Assorted foot traps for marten and fisher, and a kill trap for beaver. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MALACHY FLYNN

Former fur trapper gives history talk

FRANKLIN — Mickie Barbeau showed audience members at the Franklin Historical Society the basics of trapping in a July 23 presentation on winter fur trapping in northern Maine. Barbeau used to trap in the winters with a friend of his many years ago and had much to say about it.

Barbeau brought several traps with him for demonstration, as well as hand-drawn diagrams showing how the traps work. He described each one in detail, what they were used to catch, how they worked, and the environment in which they are set.

Shown during the program (and pictured) were three “foot traps,” which are designed to trap the foot of an animal in them, and one “kill trap.”

Barbeau said the most important aspect of setting traps was making sure not to leave any scent, which would deter animals.

“Never touch the traps, you’ll leave a scent,” Barbeau said.

To ensure that traps are devoid of human smells, trappers boil their traps with branches, and then handle them with rubber gloves.

As for bait, Barbeau said that old chicken works well in the beginning, but once a trapper has caught a few animals, the captured meat is then used for baiting traps to catch other animals.

“The carcasses didn’t go to waste that much,” Barbeau said.

Foot traps were often used to catch martens and fishers, animals that are valued for their furs, and are larger members of the weasel family.

“They were vicious too, they’d spit at you,” said Barbeau, referring to martens.

Traps had to be hidden, and this was often done with a piece of wax paper, or a strip of birch bark, depending on the size of the intended prey. Birch bark was used as a covering for traps intended to catch large animals, and wax paper was used for traps intended for catching smaller animals.

“Birch bark is stiffer,” Barbeau said. “You don’t want a squirrel or something setting off your trap.”

Kill traps were used for beavers, a very sought-after prey. Barbeau said beaver traps are set in different ways than traps for other animals.

Since beavers are not carnivorous, they would not be attracted to the meat bait that is used for most traps. Barbeau said the best beaver bait is simply a bundle of sticks, and that the animals prefer poplar twigs over other wood.

Barbeau also explained that there are multiple ways to catch a beaver, and that unlike most animals that are trapped on land, beavers can be caught in trees and under water.

One technique that Barbeau showed was called a “hill trap,” which was a trap set on a partially felled tree that was slanted and elevated at an angle. Beavers would climb up the slanted tree and get caught in the trap on it.

Barbeau also explained how to trap a beaver in the water under frozen ice. To do this a hole is cut in the ice, and the trap, which is baited with poplar branches, is attached to a long pole. This pole is then inserted into the hole cut in the ice, with the bait and trap below the surface of the water.

Barbeau also explained the technique for locating animals underneath the frozen ice, when seeing or tracking them is not as easy.

“Look for air bubbles under the ice,” Barbeau said. “If there’s air bubbles, there’s a beaver there.”

Malachy Flynn

Reporter Malachy Flynn covers news on the Schoodic beat, which includes the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Sorrento, Sullivan, Trenton, Waltham, and Winter Harbor. He also reports on the town of Tremont on Mount Desert Island. He welcomes tips and suggestions about stories in the area. To contact Malachy with tips or questions, email him at [email protected].

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