My Trapping Memories, Page 1
As told by Henry Herridge
My father, Henry Herridge, was born on 06 September 1923 in the little fishing village of Anderson’s Cove, Newfoundland. Like most men in small coastal settlements, he learned to fish, set snares and hunt as a means of putting food on the table. However, unlike most of the other men in Anderson’s Cove, my father was also a fur trapper as a means of adding a little extra income to the family finances. A number of years ago he dictated to me his fur-trapping memories, which began in Long Harbour, Fortune Bay and ended in the Burin Peninsula area around Fortune. His memories are presented here as he told them to me.
My first beaver trapping license, in 1950, was for Long Harbour and my buddy was Alison Thornhill. Only one license per householder was issued. We knew nothing about beaver and had very little trapping gear. I bought two traps and we borrowed two from William Pope, and two from Ambrose Pope. We picked up our licenses from William Pope, the Game Warden in Stone’s Cove, a short distance away.
The evening before we left, I went over to Uncle Ned Osmond’s and asked Uncle Albert Thornhill how to catch beaver, because he had trapped them the year before. He said there was nothing to know and that we would learn.
We packed our supplies and the next morning we were bound for Long Harbour. It took us one hour to get to Dog Cove, where the shack was. When we arrived, we put the kettle on the old ‘drum’ stove and had our lunch.
Then we headed for the brook in Dog Pond with our six traps. It was about half an hour’s walk to the dam in the brook. One little beaver followed us as we set our traps and we wondered if he would strike them up after we left.
Back at the shack, we cooked a big supper of salt beef, potatoes and cabbage. After supper we got our firewood in, which became a nightly chore, and then settled away for the night.
Next morning we set out, anxious to check our traps. Every trap was struck up, with no beaver in any of them. We were puzzled but laughed it off and went back to the shack. A fish supper tasted good after walking the country.
The next day brought much the same results as the first. However, we did get one big front paw of an old beaver. So we decided the traps must be set wrong. We came out of Dog Cove to see Fred Burton, who had trapped the year before, and asked his opinion. He said he had the same trouble at first and then told us how he had overcome it. We returned to Dog Cove that same day and fixed our traps.
We were very eager to check the traps the next morning and were pleased to get three beaver. Then we went down the brook to the last year’s house. I got down in the water, found the doorway, and used a piece of one of my new cod nets to put around the house. While I was looking around, I saw a big crippled beaver coming down his path and hollered out to Alison. Alison ran but tripped up, fell face and eyes out in the pond, and the beaver got away. When we stopped laughing, Alison got up on the house and jumped.
His two-hundred-pound weight gave the old house quite a shaking. Two beaver came out and got caught in the net. I hit the first one on the bead, caught him by the tail, and passed him to Alison. Then I got the other one. We now had my five and were ready to fill Alison’s license.
We got two beaver the next day and three the day after, including the big one with three legs. Both our licenses were now filled.
As we were getting ready to leave Dog Cove, a motor dory came in. It was William Thornhill and Randell Dominaux. They reported that their father didn’t have any beaver and had lost two traps. They were on the way to check out a beaver house they knew about up in the bottom of Long Harbour.
It was on a Saturday that we went home. That evening we went over to Uncle Ned’s for all the news, interested to hear how the other trappers had done. Fred Burton was the only man, besides ourselves, who had filled his license.
Uncle Albert said, ‘You got your ten beaver, Harry.’
‘Yes, Uncle Albert,’ I said.
‘You asked me how to catch beaver so now I’m going to ask you,’ Uncle Albert said.
‘You’ll learn, sir,’ I said, and everyone laughed.
Monday morning we started skinning the beaver and put them on boards to dry. When they were dried good, we sent them to St. John’s. Our payment arrived about a month later.
We had been living in Fortune about three years when I got my second beaver license. That was in the late 1950s. In February I went into the First Leader (Brook). There was lots of snow that year. I found what looked to be a very small house and set my traps.
The next morning I got one beaver so I left the traps out but got nothing else. I guessed it must have been a banished beaver and took up my traps.
I went for Fortune Brook next as it was better walking. There were some fresh-cut sticks up the brook, not far from the bridge, and I figured I must be getting close to a house. About 30 yards up the brook there was a big beaver dam across the brook. There was lots of beaver sign so I set my traps and went home.
When I returned the following morning, one big beaver was in the trap, caught by the hind leg. It was out of the water, up on the dam and, to my surprise, it was dead. The only explanation I could think of was that someone trout fishing up the brook had seen the beaver and killed it. I thought it was pretty nice of whoever it was and was thankful that I didn’t have to kill it. Picking up the beaver, I headed for home.
It snowed the next day and I didn’t get in the country. My next trip would take me up by the edge of the woods, a bit inside of the brook. It would be tough going in the snow so I made a pair of snowshoes out of plywood.
The following morning, it was bad walking so I put on my homemade snowshoes. I made so much noise, ‘Clip-clop, clip-clop,’ over the snow that I laughed to myself. Any other person or animal must have heard me coming a mile away. They were a bit slippery too and I fell down several times. When I got back home that day I drove the snowshoes full of nails for better footing.
In the next two days I got two more big beaver and a small one. This completed my quota of five beaver. Next I skinned and cleaned the pelts. About a week later,
when they were partly dried, I had a visit from two Wardens, Mr. Balsam from Clarenville and Mr. Garrett from Port Blandford.
I had a fire going in the stove down in the shed and Balsam asked me if I was trying to cook them. He told me that drying them in heat or direct sunlight would spoil the skins. Being an experienced trapper himself, he knew a lot about curing the furs as well as trapping. I had five tags to send the pelts to Sydney I. Robinson, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As the Wardens were leaving, they told me that it would be all trap lines next year, which would mean taking more furs.
That fall I began going in the country, looking for as many beaver houses as I could find. I knew the area where I would be trapping. Then Garrett and Balsam arrived with all the papers. They had a map outlining the area my trap line covered. There were papers showing how to set traps so as not to lose any beaver. There were papers on how to prepare the pelts for the best market prices. They also had bottles in which I had to put the reproductive organs of any female beaver. The jawbones from all the animals had to be tagged, showing the house they came from. All this was to help in determining the ages, the mating season, etc. I did all this after the pelts were cleaned.
My trap line was number 177 and all my traps were tagged with that number. Some of the traps I used were: Number 8 Fox Trap, sometimes called a squeezer; Number 3 Jump Trap with teeth on the maws; and a big Number 4 Double Spring, which we called a two-tail trap. These were some of the first traps used and would usually catch the animal by the leg.
Then the new body trap came out. The first of these was the Conebear, a good trap that worked well. Next came the Canada Trap and the Dellagreen. I preferred the Conebear and I bought several over the years and used them more than anything else.
The Conebear was a very strong trap. Sometimes I would set them before leaving and carry one or two in my packsack with safety guards on. One day I set my traps and when I got home I remembered that I had left the safety guards on so I went back in and removed them. Another day, I got so disgusted with a new Canada Trap that I gave it a pitch out in the woods.
Around mid-September I would go in on my trap line. The beaver would then be repairing their dams and houses or building new ones. This was the time to find their new runs and tunnels before heavy snowfalls and ice covered everything.
I would begin trapping the first of November, starting with the places that were hardest to reach before the weather got too bad. Before the snow came, I would bring the beaver home on my back. Two big beaver was a heavy load so sometimes, if it was a nice day, I stopped and skinned one before coming home.
When the weather got cold and stormy I used a toboggan to bring the animals home on. Then it was time to use snowshoes for walking again but now I had a proper pair, bought through Eaton’s mail-order catalogue. The wardens had laughed at my plywood ones a couple years earlier.
Sometimes, if the snow was good for walking, I took the dog with me for towing the beaver on a komatik. Other times I used my ATV, a six-wheel Amphicat.
My vehicle was left parked on the side of the highway whenever I went in the road toward Point May. In all my years of going in the country I never once had anything damaged.
If there were two or three feet of soft snow I had to use the snowshoes. I would put them on when I got to Fred Lake’s farm and walk all day, towing my toboggan. Sometimes it was rough going, snowing and drifting. There were days when I didn’t know if I was going to make it home that evening.
There is one day in February 1958, which I can remember well. It was good going and I had my traps set in Grand Bank Pond. There were strong northwest winds and heavy snow squalls when I left early in the morning. I took the Amphicat in hopes of heading off the worst of the weather. It’s a long run in to the Pond but the wind was in my back and I made good time.
It was freezing like steel when I pulled the first trap up out of the hole. There was a beaver in it and I left it on the snow while I went on to the next trap. This one had an otter. When I got back to the beaver, it was frozen to the trap so hard that I had to bring it home as it was.
With both animals aboard the Amphicat, I started for home. It wasn’t very pleasant when I got up on the open country. Now I had the wind in my face and it was blizzard conditions. At times I couldn’t tell if I was on the trail or not. It took me a long time but, thank God, I finally reached home, very tired, but nothing that a good night’s rest wouldn’t fix.
I recall another day the following year, 1959, when I went in to check my traps and got caught in the middle of a blizzard. It was on February 9th and when I got home I heard that the Blue Wave, a trawler out of Grand Bank, had been lost with all hands. There were people who went astray in the country at the same time.
That was the ups and downs of trapping, good days and bad days. It wasn’t all sport. It continued like that for about 24 years, and I saw lots of moose and caribou in the country.
But things began to change as ATV’s became more popular. The country was noisy and trails led in every direction. Moose and caribou, as well as other wildlife, were scattered and driven until they all but disappeared. I found beaver houses torn up, with shotgun shells lying around and, sometimes, a dead beaver. The country wasn’t as quiet or safe anymore.
It was time to look for a new trap line, where things weren’t yet spoiled. There was such an area below Grand Bank. When I told the Warden the conditions in the area of my current trap line, he gave me permission to go below Grand Bank, as far as Famine. That was in 1977 and I trapped that area for about six years.
One night the mayor of Grand Bank, Fred Tessier, called me. He had a summer cottage at Little Barasway and some beaver were giving him a lot of trouble. Their dam was causing flooding around his cottage and many of the big trees in the area were cut down.
The local Wildlife Officer could give Mr. Tessier no help because it was outside of his line of work. I told him to call the Warden at Port Blandford. Shortly after, Mr. Garrett called and told me to go down and take all the beaver from that house.
I took my traps and went to check it out the next day. The beaver had dammed the brook, and water was backed up around the cottage, while trees had been cut close to the patio. I set as many traps as I could around the house, then continued on to Famine, setting traps on the way, for a total of ten.
Next morning I got nine beaver out of the ten traps. I took up two traps. The following day I got eight more beaver so I took up all the traps. I now had 17 pelts to clean and dry. Some of them were put in cold storage because I didn’t have enough boards, or space, to dry them all at once.
About a week later I went back to Tessier’s cottage. There was no further sign of beaver activity and the water was drying up. I tore up the dam and reported to Tessier when I came home, that everything had been taken care of. He was very thankful. I caught 45 beaver that year.
Now I think I will tell a bit more about the beaver, how hard some of them were to catch, and how I had to set the traps to catch them. One morning I went in to Lorries Long Pond. I went over and stepped on the house. Out came two large beavers, swimming around off in front of the house. I had one new trap with me and this would be the first time to set it. I set the trap and I had a long chain on it from another trap,that was old and it caused a bit of bad luck. These were the early years and the old-fashioned traps.
When I went back the next day I saw one beaver swimming around off from the house. I could see it was all torn up around the house. I picked up the chain and saw that it was broken; a bad link, I guess you would call it. I walked down around the pond from the house to see if he got caught in any brush, but I found nothing. He must have gone off and the trap carried him down and drowned him. I had seen this happen before. While standing on the house I heard a noise, like a whine.
I put my ear down close to the house and listened. Yes, there was the noise again. I thought he must be in the house with the trap on him. I came out, had my dinner and took my flashlight and went back and cut a hole in the house, and poked my head down in the hole with the flashlight. I saw two small beaver, the size of a muskrat. My intent was to set another trap for the beaver that was left, but after seeing those young beaver, and the large one off in the pond, I decided to bring my trap back again as this one would care for the young kits.
My next place to visit was Kings, on the south side of Fortune Brook, about a mile and a half up over to another pond. I set two traps and went back the next day. The beaver was in the trap off in the water. I took a stick to hit him and he dived. The water caught the blow. The beaver came out of the water, but not near the trap. I watched him to see if he would go to his house and he turned toward the shore. When he got too near the shore to dive, I jumped around and caught him by the tail. I kept backing up as he was trying to turn around at me. I did this until I could reach my stick and that did it. I got a couple of paws after that, and then I gave it up for a while.
Another time, in the early days, using the old leg traps, I decided to go Juniper Droke. There was a very large house in there. There must have been 12 beaver or more in the house. I set two traps on the dam, went back the next day and they were plastered in the dam with mud and sticks. I pulled them up and shifted them in another place and I got some small flat boughs, put them over the traps to shade them like me and Alison did in Long Harbour, to catch them. When I went back, the traps were sprung – but no beaver!
I stopped to think about it for a moment, and then decided I would set two traps in one place, with the one inside left open to see. The first one he would come to was all covered, nothing to see, as looking at the inside trap to strike it up, not knowing about the one he had to pass over. Now I wondered if this would work. I went back the next morning and, sure enough, the beaver was there. I took him out and shifted the traps to the other side of the dam and did the same thing all over again. I went back the next day and got another one. I tried it the third time and went back, but no luck. They had gone to another old house where I found them later but I was ready to give up for that year.
That winter I went back to Kings again and my next-door neighbour, Harry Lake, wanted to go in with me. I told him there was a lot of snow. ‘I don't mind that,’ he said. ‘It's not far to go.’ So he went with me but there was too much snow to do anything. I had the snowshoes and he travelled behind.
We left to come back and I said, ‘Take my snowshoes, Harry.’ I was expecting to have fun, watching him, but he put them on and came right to Fortune Brook, not a hitch. I asked him if he had used snowshoes before.
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© Fay Herridge
Published in Canadian Stories, Feb/Mar 2012
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