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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The number 6 grizz catcher

Grizz traps -- god-awful devices and troubling reminders of the past.

Gone are California's grizzlies, and gone are the absent-minded vaqueros who undoubtedly stumbled into those gaping jaws of steel hidden in the chaparral.

And woe betide any latter day codgers who play Russian roulette with such deadly toys.

Have you noticed that those springs are wired open?

Well, that's why. Codgers and teen age boys are attracted to such things.

According to A.R.Harding's Project Gutenberg EBook of Steel Traps:
"This is known as the No. 6 or Grizzly Bear Trap and has a spread of jaws of 16 inches. It weighs complete, 42 pounds. This is the strongest trap made. The manufacturers say they have never heard of anything getting out of it when once caught. It is often called 'the Great Bear Tamer.'"
The treadle in the Ebook was simply labeled "No. 6", but this particular one was also stamped with the name of our extinct state mammal:

My friend Paul -- proud owner of a Lickety Splitter, collector of old gadgets, old bottles, old Italian sports cars, and antique tractors among other things -- found it recently at a swap meet.

We get together twice a year, and since we inevitably talk of old things I always ask if he's found any grizz traps.

It's kind of a joke, but damned if he didn't find one, buy it, and give me right of first refusal.

The problem was this -- where do you put a grizz trap?

So I tactfully posed the question. 

"Don't you think it would add a wonderful touch of frontier California to the patio?" 

The redhead didn't agree.

And so I wistfully demurred.

"No problem," said Paul, "I can always find a buyer or swap it for something else."

But he agreed to hold onto it until I stopped by to take some pictures.

A month later we spent a fine day together, and I could tell he was growing fond of the Number 6.

"At our age," he reflected, "you have to decide what you don't need, and what you want to own when you die."

"I think I may just keep it."

"There's a screw-clamp that came with those traps," he continued, "to clamp the springs and open the jaws."

steel trap setting clamp

"I've seen a few for sale, but I never knew what they were."

"I may get one of those too."

A memento of Alta California -- a 42 lb contrivance of spring steel, forged in Massachusetts 130 years ago, shipped to California, forgotten in someone's shed --- has found a new home.

The rest of No. 6's story we will never know.


Trailblazer said...

Great post.

What a hulk of a trap that No. 6 is!

I don't think there were any "best management practices" in place when those were out in the bush. I imagine it gave a pretty painful bite to those old grizzlies.

Still, an interesting bit of history slung over your buddy's shoulder in that pic.

Anonymous said...


The chain on that #6 bear trap should be on the bottom bar, not at the end of a long spring.


randomtruth said...

Incredible piece of technology and history, Codge. Glad we're using cameras. Thanks for immortalizing it.

JK said...

An excellent story and post. Keep these old history ones coming. I would love to get my hands on one of those. I had the chance a decade ago and kick myself all the time for not buying it.

Camera Trap Codger said...

JK, every zoology grad student needs one. Good security measure for the data.

Anonymous said...

what is that trap worth need to know please help!!

Camera Trap Codger said...

I am not sure of the value -- depending on condition and provenance/history of the particular trap -- I'd say $300 - $800, but you need to consult some trap collectors on this. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

i do have a friend that have one like this and his cond is better than what is shown in pic above and wants to sell it. any interest in it please do email to me before it goes into ebay.
\john p

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks John, but I don't have the space for that monster.

Anonymous said...

I just bought one the same for 1400$ Came from B.C.
I like it !

Anonymous said...

Any idea how to sell a trap like this one? I have recently come across the same one at an estate sale and am looking for a buyer. Also, looking for some info on the authenticity and age of this trap. A couple of pics below.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing bit of history. I would be interested in purchasing a #5 or #6 bear trap for a display at our cabin if anyone is looking to sell one. Email me at mcolvin@live.com