There are no dates on these photos I found but I am guessing they were taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s. They record a group of men who traveled on snowshoes for a couple days of beaver trapping. Blurry and badly exposed, these photos were probably a big deal to these guys. Back then, the cost of a roll of film, plus processing, confined picture taking to special occasions and events. When the pictures finally got back from being developed these men probably got together again to look at them over coffee and cigarettes after dinner, before spending the rest of the evening playing cribbage and telling stories.
I don’t know how these pictures ended up where I found them, and I don’t know where they’d have gone if I hadn’t, but I wanted to preserve these old records of our outdoor heritage. Wanting to share them is the reason for this post.
In case someone missed it the first time, these pictures are of beaver trappers. They had a successful couple of days, hung their catch from poles and posed for pictures in camp. There’s nothing here to disturb the squeamish, but it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
With wide ash frames, rawhide decks and leather bindings, snowshoes like those are more likely to be seen hung on a wall or above a mantel these days as in the woods. Some purists still use the heavy old squeakers but most folks today prefer modern models made of lightweight, space-age materials, with shorter, narrower profiles and simple binding systems.
The boys have their licenses, worn as badges on their hats. I like to think they made a special trip to Montpelier to get them but they probably used the U.S. Mail and waited at home. My trapping license was paid for and downloaded over the internet and printed in my living room (the license says “Trapping” but we call it “Furbearer Management” now).
No matter what kind of snowshoes are worn, or the manner in which a license is obtained, someone has to haul the gear.
We’ll never know if this group of outdoorsmen took turns pulling the sled or if that fellow lost a bet, drew the short straw or what, but that’s a harness he’s wearing. As if the narrow leather and small buckles on his snowshoes weren’t enough.
Trapping beaver is not something one does as a lark. In late winter, when the furs are prime, preparation, safety, and steely determination are necessary. I stay close to home, generally running my lines in half a day or so, but these boys covered some ground and stayed out in the woods for at least one night. Deer camp, bear camp or beaver camp, camp is camp, and their camp back then wasn’t all that different than some camps today. It might have been even nicer than a few I’ve seen.
It must have been pretty darn cold, as indicated by the fact that these Vermonters have their hands in their pockets. With luxurious accommodations secured, our intrepid friends got to work, putting all their accumulated knowledge and skills to work, embarking on a diligent search for the subtle signs of beaver.
At first I thought that was part of a beaver dam but now I think it’s a lodge. Generations of beavers have added mud, sticks, and small logs to the pile and it is huge. The space that shelters the beavers is actually quite small, and the only way in is to swim through an underwater entrance or to dig through eight feet of jumbled wood and packed mud. It is an impressive fortress.
There are no photos of the methods used, and I don’t know what the game laws were at the time of this expedition, but there is nothing to indicate any funny business or unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of our friends.
They did get beaver.
There’s some size to those rodents (30-40 pounds?) but, with less trapping pressure, it is not uncommon to come across even bigger beavers today, with more than a few in the 50-60 pound range. The biggest I’ve personally caught weighed 65 pounds and a friend took a 72 pound behemoth from the snow-making pond at a local ski area a couple of years ago.
With four guys and one camera, three of them could be in a picture at a time.
These fellows were deserving of portraits of their own.
They brought a dog along for the weekend, either for companionship or warmth because a dog that size is too small to pull the sled.
With meat for the table and a few bucks for the pelts, it was a successful outing for our friends. A few more pictures around camp finished off this roll of film and, while I am sure the memories of this trip lasted them a good long time, the photos lasted longer, giving us a quick glimpse of a weekend in the woods some 60+ years ago.
Some of the clothing and some of the gear has changed in the past half-century, but time in the woods with friends and family is still rewarding and, even though we call it “Furbearer Management” these days, trapping remains an important component of Vermont’s outdoors tradition. The information and knowledge provided by trappers also plays a big part in the state’s wildlife management decision making, ensuring healthy populations of furbearers while at the same time minimizing their conflicts with humans and human activities.
So, here’s to this group of men who borrowed a camera, plunked down a couple of bucks for the film and developing, and left behind a record of one weekend in the Vermont woods, a long time ago.
A lot of time is spent dealing with beavers on the property surrounding Fish in a Barrel Pond. They have blocked culverts, flooded roads, and generally made a mess of things where they should not have been. They also play a major role in the ecology of this little valley and we recognize their place in the world, following guidelines set forth in “Best Mangement Practices for Resolving Human-Beaver Conflicts in Vermont” (PDF).
Our post Baffling Beavers shows a non-lethal method we used to take care of one particular beaver problem. Unable to manipulate or maintain the water level, the beavers moved on and the road was saved.
Other beaver-related posts have included:
Interesting things are seen while working a trap line, as chronicled in A Story of Life and Death, Written in Snow, and, for more on moving gear in the winter, see our Gear Review of the Shappell Jet Sled.
In our post Trout Candy Eye Candy you’ll find a bunch of photos of bugs, followed by a master fly tyer using beaver fur to create some really nice trout flies.
My friend Eugene and his pal Purly also do a bit of trapping. Our post The Disappearance of Ethan Allen not only explains to dulcimer players what a possum board is, but also tells the tale of a trapper’s beloved dog. In Eugene, Purly and Chef Gordon Ramsay, “trapper chic” does not quite meet Chef Ramsay’s expectations and he finally meets his match when it comes to cussing.
We considered closing this mid-winter post with some encouragement to emulate our friends in those old photos by getting outside to enjoy the wonders of nature. Given the weather reports we’ve been seeing today, maybe everyone should just stay inside for a while.
Stay warm, people, and save those old photos!