“The Book” on Primitive Trapping

Figure 4 deadfall

If you’ve ever been interested in learning primitive trapping techniques, this primitive trapping book is right up your alley.

Primitive trapping is a bit of a touchy issue these days. Some people argue they are invaluable survival tools, while others shudder at the mere mention of them. If fact, several years ago I had a fellow who wanted me banned from a social media group just for posting a primitive trapping video. He claimed I was giving too much fuel to the anti trappers out there. On the other hand, there are probably tens of thousands of resources out there about building primitive traps. One popular Youtuber who demosrates the effectiveness of primitive traps is Tom McElroy. If you are into primitive trapping and have never watched his stuff, you’ll likely be impressed with how effective he is.

Figure 4 deadfall
What are your thoughts on primitive traps? Some see them as almost too dangerous to bring up, while others celebrate their extensive history.

As a guy whose made some primitive traps, and even caught mice, I know where I stand on them. Primitive traps were used for tens of thousands of years as a survival tool for sure, and certainly could be used again if the builder was competent enough. History seems to prove that. The flip side of the coin is that we have steel traps these days that are just too good to pass up. First nations people readily swapped for steel traps when they had the opportunity for obvious reasons. They are just better for catching animals. Whatever your interest is in primitive trapping probably determines how you view them. Personally, I see them as a great way to learn about the lives of our ancestors, walk in their moccasin tracks for a few steps, and also a tool to help a guy out in a pinch. Not ideal, but possibly a help.

Recently while stumbling across the web I came across a primitive trapping book that really caught my eye. It is a resource made available by the excellent website masterwoodsman.com. The book itself is a pdf. file you can get without downloading it and is titled Deadfalls and Snares and has a copyright date of 1907. It was penned by author A.R. Harding and may be the most complete primitive trapping book you could hope to get your hands on. Click on this link to access the book in its entirety.

Harding starts off the book proclaiming some of the advantages of primitive traps from his eyes. Many of the same arguments he used over 100 years ago are still the ones you hear in advocacy of those traps today. Not only do they allow the trapper to travel light, but they highlight bush skills and can be extremely effective. In fact, these sorts of primitive traps were so popular during this time that one trapper in the book is quoted as saying;

“In my opinion trapping is an art and any trapper that is not able to make and set a deadfall, when occasion demands, does not belong in the profession.(Pg. 17)”

Strong words for sure, but as you can tell the man was likely convicted after a life of experience.

One thing is for sure, if you are into primitive skills, this primitive trapping book is a goldmine of information. It not only discusses a few dozen types of traps and sets, but has some decent illustrations as well. Although many are advanced designs, they might get your imagination going. You may also be surprised by the variety of animals the author claims can be taken with a primitive trap as well. Again, at almost 250 pages, you may not be able to get through the whole thing quickly. It’s also worth noting anytime you discuss primitive traps that checking your state’s regulations is important.

Although primitive trapping may be a hot button issue, hopefully you can appreciate this primitive trapping book for many reasons. It is a great historical resource that can help reveal some truths about primitive traps that we may have forgotten. It is strange to think about how popular these traps used to be, even at a time when steel traps were readily available. Personally, I also think learning about them increases knowledge of bushcraft, trapping, and our shared heritage as well. Even if you don’t plan on setting any primitive traps soon, this book can still be an enjoyable read.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on primitive trapping in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about Primitive Trapping as described by mountain man Zenas Leonard.

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February Atlatl Course Was Stone Age Fun!

A recent atlatl course at Revere High School was a real treat to be a part of.

The whole gang
The whole crew with completed weapons. Fortunately for us the “No Weapons” sign on the field was overlooked on this beautiful day.

It felt a little crazy planning an atlatl course for mid-February in northeast Colorado. What could have gone wrong? Come to think of it, we were statistically more likely to have a snow day than an ideal day for making and throwing ancient weapons. Whatdahey, we rolled the dice and took a chance. I’m not sure how wise we were for doing so, but Mother Nature showed us favor and we were blessed with a beautiful day with temps in the 60’s. Just like we planned it.

When I showed up to the Revere school I was quickly impressed by the school grounds and friendly staff. Within a few minutes I had located my old friend Mr. Marquez. We spent a few minutes catching up and then moved onto business. He told me we’d have 8 students taking part, and the history teacher, Mr. Michaels, would also be joining in.

After getting out on the baseball field a little early, I was pleased to meet the students who trickled onto the field. With brief introductions aside we got right into the lesson, with kids getting a chance to show off their throwing arms. Chandon showed off his baseball skills, and made this old teacher get on his horse to try and fetch the tennis ball.

Next, we walked and talked about the Stone Age. Students were a little shocked to find out how long this time period lasted for in comparison to human history. Cassie asked some good questions about why things changed and why we started planting crops. They were good questions because they are the kinds of questions historians are still asking.

After learning about the basics of the Stone Age, we talked about the atlatl and introduced the kids to Atlatl Bob. Suffice to say his unique personality was not lost on the kids. Atlatl Bob hates taxes, and therefore hates the bow and arrow. If this doesn’t make sense have the kids try and explain it to you.

Students working.
Revere students getting their atlatls just right.

With the book learnin behind us, the students picked up their tools and got busy creating their primitive weapons. Tad and Robert got busy shaping their handles right away. Bailey and Whitney also dove right in and soon had good things going. From a teacher’s point of view, it was fun to see the students solving their own problems minute-by-minute, and making their atlatls unique. These devices are not created in a step-by-step process, something I think people don’t necessarily get a lot of these days.

The building took nearly an hour, and then students were ready to throw. As with all things in life, some took to it faster than others. Landon and Nolan both picked it up pretty quick. Before long though, everyone was getting better each throw. We played a few games and tested their newfound skills. We kept score and Mr. Michaels dominated the field by the end of the Atlatl Olympics. Maybe he is a natural Caveman? My thoughts are his newfound “dad strength” is kicking in, and helped propel him to victory.

Landon throwing.
Landon lets one rip downrange.

I want to say a special thanks to the kids who took part in the class. Their willingness to learn and their positive attitudes made it a great day! Hopefully they learned a good deal about the Stone Age and have a better appreciation for the time period. Also, thanks to Mr. Marquez for making it all come together. It was a great way to spend a unseasonably warm mid-February day!


Why To Start a Bow Drill Fire

Making a coal

Learning to build a bow drill fire can be a difficult endeavor. In the end however, you will be a much richer person for the effort.

Bow drill fire
Some may wonder “why” when it comes to primitive fire making. Well, here’s my take.

Frustration was beginning to build. Things weren’t going right, and my patience had evaporated. A tweak here, an adjustment needed there, and then an unsuccessful attempt. I needed a fire for today’s project; a primitive atlatl dart, and it wasn’t going well. When you build a primitive dart, you ought to build a fire by primitive means. That was the plan at least. The main problem was my bow drill set had been given away to an aspiring bow drill student of mine. My new bow was apparently still in the break-in period.

Soon though, I began to find the sweet spot. After a bit of experience with the bow drill, you can really feel when the wood starts burning good. Once the wood was rolling smooth, willow on cottonwood, I could start to smell the smoke rising. The old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” doesn’t necessarily apply to a bow drill fire. Smoke is just the beginning. Once you get smoke, you still have the bulk of the work ahead of you.

Back and forth, smooth strokes, rolled the spindle back and forth in the hearth. Brown dust collected in the notch as my muscles began to fatigue. Soon the brown dust turned to black and I knew it was time to push the pace. Quickening my speed, I tried to increase the internal temperature in the notch to the magical point where it would weld together and create my coal. Faster and faster I pushed until smoke filled my vision, and I could no longer monitor the situation. I was hitting the point of fatigue where I could potentially slip out of the hearth and knock the whole thing to pieces. All at once I stopped the sawing motion of the bow, and closely observed the dust pile for signs of smoke.

Sure enough, wisps of smoke rose from a pile of dust collected in the notch. From two bits of wood I had created fire. This still provides a sense of wonder every time.

I would guess more people know how to make a bow drill fire than at any time in recent history. So many people are participating in what I would call a bushcraft Renaissance, that this type of skill in not so unknown these days. With just a few minutes you can learn the basics of how to start a bow drill fire. In fact, I’m sure within a short time there may be a post on this site covering the subject. In my mind though, just as important as learning how to create a bow drill fire, is understanding why to.

There are a number of reasons why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial to a person. First off, this skill is certainly not one where you get something for nothing. Unlike many aspects of life where you may achieve, or not achieve, based on a myriad of factors not related to your actual performance, primitive fire making is sort of a pass/fail class. At the end of an attempt you’ve either made a coal, or not made a coal. This kind of accomplishment, especially for young people, can be a huge confidence booster. There is no one else to blame if a coal doesn’t get created, and no one else to take credit if one does. You know where you are in the skill and if you are proficient or not. Practicing primitive fire making can help instill a self-assured confidence only real achievement can create.

Another reason why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial is the knowledge of the natural world it creates. One of the biggest obstacles to create a coal consistently is to use materials that put the odds in your favor. Since all of those materials can be found in nature, you must learn not only to differentiate between woods, but to also know their properties as well. Some woods make good spindles, while others make good hearth boards. With some practice you can soon walk through the woods and spot resources lying all around you.

Smoldering coal
Making a coal isn’t something you can fake. You either get one, or you don’t.

You’ll also need to learn about tinder, and where to find it at different times of the year in different weather circumstances. The outdoors is not a static place. It takes practice to find the resources you’ll need at all times and situations in a year. In order to learn these things, you’ll have to explore your favorite nearby woods for materials throughout the year. This promotes more learning of the natural world and getting to enjoy nature. What could be wrong with that?

Learning to make a bow drill fire has a less concrete benefit as well. By learning a skill like this you help to pass a torch of knowledge into the next future. These types of Stone Age skills are obviously not common place today. As our lives become more technologically advanced, they will naturally get pushed to the edges of our knowledge. If however they are pushed out of our body of knowledge, they will likely be lost forever. It’s likely that people would know of the process, but there is a whole different level in actually knowing the how of the process. It would be disheartening to lose such a foundational skill to the human story.

The only way skills like this can last in an ever changing, fast-paced, and technological modern world, is by putting them into action. When you apply them, you are a literal link in an unbroken chain that extends back into the first chapters of the human story. Future generations will only have the opportunity to practice and apply these skills if someone today forges those links. Learning to start a bow-drill fire, will not only bring the past to the present, but will keep this foundational human skill alive. It is actually quite an honor when you think about it.

Primitive skills may not be for everyone. In fact, I understand why some people might even raise their eyebrow when they learn I spend my time practicing such skills. It simply isn’t something common. On the other hand, for me the pros of learning such skills overwhelm the cons. They are part of the human story that has always intrigued me. Though I’ve only put them into practice over the past handful of years I can see the benefits they bring. If you are looking to make a real accomplishment, increase your knowledge of the world, and bring forth basic human knowledge, learning to make a bow drill fire might be something you’d enjoy.

Thanks for reading this article on why to build a bow drill fire. If you find aspects of the Stone Age interesting, you may find this article “Build an Atlatl and You Build a Piece of Living History” interesting.