how many traps?

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Rifleman1776

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I am currently reading a fiction novel set in the very late part of the fur trade era. During a conversation among the three main characters it was said that a trapper carried 20 traps. The reason for this number was that less than 20 a man could not earn a living, more than this amount was too great a burden for the pack animal. Any ideas on how accurate this might actually be?
 

tom_in_vt

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I’m sure there is some truth behind it, although 20 may or may not be an exact number. Older double long spring traps were big and heavy. In the mountains they would be a handful to haul. Not a big deal if you’re moving a few, but if you’re moving a canyon or two over or over a mountain range; they would be a big burden to carry all your steel along with other supplies.
 

Phil Coffins

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Rocky Mountain beaver hunters (trappers) moved a lot, often ten to twenty miles in a day then trapped for a few days to move on. Journal of a Trapper by Osborn Russell illustrates this very well. I believe he states in this book how many traps he carries.
 

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Besides the Russell book I have read in several other sources each man had 6 traps. These would be similar to a current Bridger #5 double long spring. These are fairly large traps, weigh a fair amount and take up a good amount of space. The company of trappers would find a base camp and then break up into teams of two men, each team heading up a different creek. It takes some time to set a trap, usually a scented mound set was used. So, cut a drowning pole set the set trap, create the fake mound, etc.- it all takes time. Doing 6 would take quite a while. The country was so rich with uneducated beavers that in many cases there would be a beaver in every trap the next day. Now make 6 hoops, skin 6 beavers, re-set the 6 traps. That's a lot of work, especially if you have to watch out for hostile tribes, etc.
 

Bassdog1

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I would say thats probably accurate especially for beaver traps. Another thing that some did was to cache traps in different areas so they could cover more area without having to haul traps in and out.
 
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In my younger years I did a fair amount of trapping, for ten years or so. My magic number was 14 traps. But it really depends on what you are trapping for, if you have help from someone, your camp set up to support processing, weather and geographic location. But to say that it was accurate or not, is unrealistic because it would depend on said factors. I think it was one of the best times of my life, not sure if it was the trapping or because I was so young!
 

Bassdog1

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Mogadishu I started trapping when I was around 11 or 12 years old. Muskrat, Racoon, Mink and Fox were my primary targets with Muskrat being the bulk of my catch. And like you it was a wonderful time in my life. Still trap Coyotes a few Mink and Muskrat and even though I enjoy it very much it does not feel the same as those early years.
 

Grimord

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I still trap alittle, but back in my younger days I paid for my college education thru trapping of mostly muskrats and raccoon. In those heydays, rats were going for $5-6 and coon for $30.
Back to the OP question. In my readings of the first Ashley-Henry trip up the Missouri, I seem to recall that when they set up their first fort at the Junction of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, each conscription trapper was issued 6 traps.
 

Red Owl

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Yes, there are records, I never heard of a "company" trapper having anything else but 6. A free trapper- whatever he wanted.
 

Billy Boy

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I am currently reading a fiction novel set in the very late part of the fur trade era. During a conversation among the three main characters it was said that a trapper carried 20 traps. The reason for this number was that less than 20 a man could not earn a living, more than this amount was too great a burden for the pack animal. Any ideas on how accurate this might actually be?
It would take a day to make 20 sets, and a day to check - run the trapline. Probably not much use for more 20.
 

LongWalker

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All but one of the period descriptions and trappers' contracts that I've seen state company trappers receive 6 traps. (The exception stated the contractee would receive 4 traps, but "6" was written on the pre-printed contract and crossed out. Perhaps a case where only 4 traps were available?)

As for weight, my traps (Bridger #5s, similar from other makers, or handforged) average about 6# each the way I have them rigged. The trap itself (no chain, etc) will average about 4#.

As Billy Boy noted, it takes time to set and run traps. Trapping old-style, as a teenager I could manage to set and run a line of 6 traps for beaver, including skinning, hooping, and fleshing the hides. Anyone who's done it will tell you, caring for the hides is not a quick task.

Running 20 traps for other animals (raccoon, muskrat, etc) would be doable, if that was all you did. Some of the Kansas accounts of furs traded suggest (by the numbers) that the trapper was either running longer lines or doing some trading.

For later examples, I have 2 accounts from the early-mid 20th century where ranchers were running lines of as many as 60 muskrat traps. They both left the house before dawn, ran their lines from a wagon, and returned home in the afternoon--to spend the afternoon and evening skinning, stretching, scraping, and drying muskrats. Repeat. Every day from mid-November to early March. . . but furs were a major source of income for their families.
 

Red Owl

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Be careful of friction novels. I've read about every diary written by those that were there. I must be a slow trapper but these guys were going cold into new areas so first you need to ride along the creek and find a likely looking area that beaver use, then cut a drowning pole, then make the bed for the trap- for double long springs, and set the trap so it is stable- if it wobbled the beaver won't put his full weight on it, then make a fake scent mound. Then go and find another likely area- off hand it would seem it might take an hour per set.
 

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