Issue # 7
August 2005 Page # 4

A Better Mousetrap, Part Deux

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In this, the second, part of our look at Leaonard Mascall’s "A book on Engines and traps to take Polecats, buzards, rattes, etc.," as printed in 1590 we will continue to focus on easily made traps of largely wooden construction. The ingenuity of the colonist’s would not have been greatly stretched to find suitable local substitutes for the required articles necessary to the construction of these traps. It must be remembered that most large game animals would have been less abundant in the 17th and 18th centuries than they are at present. The number of large animals supported by an acre of old growth forest being significantly less than that supported by an acre of land in use by agriculture. Thus, it is highly likely that small animals and songbirds would have played a larger part of the colonist’s diet than is commonly supposed. These traps would have been instrumental in keeping meat in the stewpot.

1. The foot trap:

Made with a thick plank 8-10" wide and a yard and a half long with a hole made in the middle closer to one end than the other. Also the plank has 2 holes at each end for stakes. A strong pole or tree is bent toward one end and a string tied thereto. The string is run under the plank and up through the hole. A noose is formed in the end of the line and spread around the hole. This is held in place by the step plate. As near as I can tell from the description, the step plates small end fits into a slight notch in the plank, the large end over a hole that is a close fit. The tension of the line is held by the closeness of the fit of the step plate. The weight of the animal dislodges the step plate, the noose catches the foot, and pulls the animal to the board. The pole must be strong enough to hold the animal without yanking off the noose or the foot.

This is the literal translation provided to me by Lottie from and helps explain the technical term “clicket” which has thrown me for a loop for a long time in trying to decipher this text.

2. The wolf trap:

A pit 5 ' deep and square, 2 and a half yards to a side and boarded almost to the top. A pole is set into one side, almost at the top and a platter attached so that it rests on top, but will rotate either way if stepped on. I have seen the same design in a floating box used for turtles. When the wolf steps on the center plate to take the bait, the plate turns and dumps him in the pit. At the end of this description he also mentions using poisoned sheep’s liver. The poison described is either "rat's bane" or "wolf's bane" (Aconitum in Latin). He warns not to touch the bait with bare hands as the wolf will smell it and ignore the bait.

3. The drag hook:

It is made of iron or great wire and turns on a buckle. The hook is hung in a tree and baited. When the fox, dog, or wolf jumps to take the bait, he is hooked, just like a fish.

4. The hare pipe:

Commonly made of elder for catching hares. This hollow pipe is 5-9 inches long for hares and 9-11 inches long for dog size animals and made of iron plate. A bend of line is secured through the side of the tube, run out the end with the sharpened spikes, back down the tube and to a stake. The more the animal struggles against the line, the deeper he drives the spikes.

5. The whip or spring trap:

This is a simple twitch up snare. The trigger is 2 L shaped pieces of wood or metal that fit and hold together.

6. The double trap to take rats and mice:

This has a board top and bottom and is about 5" in height. Anything else was too difficult for me to make out.

7. A trap or fall for buzzards or kites with a hurdle:

A forked stick is placed in the ground. A crooked stick is leaned into the forked stick. The hurdle or flat, woven basket like wall is tilted onto the crooked stick and a string tied from the underside in 2 places passing around the bottom of the crooked stick. When the buzzard comes underneath to take the bait its foot kicks the string, knocking the crooked stick down and the hurdle falls, netting the buzzard.

8. The basket fall:

This trap is set the same as the above hurdle trap, but uses a heavy wicker basket. The basket is described as sometimes being the height of a man.

9. The lay trap for setting about fields and orchards:

I have seen examples of this trap in the Foxfire museum and still in use in local farmer’s fields in North Georgia and Western North Carolina. A pole 7-8” around and 7-8’ long is set in the ground. 2 holes are bored, about a foot from the ground and about 6” from the top. Into the bottom hole is fixed a flexible pole which can be bent upward to place tension on a noose. The noose is passed through the top hole and pegged in place with a 7-8” stick, split to hold bait. The noose is spread around the stick and when the bird settles on the stick its weight dislodges the peg, allowing the spring to pull the noose tight around the bird. The setup can also be rigged to a branch in a fruit tree.

A Latch Trap

CPT Michael Kay (Talking Bear / yo-na-wo-ni)
FOB Caldwell, Iraq