slight annoyance and to some is even enjoyable after being once accustomed to it. When the home shanty is infested, it may be cleared in the same way, and by the aid of two or more smudges on the windward side may be kept free from the insects.
FOOD AND COOKING UTENSILS.
The professional trapper on a campaign depends much upon his traps for his food, and often entirely contents himself with the subsistence thus gained. We encourage and believe in "roughing it" to a certain extent, but not to that limit to which it is often carried by many professional "followers of the trap" throughout our country. The course of diet to which these individuals subject themselves, would often do better credit to a half civilized barbarian than to an enlightened white man, and when it comes to starting on a campaign with no provision for food excepting a few traps, a gun, and a box of matches, and relying on a chance chip for a frying-pan, he would rather be "counted out." In ordinary cases we see no necessity for such deprivation, and, on the other hand, we decry the idea of transporting a whole kitchen and larder into the woods. There is a happy medium between the two extremes, whereby a light amount of luggage in the shape of cooking utensils and closely packed portable food, may render the wild life of the trapper very cozy and comfortable, and his meals a source of enjoyment, instead of a [Page 231] fulfilment of physical duty. What with the stock of traps, necessary tools, blankets, etc., the trapper's burden is bound to be pretty heavy, and it becomes necessary to select such food for transportation as shall combine the greatest amount of nutriment and the least possible weight, and to confine the utensils to those absolutely necessary for decent cooking.
The trapper's culinary outfit may then be reduced to the following items, and in them he will find a sufficiency for very passable living.
One of the most nutritious and desirable articles of food consists of fine sifted Indian meal; and it is the only substantial article of diet which many trappers will deign to carry at all.
By some it is mixed with twice its quantity of wheat flour, and is thus used in the preparation of quite a variety of palatable dishes. One or two pounds of salt pork will also be found a valuable addition; boxes of pepper and salt and soda should also be carried. With these simple provisions alone, relying on his gun, traps and fishing tackle for animal food, the young trapper may rely on three enjoyable meals a day, if he is anything of a cook. Pork fritters are not to be despised, even at a hotel table; and with the above they can be made to suit the palate of the most fastidious.
Indian meal is a valuable accessory with cooks generally, and to the trapper it often becomes his great "staff of life." If our young enthusiast desires to try his hand at roughing it to the fullest extent, compatible with common sense and the strength of an ordinary physical constitution, he may endeavor to content himself with the above portable rations; but with anything less it becomes too much like starvation to arouse our enthusiasm. For cooking utensils, a small frying-pan and a deep tin basin are indispensable; and a drinking cup is also to be desired. The kind known as the telescope cup, constructed in three parts, which close within each other, when not in use, possesses great advantages on account of its portability. With these one can get along pretty decently.
The pork fritters already mentioned form a favorite dish with trappers generally, and can be made in the following [Page 232] way; have at hand a thick batter of the Indian meal and flour; cut a few slices of the pork, and fry them in the frying-pan until the fat is tried out; cut a few more slices of the pork; dip them in the batter and drop them in the bubbling fat, seasoning with salt and pepper; cook until light brown and eat while hot. The question now arises, "What shall we eat them with?" If you are "roughing it," such luxuries as plates and knifes and forks are surely out of the question; and you must content yourself with a pair of chop sticks "a la Chinee," or make your jackknife do double purpose, using a flat chip or stone as a plate. A small tin plate may be added to the list of utensils if desired, but we are now confining ourselves to the "lowest limit" of absolute necessities. That wholesome dish known as "boiled mush," may come under the above bill of fare; and fried mush is an old stand-by to the rough and ready trapper. In the first case the Indian meal is slowly boiled for one hour, and then seasoned as eaten. It is then allowed to cool, and is cut in slices and fried in fat. Indian meal cakes are easily made by dropping a quantity of the hot mush in the frying-pan, having previously stirred in a small quantity of soda, and turning it as soon as the lower side is browned. A Johnny cake thus made is always appetizing, and with the addition of a little sugar, it becomes a positive luxury. Hoe cakes, so much relished by many, can be made by mixing up a quantity into a thick mass, adding a little soda. Bake in the fire on a chip or flat stone. The trapper's ground is generally in the neighborhood of lakes or streams, and fresh fish are always to be had. They may be cooked in a manner which would tempt a city epicure; and when it comes to the cooking of a fresh brook trout, neither a Prof. Blot nor a Delmonico can compete with the trapper's recipe. The trout is first emptied and cleaned through a hole at the neck, if the fish is large enough to admit of it; if not, it should be done by a slit up the belly. The interior should be carefully washed and seasoned with salt and pepper; and in the case of a large fish, it should be stuffed with Indian meal. Build a good fire and allow the wood to burn down to embers; lay the fish in the hot ashes and cover it with the burning coals and embers; leave it thus for about half an hour, more or less, in proportion to the size of the fish (this may be easily determined by experiment); when done, remove it carefully from the ashes, and peel off the skin. The clean pink flesh and delicious savor which now manifest themselves will create an appetite where none before existed. All the delicate [Page 233] flavor and sweet juices of the fish are thus retained, and the trout as food is then known in its perfection.
By the ordinary method of cooking, the trout loses much of its original flavor by the evaporation of its juices; and although a delicious morsel in any event, it is never fully appreciated excepting after being roasted in the ashes, as above described.
The other method consists in rolling the fish in the Indian meal and frying it in the frying-pan with a piece of the salt pork. Seasoning as desired.
Partridges, ducks, quail, and other wild fowl are most delicious when cooked in the ashes as described for the trout. The bird should be drawn in the ordinary manner, and the inside washed perfectly clean. It should then be embedded in the hot coals and ashes, the feathers having been previously saturated with water. When done, the skin and feathers will easily peel off, and the flesh will be found to be wonderfully sweet, tender, and juicy. A stuffing of pounded crackers and minced meat of any kind, with plenty of seasoning, greatly improves the result, or the Indian meal may be used if desired. A fowl thus roasted is a rare delicacy. A partridge, squirrel, pigeon, woodcock, or any other game can be broiled as well in the woods as at home, using a couple of green-branched twigs for a spider or "toaster," and turning occasionally. For this purpose the bird should be plucked of its feathers, cleanly drawn and washed, and spread out by cutting down the back. Venison, moose, or bear meat, can be deliciously roasted in joints of several pounds before a good fire, using a green birch branch as a spit, and resting it on two logs, situated on opposite sides of the fire. The meat can thus be occasionally turned and propped in place by a small stick, sprinkling occasionally with salt and pepper. The above manner of making the fire is that adopted by most woodsmen. Two large green logs, of several feet in length, being first laid down at about three feet distant, between these the fire is built, and when a kettle is used a heavy pole is so arranged as to project and hold it over the fire. A cutlet of venison fried in the pan is delicious, and a "Johnny cake" cooked in the fat of this meat is a decided dainty.
With the above hints for a "rough and ready" campaign, we think the young trapper ought to be able to get along quite comfortably.
We will now pass on to the consideration of what the average [Page 234] professional trapper would call "luxuries." The stock of these depends much upon the location of the trapping ground. If accessible by wagon or boat, or both, they may be carried in unlimited quantities, but when they are to be borne on the back of the trapper through a pathless wilderness of miles, the supply will, of course, have to be cut short. When two or three start out together it becomes much easier, one carrying the traps and tools; another the guns, cooking utensils, etc.; the third confining his luggage to the food. One of the most necessary requisites for a journey on foot consists in a knapsack or large square basket, which can be easily strapped to the back of the shoulders, thus leaving the hands free. Matches are absolutely indispensable, and a good supply should be carried. They should always be enclosed in a large-mouthed bottle with a close fitting cork, to prevent their being damaged by moisture. For further safety in this regard the matches may be rendered perfectly water-proof by dipping their ends in thin mastic or shellac varnish. If not at hand, this varnish can be easily made by dissolving a small quantity of either sort of gum in three or four times its bulk of alcohol. It is well to dip the whole stick in the solution, thereby rendering the entire match impervious to moisture. Lucifer matches are the best, and, when thus prepared, they may lay in water for hours without any injury. It is a fearful thing to find oneself in the wilderness, cold and hungry, and without the means of lighting a fire, and to prepare for such an emergency it is always advisable to be provided with a pocket sun glass. So long as the sun shines a fire is thus always to be had, either by igniting a small quantity of powder (which the trapper is always supposed to carry) or using powdered "touch wood" or "punk tinder" in its place. Fine scrapings from dry wood will easily ignite by the sun glass, and by fanning the fire and adding additional fuel it will soon burst into flame. In cloudy weather, and in the absence of matches, a fire may easily be kindled by sprinkling a small quantity of powder on a large flat stone, setting a percussion cap in its midst, and covering the whole with dry leaves. A smart strike on the cap with a hammer will have the desired result, and by heaping additional fuel on the blazing leaves the fire soon reaches large proportions. If the young trapper should ever be so unfortunate as to find himself in the wild woods, chilled and hungry, minus matches, powder, caps, and sun glass, he may as a last resort try the following: Scrape some lint or cotton from some portion of the garment, or some tinder from a dry stick, and lay it on the [Page 235] surface of some rough rock, white quartz rock if it can be found. Next procure a fragment of the same stone, or a piece of steel from some one of the traps, and strike its edge sharply, and with a skipping stroke into the further side of the tinder, the direction being such as will send the sparks thus produced into the inflammable material. Continue this operation until the tinder ignites. By now gently fanning the smoking mass it may easily be coaxed into flame. At least so our Adirondack guide told us last summer. The author has never had occasion to test the merits of the plan for himself, and has no special desire of being so placed, as that his life will hang upon its success. He presents it therefore as a mere suggestion without endorsing its practicability, and would rather prefer matches in the long run. The open fire generally serves both for purposes of warmth and cooking, but by many, a camp stove is considered a great improvement. Stoves of this character, and for this especial purpose, are in the market. They are small and portable, with pipe and furniture, all of which pack away closely into the interior. A fire is easily started in one of these stoves, and, by closing the damper, a slow fire may be kept up through the night. The stove is generally set up at the entrance of the tent, the pipe passing through the top, in a hole near the ridge pole. The furniture consists of three pots or kettles, which pack easily into each other, and when in the stove still leave ample room for a considerable amount of provisions.
The kettles are made of block-tin, and frying-pans also, as these are much more light and portable than those made of iron. The lid may be used as a plate, and for this purpose the handle consists of an iron ring, which will fold flat against the surface when inverted. Knives, forks, and spoons are easily stowed away in the stove or knapsack, and a coffee-pot should always be carried. There is a knife known as the combination camp-knife, which is much used by hunters and trappers, and contains a spoon, fork, knife, and various other useful appendages, in a most compact form. It costs from one to two dollars.
For provisions, potatoes will be found excellent, both on account of their portability and the variety of ways in which they may be served. They are healthy and nutritions, and always palatable. Beans are also very desirable for the same reasons. Wheat flour will form a valuable addition to the trapper's larder, and particularly so, if the "self-raising" kind can be had. This [Page 236] flour contains all the required ingredients for light bread and biscuit, and is sold by grocers generally, in packages of various sizes, with accompanying recipes. We strongly recommend it where a stove is employed; and to anyone who is fond of biscuit, bread, or pancakes, it will be appreciated. Butter, lard, sugar, salt, pepper and mustard are valuable accessories, and curry-powder, olive oil, and vinegar will often be found useful. Olive oil is often used by camping parties with the curry powder, and also as a substitute for lard in the frying-pan. Pork, Indian meal and crackers, wheaten grits, rice, and oat-meal are desirable, and coffee and tea are great luxuries. For soups, Liebig's extract of beef is a most valuable article, and with the addition of other ingredients, vegetables or meat, the result is a most delicious and nutritious dish. This extract is obtainable at almost any grocer's, and full directions and recipes accompany each jar. Canned vegetables are much to be desired on account of their portability, and are never so delicious as when cooked over a camp fire. Lemonade is always a luscious beverage, but never so much so as to a thirsty trapper. A few lemons are easily carried and will repay the trouble.