Back before a segment of the citizenry projected their confusion about the natural relationship between man and wild animals onto so many of our youth, and before youngsters had so many things competing for their time, kids who loved the outdoors enjoyed trapping.
Drawings and instructions in the Boy Scout manual showed us how it was done and I for one am glad that I learned how to catch my own meat if I ever face a wilderness survival situation.
Trapping is one of the best teachers of resourcefulness. Many of today’s outdoor enthusiasts; guides, product professionals, outdoor writers and others, saw their love of the outdoors grow as they practiced elementary small game trapping in the fields, forests and streams of their youth.
It is a rare outdoors person who didn’t at some point dream of running a trap line in the far north, challenging deep snow and ferocious wolf packs. Down South, we substituted local rabbits, possums or whatever was available for muskrat and mink of the Northwest Territories.
We sometimes ate our catches and stretched their hides by tacking them to a barn wall or other handy flat surface. Sometimes we let captured critters go, a successful catch being our only goal.
I remember constructing and using what my father called “rabbit gums.” I never learned why this box-type trap was called a gum, though I suspected the word may have alluded to such a trap being made from hollow sweet gum or black gum logs.
Daddy told me how to make the rabbit gum that he and his relatives caught rabbits with during the Great Depression and were glad when the trap doors were down and the makings of fried rabbit and gravy were to be found inside.
Inch-thick boards were nailed together to form a box about a foot square and three or four feet long. One end was left open and the side boards slotted to let a trap door slide down from the top. A hole in the top near the end opposite the door was drilled for a trigger, a slotted wooden dowel which contacted the bait lying at the rear of the box.
A long stick was tied by string to the trigger on one end and the drop door on the other and lay horizontally across an elevated support stick about midways the box, like the center support of a seesaw. A bump against the trigger would dislodge its notch from the hole above and the weight of the door would cause it to drop closed.
I was proud of my first rabbit “gum” and was tickled when I caught rabbits in it. Success led to confidence and eventually to overconfidence. One day as I approached my trap and saw that the door was down, I learned yet another of life’s lessons; one of those “don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” or “all that glitters is not gold,” kind of lessons.
My technique was to pick up the door end of the box and stand the trap on end so the trapped rabbit would slide to the bottom and I could open the door and reach in to get it without its being able to hop out. This day that is what I did. I gave the box a shake and felt the weight of the rabbit settle to the bottom.
I confidently slid open the door and reached down to get the rabbit. As I touched fur, I heard a loud pop that sounded like teeth clashing together, and I jerked my hand out of the trap much faster than I had reached it inside. With my hair standing on end, I turned the trap opening around so the sun would shine in and light up the contents. That is when I learned that my rabbit was not a rabbit. My rabbit was a possum; a very upset possum that had a look in its eyes that bespoke a fondness for snacking on fingers.
That possum got to go free, and though I resumed setting “rabbit gums” sometime later, I never reached into one again without looking first.
I and others of my day experimented with all kinds of traps. Some of our earliest were pitfall traps, typical of those used by jungle dwellers, usually the bad guys, in movies of the day. A hole dug in the ground and covered over with thin, dry goldenrod stems camouflaged with pine straw and leaves brought visions of animals falling in and becoming easy pickings. The size of the hole dictated the size of wild animals envisioned.
I caught only frogs and box turtles and a couple of the neighbor dogs. Maybe the pits should have been bigger. Then I might have caught a lion (fox) or tiger (coyote) back when times were simpler and boys had no electronic, digital, LED adorned distractions. Back then adventure arose from resourcefulness that was quite easily enhanced by imagination.