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The Down-fall


This is the famous harpoon trap, so commonly used in Africa for

the capture of the hippopotamus. There is no reason why

it may not be successfully employed in our own country for taking

large game, or modified on a reduced scale for smaller animals.

The hippopotamus makes his daily rounds in regular beaten pathways;

and the trapper, knowing this peculiarity, turns it to advantage.

/> This is a common habit with many animals; and these runways are

easily detected by the matted leaves and grass and the broken twigs.

Over such a beaten track the harpoon-trap is suspended.

The harpoon used by the native African trappers somewhat resembles

a double-barbed arrowhead, and has a reflexed prong on the shaft

just behind the barbs,--a sort of combination between a spear and

a fish-hook. It is a terrible weapon; and, when once launched into

the flesh of its victim, its withdrawal is impossible, on account

of the reflexed barb. Any sharp steel shaft will answer the purpose

of the harpoon; it should be eight or ten inches in length, and

filed to a keen point. We will now construct the trap. The first

requisite is a straight section of the branch of some tree. This

should be about four inches in diameter, and four feet in length.

Into one end of this beam the harpoon should be firmly imbedded,

allowing the point to project about six inches. This beam should

then be weighted with two large stones, attached firmly by a rope,

about eighteen inches above the harpoon. At about six inches from

the other end of the log a notch should be cut, having its flat

side uppermost, as shown plainly in our illustration. The implement

is now ready.

Select some favorably situated tree, whose branches extend over

the pathway chosen for the trap. By the aid of a rope secured to

the log, and thrown over the limb, the weighted beam may be drawn

up into the tree. While thus held by a person below, the trapper

should climb the tree to complete operations. For this purpose, a

smaller branch about three feet in length should be cut. One end

should be flattened off on both sides, so as to fit in the notch

in the beam; and the part which rests on the limb, as seen in the

illustration, should also be flattened to prevent turning. A piece

of stout Indian twine should next be fastened to the unwhittled end

of the stick, which may then be adjusted in the notch of the harpoon

beam, as seen in the engraving. The string may then be thrown down,

and grasped by the companion below, who holds it firmly, after

which the original rope may be removed. It will be noticed that the

weight of the harpoon and accompaniments rests on the short arm of

the lever which passes over the limb of the tree, and the tension on

the string from the long arm is thus very slight. This precaution

is necessary for the perfect working of the trap. To complete the

contrivance, a small peg with a rounded notch should be cut, and

driven into the ground directly plumb beneath the long end of the

lever. It should be inserted into the earth only sufficiently to

hold the string without pulling out, and the side of the notch

should face the path; its height should be about a foot. Into the

notch the string should be passed, being afterwards drawn across

the path and secured on the opposite side at the same height. The

trap is now set; and woe to the unlucky quadruped that dares make

too free with that string! A very slight pressure from either side

is equally liable to slip the string from the notch, or loosen the

peg from the ground; and the result is the same in either case,--down

comes the weighted harpoon, carrying death and destruction to its


For large animals, this mode of setting will be found to work perfectly.

When constructed on a smaller scale, it may be slightly modified.

It will be noticed that, when the string is approached from one

side, it is merely slipped out of the notch,--a slight pressure

being sufficient to dislodge it,--while the pressure

from the opposite direction must be strong enough to lift the peg

out of the ground bodily. This is easily done when the peg is lightly

inserted; but, to insure success, even with light pressure from

either side, an additional precaution may be used, if desired.

Instead of fastening the end of the string securely to some object

on the further side of the path, it is well to provide the end of

the cord with a ring or loop, which should be passed over a nail

or short peg driven in some tree or branch, or fastened into an

upright stake, firmly embedded into the ground. The nail should

point in the opposite direction from the notch in the peg, and

its angle should incline slightly toward the path. It will thus

be seen that an approach from one side forces the string from the

notch in the peg, while an opposite pressure slides the ring from

the nail.

This mode of setting is especially desirable for small animals,

on account of its being more sensitive.

Such a trap may be successfully used for the puma, bear, and the

lynx. When constructed for smaller animals, the harpoon may be

dispensed with, a large stone being equally effective in its

death-dealing qualities